Monday, August 29, 2011

Late Summer Clean-up in the PNW


It's been weeks of digging and dividing the overgrown iris beds in my garden and those areas are finally done and looking great. Unfortunately those areas that didn't need digging are looking pretty ratty from lack of attention. Altho rains stayed late into July this year, it's been weeks since they've had a good deep drink and the intense summer sun is taking its toll on the leaves that had grown during the cool, rainy days of spring. Above you can see how nice the clump looked in the early summer. While it is quickly dying back, smaller, tougher leaves will fill out once the autumn rains return to fuel additional growth before winter. Just look at this mess:

While folks in most parts of the country see their irises grow all summer long, mine will slow down unless I keep them watered, which I rarely do. Hopefully your iris beds aren't in nearly such a state. But if you are new to growing irises, have been too busy to get to the garden, and don't know what to do now, this is what late summer clean up looks like in my Pacific Northwest garden.

The first step is to remove all the dead brown leaves so we can see where the good green leaves are. I leave any green alone, but I do trim back the browning ends so most fans end up cut back when done. Here's the finished clump:

I had planted several rhizomes here and they've really increased the past two years. I have a new variety I want to tuck into this bed so I need to take part of this clump out to make room. My handy potato fork makes quick work of loosening the dirt and wheedling the rhizomes up out of the ground. You can see the original rhizome I planted and how it grew and branched over the years:

With a few snips of the clippers I have a small bunch of rhizomes to share with friends. Be sure to note the name on the fan. The old mother rhizomes without fans get tossed.

The next step is to amend the soil with some fresh compost and a little lime (we have very acidic soil), plant the new variety, and give the whole area a nice deep drink to settle it in and get new growth going. They'll have at least 8 weeks to root in before the first frosts arrive. This is important, as heaving from frost may damage the rhizomes and can leave it susceptible to rot in the spring. A little more clean-up in spring to remove fall's leaves and we're ready again for blooms.

Pictured: 'Calcutta', Kleinsorge 1938.


  1. That looks a lot like mine right now. I have not seen a bloom since early June. I have been watering often but I guess they are resting for a bit. Hopefully I will get some late fall blooms.

  2. Exactly what's happening in my garden, Mike. Not pretty now, but it's starting to get better.

  3. I probably liver further South than any other AIS member, 75 miles SW of San Antonio and 65 miles NW of Eagle Pass on the Mexico/Texas border. The drought has definitely affected my Iris gardens. The fans look like they have had a bleach job and have turned blonde except for a few that are under an old shade tree. Some have wrinkled and dried up like the ones in the photo above. In just a few days I will be digging and dividing 3 year old clumps preparing for the Austin Iris Society Rhizome Sale. Fall gardening gets me excited about next springs show of color. Happy fall gardening to all.

  4. Fall is always a time to look forward here too. Today's labors bring spring's blooms, after all. Nice to know I am not the only one dealing with poor soil and dry conditions.

    Carla - Go sparingly on the water on bearded irises during hot conditions. They can take hot and dry or cold and wet but not hot & wet that way leads to rot.


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