Sweet Iris Care: Growing A Variegated Sweet Iris Plant
The Variegation Of Sweet Iris Plants
Variety : White Sweet Iris (Iris Pallida)
: White Sweet Iris (Iris Pallida) Height : 1 – 2 m
: 1 – 2 m Width : 0.5 – 1 m
: 0.5 – 1 m Bloom Time : Spring / Summer
: Spring / Summer Flower Color : Pink, Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple
: Pink, Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple Leaf Type : Evergreen (Leaves are evergreen with a single petiole)
: Evergreen (Leaves are evergreen with a single petiole) Flowering Period : April – June
How To Grow A Variegated Sweet Iris Plant?
Variegated Iris plant is a favorite of those with smaller gardens; it can, however, be grown in larger gardens as well. They are clump forming plants that can reach up to 2m in height but should not be under-estimated due to their creeping rhizomes that allow them to spread out (forming new clumps). Their foliage consists of sword shaped leaves.
The flowers grow on single stems above the foliage, with each stem carrying up to 3 flowers that can be up to 7cm in diameter and are fragrant. There are a wide range of flower colors available with yellow and purple being the most common.
Sweet Iris plant care is relatively easy as long as you do not plant them in an area that is always water-logged or water-deprived. They also prefer to grow in slightly acidic soils (pH 6.5 – 7.5).
If your soil is too alkaline then you may need to add organic matter to adjust the pH level.
The Sweet Iris is typically found growing wild in areas such as moist meadows, stream and river banks and pond margins. They are also common in wasteground.
They have a natural tendency to spread so can be divided and transplanted with ease.
Did you know?
Sweet Iris plants have long been used as a symbol of wisdom and learning. The ancient Greeks dedicated the plant to the Goddess of poetry, music, rhetoric and justice, muses and heroism (called Maia). The Romans dedicated the plant to their goddess of wisdom (called Urania).
It is believed that bees are extremely attracted to the flowers of the sweet iris. This is because they contain a particular chemical (known as irone) that is extremely similar to the one that is naturally present in honey bees.
The sweet iris was also used medicinally; the roots were ground up and mixed with wine before being applied to sores, wounds and ulcers. It was also regarded as a cure for insomnia, colic, venomous bites and diarrhea.
What Does A Variegated Sweet Iris Plant Look Like?
There are three main types of Sweet Iris plant:
Beard-Dianella (Iris germanica var. cengialtii)
This is a short plant with sword-shaped green leaves and large (6-9cm), multi-colored flowers that can be red, purple, yellow or white.
German Spanish (Iris x barbata)
This grows to 60cm and has green sword-shaped leaves and large (9-12cm), blue, purple, pink or yellow flowers.
Tectorum (Iris verna)
It grows to 1m and has narrow green leaves. The flowers are typically yellow but can be red, purple, orange or white and can reach up to 8cm in diameter.
Recommended Growing Conditions For A Variegated Sweet Iris Plant:
Sun: Full sun to partial shade
Slightly acidic soil (pH 6.5 – 7.5)
Moist well drained soil
Hardy plant, grows well in a range of conditions
Recommended Variegated Sweet Iris Plant Care:
Plant sweet iris bulbs (or buy plants) in the fall (between September and November) or spring (between March and May) at a depth equal to 2-3X the width of the bulb. If growing from seed, sow them in early spring (March – May).
They also need to be planted at a depth of 2-3X their width.
Space bulbs (or plants) between 2-6 inches apart (5cm seems to be the ideal). As with most bulb plants, they need to be planted in clumps to ensure proper pollination.
Water newly planted bulbs well and mulch around the base of the plant.
Mulching can also be done in the spring as well.
Sweet iris plants can be divided and replanted every 3-4 years. However, do not do this in the spring as they need time to rejuvenate (they’re asleep).
Instead, do it in the fall.
Neutralize the soil (if necessary) before digging up the bulbs. This can be done by adding organic matter such as compost or rotted manure to the soil to improve its quality.
How To Care For A Variegated Iris:
Well-rooted bulbs can be planted into their permanent growing location in the fall (between September and November). If this is not possible, wrap the bulbs in a couple of layers of newspaper and store them in a dry area over the summer.
Put them back out in the early spring (between March and May).
Each bulb should be planted at a depth of 2-3X its width. If you are planting multiple bulbs in the same area, make sure there is at least 6-12 inches between each bulb.
Mulching around the base of the plants protects the bulbs and helps to maintain moisture in the soil. Spread mulch (either straw, wood chips or leaves) 2-4 inches deep around the entire plant.
Keep an eye on it and remove any dead foliage as necessary during the growing season.
How To Divide & Repot Variegated Sweet Iris:
If you want to increase the size of your planting or want to separate your irises, you should divide and repot them. This is a fairly straightforward process but it does require a bit of effort.
You can also do this if you notice that your plants are starting to decline in quality or vigor.
Choose a warm, sunny day (in the spring or summer).
Gather your tools (see below for necessary tools).
Ensure that your soil is well drained and that you have prepared a bed for the new plants (bulbs).
