Saturday, June 8, 2013

How I Separate My Iris

First I will start with this disclaimer..I am not an expert, I am sure there are other ways to do this, I am only sharing how I do it and have had success.

I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains of N. California at the 4500 foot level.  We get plenty of winter snow and cold, then some mighty fine summer weather averaging in the 80's to low 90's.  We are considered a Zone 6 or 7.

I have gardened with Iris for 30 years now.  Here and in the San Joaquin valley.

Most will say that you should wait until late August and September to do this, but I have found mine do better if I do it earlier.

Like now...

right after they are done blooming.

They get a chance to put down thick new roots with little competition.  And there is enough leaf surface left to still build nutrients in the rhizome for next years blooms.

I also prefer doing it right after they bloom since I have a tendency to forget what color was where by Fall. :)


This clump of Iris is done for the season.  Sometimes if you deadhead you can get a small re-bloom near Fall but I only have a few that do that, and this is not one of them. 

Someone asked me how I deadhead my Iris.

Briefly, to deadhead I just snip off the bloom, then the stem and let them fall to the ground, I snip every inch or two.  I do this with the majority of my plants, the bits that fall to the ground compost in place and gives the worms something to eat.  (not my roses but most every other plant in my garden gets composted in place like this)

DSC_0003  DSC_0005 I will keep snipping until  I reach the juncture of the leaves.  And that is it for deadheading them, I keep the leaves whole as they feed the rhizome and get it ready for next years blooming.  I do not cut the leaves until they have died back naturally. 

I do not dead head beforehand, I just get to digging but if you want you can dead head before you start. 


If I am going to store or cure the rhizomes to give away I prepare a container with a bit of straw to lay them in, the straw lets air circulate around them helping to discourage rot.  But that is optional, I also just lay them out on the deck in a shady place to dry out.   We have little to no humidity where we live so this is sufficient, if you live in a very  humid environment you may need to do some other things to avoid fungus. 


I start a good 5 to 6 inches back from the base of the clump of iris and dig my fork in, I also have used a good shovel to do this job so if you don’t have a digging fork, no worries, almost everyone has a shovel.


Iris are not planted deep, in fact I have some I tossed in an area and did not bury at all and they came up and are blooming like crazy right now. 

Even though they are not deep, push your fork down about 5 inches and lift up under the clump, if it is a large clump you will have to work your way around, loosening the dirt and roots. 


I had to come around to the other side but it is coming up fairly easy.  That is the nice thing about iris, they do come up easy, usually.


Once pulled out of the ground I shake off  the dirt.  I don’t wash them, even though they still have a bit of dirt on them it is easy to see if there is any rot or fungus.  

These have some healthy roots, I trim the roots back to about 2 to 3 inches, and I trim back the leaves to about 5 or 6 inches. As I work with them parts of the clump fall off, meaning rhizomes separate from each other at a joint, of their own volition.


If you want to separate ones that do not fall apart or you wish to cut out diseased or  old gnarly bits, whip out a sharp clean knife and cut it off at the joint


It is easy to see where a joint is, the rhizome narrows (see example above).


It is highly recommended to thoroughly sanitize your cutting tool between cuts so you do not spread disease.  I have read denatured alcohol or bleach water is the best sanitizing solution.  I have had not trouble with disease (just fortunate I suppose) so I don’t bother with the cleaning step and cannot recommend one solution over another.


I started to use the basket of straw but there were too many so I laid most out on the shady porch to dry.  I will print a photo of this iris in bloom and place it with the rhizomes so I know which color it is and whomever I gift them to will also be able to see the color. 

Next post I will show how I replant. 



Happy Gardening!  I am enjoying our fine weather, in the mid-80’s here.  Perfect for the garden!  Time to go dig up more Iris and some other volunteer plants.

Poor things volunteered to come up in the wrong spots.  But I have a trick for digging them up and transplanting them even when it has gotten rather warm.  (they don’t really like it but they survive)


Until next time…





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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this information - I have some iris I plan to share with a friend. If I am going to take them to her and she is going to plant them directly, can I just dig them, separate them a bit and take them right to her house, rather than curing them first? Mine are just blooming (we are at a little higher altitude), so I was planning to do as you described and dig/split some for her after the bloom is completed.

    Thanks for the info!


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