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This beloved perennial comes in every imaginable color, even dark brown and black. Yellow! Pink! Orange! White! Purple! No wonder the "iris" is named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow. The magnificent, curving, tall blossoms arch over all other spring flowers as a sort of climax to the spring growing season.


The iris is also known as a "fleur-de-lis" (floor duh LEE), a French term for the three-part flower that is associated with French royalty.




Iris is very easy to grow. It's best planted in the fall but it can be moved at any time during the year, even while blooming. Iris is resistant to most pests and diseases. Some of the color combinations of the hybridized, or man-adjusted, varieties, are striking, and the scents are amazing. Some purple ones smell JUST like grape popsicles!


A fun thing about the iris is that the rhizome, or bulb, from which is comes, is really, really ugly - like a skinny sweet potato with roots coming out - and yet the iris flower is one of the most spectacularly beautiful. That's a great message to give to kids.


As you think about where to place iris, remember that they make the best show planted in clumps of several of the same color - maybe 6 or 10 or more. Remember, too, how tall they are, so don't block shorter plants. And remember that the colorful blossoms last only two or three weeks in late spring. The rest of the growing season, you have tall, angled iris leaves - green, but no other color. So it might be smart to group iris near summer-flowering perennials, or annuals, to get a more colorful display throughout the growing season, and not just during iris time.


To plant iris, cultivate the soil so that it is pretty loose, and work some rich compost in to the garden soil with maybe a pinch of well-rotted manure and a sprinkling of bone meal. If you are transplanting mature iris from an old clump, break away and discard dead parts of the rhizome and just plant rhizome parts that are solid to the touch and not rotten, spongy or dried out. You can dust the ends of these recycled bulbs with garden fungicide - ask at the garden store - but usually you'll be OK without it.


Nestle the rhizome with its roots spread out in the prepared soil, and just cover the roots and about 2/3 of the rhizome with soil. Press down with your hands. Try to expose about one-third of each rhizome to the sun. It's OK if it won't work and you end up burying the whole rhizome, but a little sun helps "power" the flower to bloom, and usually as the rhizome grows it will throw off a little soil and get exposed to the sun anyway.


Plant iris about a hand-span apart. If you're in grade school, try for two hand-spans apart! It's OK if the leaves don't stick straight up and down when you transplant. Next year's leaves will be perfect!


Water right after you've planted iris, and daily for about a week. Then they should be fine with a medium amount of water, mostly from rain, during the summer.


Iris make great cutting flowers and their shapes are very special grouped with round peonies, which blossom at about the same time. Just make sure you cut the stem as long as you can, and use a tall vase, to show off the tallness of this beautiful blossom.


The only care that iris leaves need is in the fall, when the leaves start to wither and turn brown. Take sharp garden scissors. Working just a few inches above ground, cut each iris "fan" three times - once up the side, once across the top, and a third time down the other side. You should end up with a short fan shape. In the spring, as the new leaves come, you should be able to gently pull off the now-withered brown stubs of last year's leaves.


About every three or four years, you should thin out your iris clump and start a new one, planting about a hand-span apart. Every year, the number of your plants should double, but they start to produce small blossoms if they are overcrowded, a signal to you that it's time to dig and divide.



By Susan Darst Williams www.KidsGardenClub.org Plants 10 2014


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