Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reblooming Iris?

Are there really reblooming irises? It does sound like a great concept, primarily because irises are ALL ABOUT the FLOWER;  after the spring bloom, the foliage, with a few notable exceptions such as I. pallida 'Variegata', doesn't add much to the garden and in fact, can look pretty ratty at times.  I've yet though, to my chagrin, to find the intersection of good care and good weather that will allow irises to rebloom consistently here in Kansas.

Earl of Essex
I first became aware of the possibility that some irises could have fall rebloom a couple of years back and once the concept sunk in, I sought out and planted a row of eight or ten varieties that were labeled as "reblooming" on the edge of a raised west-facing bed.  I now find that it was not as simple as it sounded.  The Reblooming Iris Society (yes, there is one), actually lists several types of reblooming irises including "cycle rebloomers" which bloom spring and fall, "repeaters" that produce new flowers right after the first spring flush, extending the spring bloom to one or two months, and "all-season rebloomers" which produce flowers irregularly over the season.  Unfortunately, most retailers, including some specialty nurseries, don't distinguish between these types and call them all "rebloomers", so you takes your chances.  I also have learned that gardeners in zones 3 and 4 can forget it;  little or no rebloom is seen in those areas ('Immortality', a white reblooming iris that is almost continually blooming in Southern California  may be the exception for cold areas).  And tropical areas may not see rebloom because cooler weather is needed to set off the second part of the cycle.  Finally, some varieties take a couple of years to start reblooming, so, once again, the gardener is asked to be patient. Luckily for us, selection for patience in gardeners is a Darwinian process. You are either patient, learn patience, or you don't garden long.  

This fall, my ' Immortality'  has produced a couple of anemic-looking blooms and the iris 'Earl of Essex', pictured above, did save the day with a few gorgeous and fragrant specimens.  Thus, two out of ten varieties that should rebloom have given me back a little bit for my efforts so far.  Even then, the 'Earl of Essex' was a bit aggravating because that particular plant in that place should have been the purple 'Grape Accent'.  I've become a fanatic about recording plant positions in my garden (because I long ago lost the names of most of my daylilies and the once-blooming irises) and when I put the new reblooming irises in the bed I made a special effort to get their positions right.  And, somehow, I still got them messed up.  Fiddlemuffins.

If you're going to try the reblooming irises, they require just a little more attention because they are said to grow more vigorously.  They benefit from a little low-nitrogen fertilizer in spring and fall and they should be watered more often during the summer to prevent dormancy.  And, of course, since water tends to make iris rhizomes rot, it is recommended to keep the rebloomers separate from other iris and to take extra efforts to make sure the soil drains easily.  They also need to be divided more often than usual for best results.  And good luck.  Schreiner's Iris Gardens lists 65 iris varieties that consistently rebloom in Oregon, including three iris that I grow with my regular iris and which I've never seen rebloom, and then they follow the list up with the admonition to "remember that remonancy is NOT guaranteed."

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