When I say iris, I bet the image emerging in your mind is the tall bearded iris, the most commonly grown iris in our area. You might even notice them growing in abandoned farmsteads or along roadsides. While gorgeous, they are not the only choice of iris open to you.
Do you want an early bloomer that is colorful and fragrant, delighting you a little after snowdrops appear? Try the reticulata group of irises. Reticulata refers to having a netlike covering over the bulb. However, the bulb is not the best part. The cold-hardy colorful blooms on petite plants so early in the growing season make them worth growing.
Dutch irises, another overlooked group, are easy to find and easy to grow, showing up in stores in the fall and in Dutch bulb (tulips, daffodils, etc.) catalogs all year. Grow them like tulips, planting in the fall for spring bloom. Treating them as an annual is best, but they will perennialize if you provide dry summer dormancy in a sandy, well-drained spot withholding all supplemental water. I usually get about 4 years out of mine, with a smaller display each spring.
If you have a pond or a poorly drained and consistently wet spot, then Japanese iris, or water iris, is the plant for you. They grow in shallow standing water or well-watered acidic garden soil. Give them fertilizer and keep them moist to be rewarded with large, perfect blooms.
Louisiana irises are the latest to arrive on the scene and are native to the United States. As you can guess by the name, they thrive on heat and high humidity and require the same damp growing conditions as water iris. They are easier to grow because they don’t demand high fertility soil. Check the USDA growing zone before purchasing a Louisiana iris species to be sure it is hardy to zone 5. They do exist.
This year expand your flower selection and try growing some of the lesser-known irises. If you have questions, call the Edgar County Master Gardeners from Illinois Extension and leave a message. Our phone is 217-465-8585. Even though our offices are closed to the public due to COVID-19, we are still working hard for you.