Saturday, March 28, 2009

Divide and Conquer

"Pink Horizon" Bearded Iris

Rudyard Kipling said, “Flowers are not made by singing Oh, how beautiful, and sitting in the shade.”

The Iris has a long and involved history that goes back about 7,000 years. It’s the stuff of legends, gods, queens, and martyrs.

The Iris played an important roll in Greece, Egypt, France, Spain, Arabia, England, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, Asia and was eventually brought to the “Colonies.”

It’s been of importance for medicine, perfumery, water purification, art, religion, and flavoring.

You can still see it’s fleur-de-lis emblem on the flags of France, New Orleans, Quebec, the Boy Scouts, and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

Alas, good gardener, with this kind of provenience don’t you think it’s time to get out of the shade and divide those iris?

The German bearded is the most popular in our area. You divide German bearded iris when:

1. It’s been 3-5 years
2. Blooming is sparse
3. To move to other locations
4. Sharing with others

Japanese, Louisiana, Siberian and some smaller species require different methods.

The steps for dividing this perennial herb:

 Divide on a cloudy day so the roots (rhizome) won’t dry.

 If possible, dig up the entire clump. This is the hard part because big clumps are very heavy & stuck together. A garden spade or fork & a healthy teenager work well.

 Use a sharp knife to separate an iris clump; each division should have at least one growing point (or fan of leaves) & a few inches of healthy rhizome with feeder roots.

 Throw away any diseased parts & the old middle of the clump. Do not compost.

 Trim foliage to a fan shape; cutting it back to a height of 5 inches.

 Dig a hole large enough to hold the division’s root system. The location should have good drainage. Form a mound of soil in the center of the hole; spread the roots evenly over the mound.

 Add soil until the rhizome is ONLY one inch below the surface (planting too deep will kill). Water. Mulch with compost or shredded bark to deter weeds & for winter protection.

Next spring you will have an example of that symbol Joan of Arch carried when she led French troops to victory over the English. Sit in the shade and exclaim “Oh, how beautiful!”

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