Determine how many (and which) plants you want to divide. If you want to increase the size of your planting, you will need to remove most of the foliage from the plants you want to divide.
This is because the plants need to put their energy into producing new bulbs, rather than putting it into foliage at this time. The leaves will grow back and they still will look nice. There’s no need to dig up the entire plant or cut through any roots. Instead just remove most of the foliage (leaves, stems and flowers).
Carefully dig around the perimeter of the plant with your garden fork or shovel and gently lift it out of the ground.
Separate the bulbs and replant them in a new location.
How To Take Care of Sweet Iris Plants:
Once you’ve planted your bulbs, there isn’t much you need to do until after the growing season (summer and fall).
Keep the area around the bulbs free of weeds and mulched. How you do this will depend on your climate and what type of mulch you use.
In most cases, if you use either shredded wood, leaves or grass clippings, you should just spread it over the entire bed and then rake it lightly to spread it out a bit. This allows moisture to be conserved in the soil rather than having it all drained down to the bottom of the bed.
If you are using straw, you’ll want to avoid laying it directly on the soil as this can hinder drainage. Instead, put down newspaper or cardboard and then layer the straw on top of that.
Fertilize your plants after their last frost date has passed. This will ensure that they have plenty of nutrients in the soil.
Spread a 5-10-5 fertilizer around the base of each plant in early spring (March or April). Scratch it into the top few inches of soil. Water it in well to make sure that it absorbs well.
Irrigate as needed. In most cases, you’ll probably find that watering weekly is enough to keep your sweet iris plants thriving.
If it hasn’t rained and the soil is dry several inches down then give each plant a good soak (if it’s warm out, you can get by with just giving them a quick spray with the hose to wet the topsoil). Don’t overdo it though or you could end up rotting the bulb.
You can trim off any dead flowers after they’ve withered and dried up. Cut just above the top set of leaves so that the plant focuses its energy on the bulbs, rather than putting it into producing seed.
If you want to keep your sweet iris bed looking nice year-round, then you can divide and repot your bulbs after they’ve gone dormant (usually in November or December). This is a little more difficult than dividing them in the summer, but it has the added benefit of ensuring that your plants have lots of energy stored up for the next growing season.
To do this you’ll need to follow these steps:
Using a shovel or spade, gently lift each plant out of the ground (the entire plant, bulb and all) and set it aside. If the bulbs are meshy at all, remove any loose dirt that is clinging to them.
Using a sharp knife or preferably a bulb fork, divide each bulb into sections (each section with its own root). Replant the bulbs immediately. If you’re lucky enough to have a frost free area or mini green house, you can bring them in and keep them inside for a few weeks in nice weather and plant them out when it warms up.
How to Use Sweet Iris Plants:
Sweet iris plants are at their most delicate just after flowering. That’s when the rhizomes are largest and best for eating.
After they’ve flowered, let the plants remain grow for at least a few weeks and then dig up the entire clump with a shovel or spade. Carefully trim off any dead leaves or dried tops. Lay the roots out on tarps in a well ventilated area (like your garage or shed) to dry out for a few days. Then you can trim off any dried up sections and cut the rest into 1 inch pieces (lengthwise). Pack the pieces into convenient sized freezer bags and put them back in the freezer for later use.
To use, thaw them out and then simmer them in water for about 15 minutes. They need to be cooked just until they’re soft.
If you want to add a bit of flavor, you can add a little salt, butter and/or black pepper to them while they’re cooking.
Since sweet iris bulbs are high in starch content, they can be used in place of potatoes in almost any recipe. You can also use them to make homemade vodka (remove the skin first).
Besides eating them yourself, they also make a wonderful gift for plant lovers, gourmet cooks and/or anyone who just seems to have everything already (sprinkle a little dried flower on the bag to dress it up). You can even sell them online through sites like ebay or Amazon.
Some Other Interesting Notes About Sweet Iris:
Sweet iris plants are the only known food source of the beardless blue butterfly. Without it, the butterfly can’t survive its larval stage and will quickly die.
Sweet iris plants are a favorite food of rabbits and deer (fortunately they don’t seem to especially like the look of cultivated varieties).
The scent of iris flowers is emitted not only from the flower itself, but also from the leaves. So even when the flowers aren’t in bloom, you can still detect a sweet scent near the base of the plant.
The name “Iris” comes from the Greek word for “rainbow.” The name was given to the plant because its flowers come in a variety of colors ranging from blue, purple, red, white and yellow.
In England, Sweet Iris is also known as “The Messenger.” This is because its scent was often used to convey messages during the 17th century.
Sources & references used in this article:
The development and current status of perennial rhizomatous grasses as energy crops in the US and Europe by I Lewandowski, JMO Scurlock, E Lindvall… – Biomass and …, 2003 – Elsevier
Diseases and pests of ornamental plants by PP Pirone – 1978 – books.google.com
A Guide to Bearded Irises: Cultivating the Rainbow for Beginners and Enthusiasts by K Norris – 2012 – books.google.com