Dividing Irises

It is currently fall of year one and I have started in on the usual fall chores. This first year an important chore will be dividing the irises. In all of my previous gardens, there were little to no established plants. This means that I am a greenhorn in the plant division skill set. Well shady oaks garden is giving me no choice but to get better or live with some ugly specimens.

The garden has three smaller iris groupings and two larger iris beds, all of which are overgrown. The ground is a mass of rhizomes that have spread far and wide. They are growing on top of one another, stretching just to get their roots into the dirt. There are large sections of rhizome without any recent growth and the crowns that are visible are fairly sad.

Several weeks ago I started by just pulling all the wild carrot from the beds. Then I dug in further clearing leaves, sticks and more weeds before I could even get to the point of dividing these irises. Finally I….

  • Cut back the fans. Fans is a generous term here many had already died back and the remaining ones were pretty sparse.
  • Dug up the clumps. This was tricky as they were so crowded it was difficult to get a shovel or spade in anywhere.
  • Gently separated the rhizomes. I made three piles old/rotten/bug eaten, healthy and immature.
  • Loosened the soil, which appeared in surprisingly good shape.
  • Space and replant healthy and immature rhizomes. I gave the roots plenty of room to spread and left the tops of the rhizomes exposed to reduce the risk of rot and pest damage.

At the time of writing this, I have not finished separating all these irises. Although I cleaned up the main iris beds, I only got about half done with the actual separating. The amount of healthy and immature rhizomes amid all that mess led me to actually expand that bed and add some irises to another part of the garden. 1 week later and most look healthy. I have noticed that the squirrels have disturbed some either out of curiosity or when planting their nefarious acorns.

I’m hopeful that I can finish dividing my irises in the next month. Luckily the weather is mild and first frost is still far off…… knock on wood.

2 Comments on “Dividing Irises

  1. I only grow a few irises, partly because their bloom period seems so short and partly because they are plagued by iris borers here, and I refuse to use the really bad chemicals it takes to eliminate borers. I applaud your efforts in reviving the iris beds. It will be interesting to see if there are one or two colors that seemed to be more healthy when they bloom next year. Good post!


    • Thanks for your comment carolee. I can’t wait to see what comes up. I agree with your thoughts regarding borers. Sometimes with an endemic pest it’s often better just to plant something different.


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