How to Care for Bearded Irises


Bearded irises are perennials which grow in zones 3 to 9 in an uncanny range of colors. Irises are one of the few flowers to come in a true black, and yet there are also delicate white and stunning orange varieties. The "bearded" portion of their name comes from the fuzzy fringe between the upright standards and the aptly named "falls." Each element can be a different color, and breeders have been happy to exploit this fact. And yet, with all the complexity of the color choices, their care is truly simple--once you learn their quirks.

Things You'll Need

  • Bearded iris rhizomes Low-nitrogen fertilizer
  • Plant in well-drained soil in full sun--at least six hours a day.

  • Space irises 16 to 18 inches apart, or 8 to 10 inches apart for dwarf varieties.

  • Leave the central rhizome at ground level and cover the surrounding roots. Water irises at least 1 inch per week until they are well established and during hot spells thereafter.

  • Deadhead spent blossoms and cut stalks after blooming.

  • Use low-nitrogen fertilizer intended to boost blooms and roots (e.g., 5-10-10). Avoid compost unless it is carefully dug into the soil. Do not let anything cover the rhizome.

  • Divide in late summer. Use a knife to cut the rhizomes cleanly.

  • Remove any remaining leaves in late fall in order to avoid providing shelter for pests such as slugs. Other common pests are aphids and thrips which can be controlled with the use of insecticidal spray. Use b.t. (bacillus thurgingiensis) to control leaf-chewing caterpillars.

Tips & Warnings

  • Cover rhizomes lightly in winter in colder zones without snow cover.

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