Iris spp.

Image of Iris
Whole Plant

Irises are a garden flower that can be grown in a variety of environments, and there are many kinds that grow well right here in Las Cruces. They are very efficient in terms of water, and they do very well in sunny climates. There are varieties of iris that grow well in swamps, the far north, and in many temperate climates as well. The word iris means rainbow, because irises come in a variety of colors including orange, pink, brown, red, white, yellow, purple, blue, and even black.

Irises are among the easiest of perennials to grow. They require very little care for the beauty they give. When purchased, irises generally come as a rhizome with clipped roots and leaves. The rhizome can remain out of the ground for a week or two, but should be planted as soon as possible. They should be planted in well drained soil where they will get a lot of sunlight. They should be planted at least eighteen inches apart, and the rhizomes should all be facing in the same direction so that the irises don't spread toward one another too rapidly. After two to three years, the irises will begin to crowd each other. At this time they should be thinned by cutting the newer parts of the rhizome from the older parts. The rhizomes that are removed can now be used to start new plants elsewhere.

All in all, irises are a beautiful plant. They look especially good along fences, the sides of houses, and even as ground cover because the plants get so tall and grow very close together. The most intensive labor involved in growing irises is cutting off the unsightly dead leaves in the winter. They are a very good plant choice for low or no maintenance gardens.

-Randall Kirkpatrick Agro / Hort 100, Spring 1999

There are many types of iris around the world, many of which can be planted in the desert Southwest. Of the many types of irises, bearded irises are some of the more common. In general, the bearded irises are native to the Mediterranean and near-desert areas. They grow to be anywhere from 15-28" tall except for the dwarf bearded iris, which grows between 5-15" tall. They grow in a variety of colors and can be used to brighten up any yard or garden.

Bearded irises prefer a well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5-7. The soil does not need to be nutrient rich but adding phosphorus and other nutrients to the soil in the fall can be beneficial. In the winter, the iris can be mulched lightly to protect it from the weather and aid in weed control. Most bearded irises grow best in full sun; however, the Iris foetidissima, Iris cristata, and Iris tectorum grow, and bloom well in partial shade. As the blooms fade, they should be clipped of at the base, being careful not to harm any new buds. When they are bloomed out, they should be cut off close to the ground on a dry day.

The best time to plant bearded irises is in the late summer through early fall; however irises are not particularly picky about planting time. Bearded irises, as well as other types of irises are very drought tolerant. Watering is only necessary under the most severe drought conditions. Irises will produce dramatic, beautiful blooms with minimal care, so have fun with your irises.

-Laura Smith Agro / Hort 100, Spring 1999