Planting Mini Iris (Specie Iris) Bulbs for the Spring Garden
Thinking of Irises brings to mind big, flouncy flowers with tall stately foliage, stalwarts of the summer garden. But hidden among the Iris genus are resilient, dwarf wildflower Irises (Iris reticulata or Specie Iris) that can light up the garden in early spring.
Growing Mini Wildflower Iris (Iris reticulata or Specie Iris)
Dwarf Iris are among the earliest bloomers in our gardens. Popping up in late winter to very early spring on sturdy stems and only 4-6” tall, they are perfect to plant with early Crocus, Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Scilla. Elegant in form, these little flowers are awe inspiring in detail, making them a great choice for an early season showstopper. Sweetly fragrant and deer resistant, they even provide nectar for hungry early season pollinators.
Dwarf Iris prefers a well-drained, sunny to part-shade location, where the soil is moist and will dry out some in the summer.
Where To Plant Mini Iris
Ideal locations are rock gardens (the rocks will absorb early season heat and encourage early blooms), along a border or path edge or clustered around a post or entrance to your home. Being very early bloomers plant them where you will see their cheery blossoms. They may also be planted into lawns or along the edges of a wooded area. A mix of Crocus and wildflower Iris can add a colorful touch to a winter lawn. Be sure to allow the leaves to yellow and die back naturally before mowing.
Hardy in zones 3-9, they need a winter chill to thrive. If you live in a warm zone, you can chill the bulbs before planting to mimic the effect of winter. In cooler zones, they are easy-care, long-lived bulbs that will multiply and return year after year.
How To Plant Mini Iris
As with all small flowering bulbs, they look best when planted in natural, tightly planted groupings. Luckily, this is super easy! A favorite technique is to dig a hole to a depth of 2-4 inches deep. I like to plant at least 12 bulbs in a location, so an area of 1 square foot (or 12” X 12”) is all you need. Remember this is a general guide, and you can dig any shape you like. Then sprinkle in your bulbs. Pick up each one and place the flat or root side down and the pointy end up, pretty much where they fell. This will create a random, more natural effect. If you can’t tell which end should go up, simply plant it on its side, and the bulb will right itself. If bulb loving critters such as squirrels are a problem, cut a piece of chicken wire to place over your bulbs. Cover with soil and water well.
When To Fertilize Mini Iris
A yearly spring application of organic fertilizer or bulb food will help your Iris thrive and multiply. After several years (usually 3-4), your Iris may become overcrowded, resulting in fewer flowers. When this happens, once the plants have died back, in the fall, gently dig up the clusters of bulbs and separate them. Replant your area and move others to new locations.
Wildflower Iris range in colors from blue, deep purple, yellow and white, many with intricate, delicate details that are simply mesmerizing. Iris reticulata, Iris histrioides ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ and Iris histrioides ‘George’ have all received the British Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit – quite an accolade for a diminutive spring flower!
In an age where bigger is regarded as better, there is a growing appreciation for small spaces and quiet interludes away from the cacophony of sensory input. In the approach of spring in our garden we can enjoy the sturdy, elegant small flowers such as Mini Iris, that herald spring quietly, but oh, so beautifully, reminding us to look closely at the world around us.
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