The iris plant, or Iris germanica, can be found all over the northern hemisphere, from North America, to Europe, to Asia. It is named after Iris, the Greek god of rainbows; some believe this is because of the vast variety of colors the iris plant comes in.

With its unique and showy fan shape, the iris plant can be a great addition to any garden. The iris plant is very durable – it’s drought-tolerant and deer-resistant – so with this quick tutorial, you’ll be able to grow your own in no time.

iris plant close up

Before Planting

The iris plant loves sunlight, so before you begin planting, make sure to select a flowerbed that will give it at least half a day of sunshine. Additionally, it doesn’t do well when being shaded by other plants, so keep this in mind if you plan to plant in an area with other flowers.

The best time to plant the iris plant is mid to late summer when sunlight is best.

Finally, before you begin, items you will need are a till or garden fork, compost, iris rhizomes (fleshy, bulbous roots), low nitrogen fertilizer, and possibly lime.

Preparing the Beds

Specific soil conditions are important when gardening for an iris plant. It is very important that the flower bed you plant in has good drainage; you will need to till down the soil to at least 12 inches or more.

Irises prefer soil to be more neutral, so if yours is too acidic, you can add lime to calm it down. Also, to avoid rot, do no over water, or even water at all, your garden bed before the summer months.

Planting the Iris Plant

  • Mix in two inches of compost with your tilled plot.
  • Dig a shallow hole of ten inches wide by four inches deep. Make a ridge of soil down the middle of the hole.
  • Place the iris rhizome on the ridge, and let its roots hang over either side. Fill in the hole with soil and gently tamp it down, leaving the rhizome partially exposed. For hotter climates, you may leave a thin layer of soil on top of the rhizome.
  • You can either plant the rhizomes by themselves or in groups of two or three. Leave one or two feet between each planting hole.
  • Be sure to water each plant thoroughly.
  • Add a thin layer of low-nitrogen fertilizer after you’re done planting.

Caring for Irises per Season

Iris rhizomes need to be exposed in most climates. This helps them to air and dry out, otherwise they will rot and die. They will also rot if you cover with too much mulch or if the fertilizer you use is too high in nitrogen.

Don’t trim the leaves of the iris plant, as these are its greatest aid in photosynthesis. However, if any of the foliage has turned brown, those parts may be trimmed.

Pests and Possible Diseases

Pests that bother irises include aphids, iris weevils, nematodes, slugs, snails, thrips, verbena bud moths, and white flies, but the iris plant’s main enemy are boring insects. When they bore holes into the rhizomes and infest them, the iris dies. Check the rhizomes for holes and discard them immediately.

Also, if your area is hit by frost, you will need to trim the foliage off the iris to eliminate the chance of borer eggs.

Harvesting Irises

As the iris plant flowers, it develops seedpods. It is important to harvest these after the flower blooms to prevent them from choking out the rest of the flower bed. It’s best to divide the plant during late summer.

To harvest, take a garden fork and gently dig into the clump of rhizomes, but try not to do too much damage. You can separate the rhizomes with your hands. You’ll know a rhizome is good to separate when it’s about as thick as your thumb, has healthy roots, and already has one or two leaves growing from it.

Replant like instructed in the “Planting the Iris Plant” section.


Although the iris is subject to pests like any other plant, it is hardy enough to survive most climates in the northern hemisphere and their seasons. The selection of iris colors to choose from make it an ideal plant to add to your garden, as it will complement whatever other flower arrangements you have.


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