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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Jun 01


Posted on June 1, 2018 at 11:49 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

yellow irisA friend’s suggestion to feature a “Plant of the Month” on the blog threw me into a dilemma. Seriously? How can there just be one plant per month? For example, do I choose to write about peonies, oriental poppies or iris for this month? They are all putting on a magnificent display of color at the moment. 

As I walked into the garden, my eye traveled from one brilliant display to another. By chance, the favored plant of the month was decided by a surprise visit from four of my friends who pulled up as I stood there scratching my head. They spilled out of the car and, without blinking an eye, declared the iris were absolutely breathtaking. The vote was in before any explanation was needed!

Iris, named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, are putting on an amazing show at the moment. This is their time to shine. White, yellow, purple, pink, blue and almost-black iris adorn the landscape. Some of these beauties will offer another burst of color in the fall. These rebloomers are always a joy, especially during that time of year when the garden is spent of color after a long, hot summer.

There are over 300 species of iris. I prefer planting the Dutch iris as they require so little attention and do not demand much water. As you can see from one of these pictures, the low-water-using Salvia ‘May Night’ is planted directly below the iris, and both are thriving in the same hydrozone.

iris and salviaIf given good drainage and a sunny spot in the garden, iris will provide ease of maintenance. They only need a sample of mulch over their rhizomes (roots) and require no fertilizers. They make beautiful flower arrangements, hummingbirds and bees are attracted to their nectar, and deer seem to resist their beauty.

If those benefits aren’t enough to drive you to the local nursery, my favorite iris attribute is yet to come: These 12-to-36 inch tall perennials will give all they have for 3-5 years. With age they will lose their vigor and may stop blooming. You might be asking why a plant on its way out would be an attribute? You see, this is the time to dig up the rhizomes and split the one plant into many plants. Your initial investment will capitalize tenfold with the divided plants springing back with a vengeance. 

The best time to split iris is right after they finish blooming. The salvaged rhizomes can be placed in a shallow depression filled with a good mix of compost and soil. Cover the rhizomes with minimal soil and keep wet until they adjust to the new location. The old foliage can be cut back to 2-to-3 inches. I prefer cutting the foliage into an inverted V shape. The new plants can also make a wonderful gift to someone starting a new garden or needing a spectacular filler for an existing bare spot. 

Have you tried planting other types of iris? Tell me about your experience. If you have yet to plant these striking flowers, you might try complimenting a neighbor gardener on their iris—they just might be willing to share with you! 


Anonymous User
June 1, 2018 at 7:37 PM
What is the iris pictured with Dslvia 'May Nights'?
Anonymous User
June 5, 2018 at 1:26 PM
A very good question that I am embarrassed to say - I don't know. It could be one called Attitude, or another similar called Midnight Ice which is a rebloomer. Knowing me, it is the rebloomer!

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