Lee Valley Tools    Gardening Newsletter
   Vol. 7, Issue 2
   April 2012
   The Ethereal Iris
Irises of various colors and heights look lovely in any garden.

According to Roman mythology, Juno, queen of the gods, sent her messenger Iris to earth to bring good news to humanity. Upon her arrival, she went to work spreading glad tidings. It is said that from each of the rainbow goddess's earthly footprints sprang the extraordinarily beautiful flowers we call irises.

Botanical Traits
Irises belong to the family Iridaceae. They have a single cotyledon (seed leaf), long, strappy leaves with parallel veins and flower parts in sets of three. Some grow from rhizomes (fleshy underground stems), others from bulbs. Their flowers each have six tepals - the three that droop are called falls and the three upright ones are called standards. The standards surround three more petal-like structures that form the plant's reproductive system.

Some irises prefer to be planted or uprooted in late summer, others in spring. Either way, they need to be lifted every three to four years to renew performance and productivity. After lifting, cut away rotten or damaged parts, clean and dry the healthy parts and cut back the leaf blades to 15cm to 22cm. Excavate the site to a depth of 15cm and remove all old plant residues. Provided there is no evidence of borers, the old soil can be mixed with new soil, compost, bone meal and a small amount of commercial fertilizer (5-10-10). Leave the mixture to settle for a few days before replanting. Position the irises in groups with fans pointing in the same direction and rootlets spread neatly around the rhizomes. Pat down the ground around them.

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