(1917) Planting Irises by Grace Sturtevant

The GardenersÂ’ Chronicle, p.54, February 3, 1917


My experience and observation in regard to the planting of bearded Iris may be of interest to your readers as confirming Mr. Dykes deductions rather than those of Mr, E, H, Jenkins.

Our climate is so much more severe than yours that nothing could be moved in March, perhaps not in April, in my garden, but it does not make much difference except to shorten the blooming time of the Pogonirises, and affects the root growth, I imagine, in the same way.

During the first half of July, when I lift and divide Irises, I find them almost without roots; the old ones are shriveled and dead, but holding the rhizome in place, and the new ones, just pushing out from the rhizome, are thick (1/8 -inch or more throughout, with a blunt end), and unbranched until full grown. It is not until well into September that you find the root system fully developed with a mass of fine branching root fibres as well.

The roots, if destroyed, are not renewed to any large extent until the next blooming season is past.
The buds for the coming season are formed before winter, usually one stalk to each sheaf of leaves, though some varieties have more, and my theory is that the March-planted ones in the table published in Gard. Chron. December 2, 1916, are really one year ahead of the others ; i.e., you have' lost all but six of the blooms formed in 1912 from the March transplants, while you had bloom on the June ones before transplanting. Thus the March plants skipped one year's bloom, and naturally, with three months more of active growth in the new position the 1915 clump is larger, and you find more bloom to the March transplant's credit, but a lower average increase.

Irises can be shifted without a noticeable check if the work is done carefully in one's own garden at almost any time, but where you divide them it is important to let them ripen and the old roots die off. This takes from four to six weeks after they blossom. When rhizomes are purchased and the roots cut off, the result is different. I had a curious example of this in the behavior of a variety called Loreley. I had seen the table of the Wisley 1913 experiment last winter, and so purchased several hundred in March to compare with other plantings, and among them twenty-five of Loreley. They came and were planted in April. I never saw finer rhizomes, and although they were slow to start they grew wonderfully, but in August I noticed a flower or two close down in the leaves, and on examination I found every plant had, or had had, blossoms, but without stems long or strong enough to push them out of the clasping leaves, and, with the exception of those two or three, the flowers had died, and the whole mass inside of the leaves was rotten. In removing it I had to cut off most of the growth on the end of the rliizome. which conld not be beneficial.

In the plot where I propagate my hybrids I had this year, much to my surprise, a sheet of bloom, five out of six of the plants having one or more flower-stalks, although the previous July I had broken up the rhizomes in as small natural divisions as possible. The bloom on the named varieties planted in September, 1915, had only scattered bloom, and the April, 1916, planting no bloom (until August, and then abnormal, as previously stated), I look eagerly for the coming of the GardenersÂ’ Chronicle in the hope of finding a note on Iris, as I often do, and I am glad you do not restrict them to April and July; those may be the proper months (and better then than newer), but they are such busy ones for the Iris grower that there is not much leisure for reading.

Grace Sturtevant, Glen Bond Iris Garden, Wellesley Farms, Mass., V.H.A. (the debate continues with Kew Note)

For more information on historic Irises visit the Historic Iris Preservation Society at

-- BobPries - 2014-06-24
Topic revision: r3 - 25 Jun 2014, BobPries
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