Obtain a complete rainbow of color with Iris

Many varieties are available in a range of colors.

Iris 2022.jpg
Iris reticulata is currently blooming in my garden showing its small size and delicate formation.
John Zvirovski / The Jamestown Sun
We are part of The Trust Project.

Flowers always draw attention to the garden due to their numerous colors and unique shapes and sizes. This past week I am seeing a few garden perennials beginning to bloom such as iris reticulata and snowdrops.

If you are looking for a delicate spring flower with a soothing appearance, the iris is your winner. Not only does it produce small to large flowers in every shade of the rainbow, but it is also one of the few perennials that resembles an orchid for our region. The best part about them is that they are extremely winter hardy for our area!

The Iris name comes from the Greek word meaning rainbow. This is truly a flower that comes in every color one can imagine, both in solid tones and bicolors. The large flowers are supported by strong stems that hold them high above the foliage.

There are numerous types of iris that one can choose from, such as Dutch iris and the reticulata iris, which are the earliest of the iris bloomers, only reaching 6 to12 inches tall in early May. These selections come in a bulb form that is planted in fall. German bearded iris is the most common of iris growers and it produces the largest flowers. Siberian Iris is another which is taller by nature but finer in details. There is Japanese Iris, which is tender in our area as they are usually a zone 4–5, but with the right cover can live in our area. Flag Iris is a selection that loves wet areas.

The iris flower has three sets of petals that stand in the middle and are called standards. It also has three petals that drop from the sides which are called falls. Upon the falls there is a center rib with a fuzzy bar that is known as the beard, which gives the bearded iris its name in that variety. The leaves are about 1 to 1.5 inches wide and can range from 6 inches to 3 feet depending on the variety selected.


Dutch and reticulata iris have small flowers in shades of blue, white, yellow and purple. They bloom early and by midsummer their plants have faded into the sunset out of sight within the garden. These are also the shortest of the iris.

German bearded iris has every color you can think of and its leaves reach about 12 to 18 inches in height and have the widest leaves, 2 inches across. They grow from a root called a rhizome and they grow very near to the surface of the soil. They enjoy rich, well-drained soil in full sunlight for optimum growth. Some of the flowers on these types can be the size of a softball.

The Siberian iris is one of my personal favorites as the leaves are narrow and tall and resemble that of a cattail. The flowers rise over the leaves on 3- to 4-foot stems and have a beautifully delicate flower with petals half the size of the bearded iris. Their blooms come in purple, blue, white, pink and lavender with more colors being introduced all the time. After the blooms have passed, their leaves stay green and lush until the fall frosts have arrived making it a nice accent near a water feature.

Flag iris is the one iris that enjoys wet soils and can sometimes grow on the water’s edge of a pond or stream within an inch or two of water. Their leaves can be green or green striped with yellow and have small flowers in the shade of canary yellow. Their leaves are taller like the Siberian iris, but a little broader.

Japanese iris are beautiful in their own right, as their flowers don’t technically have falls and standards that are noticeable. The flower is broad and flat-topped in appearance at about 6 inches wide. If you can get them to come back, their flowers are worth the effort, but they will need winter protection to bring them back each year.

One of the variegated types of iris is Pallida iris, which has green and white striped leaves and blooms in a pale blue to lavender shade. After the flowers have faded on this one, the striking leaves themselves draw the viewer’s eye!

Most iris flowers only last a couple of days, but each stem will produce quite a few buds that bloom along the way during a two- to three-week time frame. If you choose one of the re-blooming types such as the white Immortality, they can bloom up to three times a season from spring to fall. Their stems are tall and strong and work well for cutting arrangements. Some have a light fragrance but most are grown for their colors over their scents.

Dividing iris happens about every five to six years during the end of August. Typical indicators that your iris clump needs dividing are the tell-tale sign of the centers dying out, lack of flower production and small leaves. Dig up the clump and with a sharp knife cut out only the healthy rhizomes and discard the rest. Then replant these rhizomes about 4 to 6 inches apart and cover with an inch of soil. Root development will be strong come the winter season.


Even with our late season snows, the magic of spring still surprises us with its beauty. Iris selections are great for any garden and are a sure delight for the beginner as they are easy to grow. I always like to choose a few of my favorite colors to add to the garden but am very careful not to go crazy or else my garden will be filled with nothing but iris and I will have no blooms the rest of the season. Beware, growing iris for their colors can become addicting!

What to read next
"Fielding Questions" columnist Don Kinzler also advises readers on a pesky beetle that is prevalent in gardens again this year and how to prevent deer damage to yards and gardens.
Many times we find ourselves seeking vacations where the water presents itself.
"Coming Home" columnist Jessie Veeder says summer is magic, and it’s easy to forget that in the reality of living in this adult-sized world.
Columnist Tammy Swift recommends using plain, old Persian limes to create an egg-free Key lime pie that's every bit as tart and tasty as one made the traditional way.