Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Garden report: I'll soon be in iris heaven

Spring brings daily surprises... and so I think I'm outside more during spring to expect and watch for those surprises. Hence, the season is fighting with Fall for my devotion as "favorite season" (not that us Californians experience much in the way of 'seasons'). Completely understandable, right?!

So, I've learned a lot about the iris in the past 5 months. Several months ago I participated in a plant swap and received about a dozen iris rhizomes with one of the nicest "complete strangers" I've ever met. Now, wishing we had stayed in contact...

Ayway, I decided to do a blog post on the life cycle of an iris...

What is a rhizome?

Above is a picture of a spent iris plant. The rhizome is "a characteristically horizontal stem of a plant that is usually found underground, often sending out roots and shoots from its nodes. Rhizomes may also be referred to as creeping rootstalks or rootstocks." All sorts of plants grow from rhizomes instead of seeds. And it's quite a rad process. (Yes, I said rad!)

In the picture above you'll see that it looks dead and dried out. Well, the stock above the rhizome is, yes, quite dried out. The nicest-stranger-I've-ever-met probably cut off the blossom and left the green leaves on the plant to die. Once the rhizome blossoms, it's done blossoming for that season. With irises, each rhizome will produce one blossom per season. Depending on the variety of plant you can place the rhizomes very close to each other when planting, and it will make a dramatic effect in the springtime.

Before I placed the donated rhizomes in the ground I trimmed off the dead leaves (from the top of the rhizome) and the dead roots (from the bottom of the rhizome). And while the rhizome itself looks dead (because it's brown), it's just dormant.

Do I have a viable rhizome?
On the contrary, you'll know when a rhizome is dead if it's soft and very mushy to the feel when you pinch it in between your thumb and forefinger. If it has held it's shape and simply looks brown - it's probably still viable. So clean 'er up a bit and put her in the soil! That's her happy place!

In the picture above you'll see that she's all cleaned up and getting ready for the party...

And in the above picture you'll see, in the middle at the bottom of the picture, that this one is already starting to send up a shoot!!! (See it curving out from the rhizome?!) I better get this gem in the ground!

This Spring I planted 3 types of rhizomes...
- The donated rhizomes ... I don't know yet what kind of irises they will produce
- Dutch iris ... that will produce a very bright purpleish/blueish flower.
- Bearded irises ... that will produce a pink flower with ruffly edges.

Another note on rhizomes... they come in all shapes and sizes. And the longer they've been in the ground they'll have grown more nodes (mishapen growths around the original portion of the rhizome). As you can see in this picture, the Dutch Iris rhizomes are very small compared to the donated rhizomes which look like they've been around for quite a while!

The bearded iris blossom is much larger than the Dutch Iris... and the rhizomes are larger as a sign of it. Interesting, eh?!

When/How to plant iris rhizomes
I'm planting these three in a pot instead of what is in the ground in the yard. I got these planted late, so not sure they'll blossom. But, hey... why not try?!

Rhizomes apparently don't like to be wet. (But they do need soil and water to grow.)

This pot of rhizomes will sit in the direct sunlight for several hours a day. Plant the fatter end of rhizome down in the ground, with the thinner end up.

Top with some more soil and give it some water. Place it in a nice warm/hot location with lots of sun.

Some websites/books/people will tell you that it's best to let the rhizomes just BARELY sit in the soil and they'll be fine. But we have cats and creatures in our back yard that sometimes move things (and even walk away with things)... so I'm securing mine a bit more down into the soil. The soil will settle in around the rhizomes and expose a bit more of the top over the next week or so...

From what I read elsewhere there really is no wrong way to do this when it comes to rhizomes. They shoots somehow naturally know how to find the sun... it's an amazing thing! And so beautiful!

Fast forward
And this is what the shoots from the larger rhizomes (donated and/or bearded iris) look like several months later. These have not yet blossomed, and I do not yet see buds growing up from the rhizome. I think they are late to blossom because I planted them a month or two later than usual. And we've had an extra cold winter... anyway, soon... I hope to see buds and blossoms very soon! (And yes, of course, I will keep you posted when they do.)

In the meantime, the Dutch iris are getting ready to blossom! YAY!!! The green leafy shoots popepd up a couple weeks ago. That show is then followed by the little buds... which will take a couple weeks to completely grow to height and then blossom.

This little bud, the first little bud, just made my day!!!

I can't wait to watch their show of beauty in the next couple weeks!

And above is showing how I clipped that first flower... I cut the blossom about an inch above the ground and left the green leafy part in tact. The leaf will continue to collect "juice" from the sun and continue to feed the rhizome. They will naturally die off and at that point I'll clip them back to 1 inch from the ground as well.

The rhizomes will then stay in the ground, hibernating... waiting for their next show, next Spring sometime!

Oh, the cycle of life!

life is good...

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