Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rethinking Iris

Early on, I was of the opinion that Iris sp., particularly the German Iris (Iris germanica) would be the perfect plant for Kansas.  They're drought tolerant, they react to full sun like a cheering squad to a quarterback (think about it!), and they do well in poor soil.  I have two beds of various Iris cultivars mixed in alternating fashion with daylilies and I enjoy the bloom seasons of both.

Struggling iris in wet clay
But the truth is, the Iris in those mixed beds have been both tough to establish and tough to keep going over a period of years.  Both beds are placed in as level an area as I've got, they get well-mulched with prairie hay, and both are based in solid Kansas clay soil.  Translation;  when it rains enough, both beds are a swamp and the Iris drown out while the daylilies love it.  Such a situation occurred this past year when we had an unusually wet spring and early summer.  The iris in these beds and those spotted around some other mixed shrub-perennial beds on the same level are all suffering with small fans adjacent to lots of rotted rhizomes.  Add to that the loss of many of my Iris three years ago during a very late spring, mid-April deep freeze, and the survivors are about 30% of the Iris that I've ever planted.  That's getting expensive on any level.

Happy iris in a raised bed
But in a raised bed on the west side of the house, where the Iris sit near rock landscaping that barely contains the soil of a lilac bed, the Iris are thriving; most were planted only last year when I got a bug for trying some reblooming Iris cultivars, yet they're big and healthy and all are free of rot.  The soil is unamended orange subsoil clay moved there from the house excavation, but the Iris love it all the same.

So, Mother Nature, I assure you that I am listening.  I, just yesterday, selected a sloped area and sprayed an area with glyphosate to kill off the prairie grass for a new bed.  Next week, after the predicted rain on Tuesday and Wednesday, I'll move the wee surviving rhizomes and starts from my other Iris there in hopes of finding them a home more to their liking and I've resolved not to amend the soil for the Iris.   I'll fill in the spots in the old bed with divisions of the daylilies that I like the most.   

Lesson learned: even a seemingly perfect plant for an area needs some consideration of its specific needs and a little labor to get things right.  As someone's website signature recently stated, "the sign of a good gardener is not a green thumb, it's brown knees."


  1. Hi! Thanks for your comments and for linking to me! I lived for a while in the KC area. I always thought that gardening in Kansas was how it really ought to be -- the four seasons, the amber waves of grain, etc. I've been back in the Houston area for 12 years now and I still cry over my lost peonies. Happy gardening,

  2. Thanks for stopping by my Flint Hills site and commenting on the brochure. I enjoy your site - nice variety of garden issues. ;-)

  3. It's good you figured out how to make your iris happy. We have mixed luck with them here in Austin too, perhaps for the same reason (lots of clay), but I've found one variety that's very reliable for me.

    Like you, I love that quote about brown knees!

  4. Yeah, I hope it's just the clay. There certainly is a difference between the flat soggy-in-the-spring bed and the terraced bed.

  5. Now, if you can just perfect a way to keep that iris bed free of weeds...............


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