Monday, April 6, 2015

Watching for first Pacifica Iris flowers, or the Uncertainty of Gardening

Kathleen Sayce

Over the years, a variety of invertebrates and vertebrate flower-eating varmints have made their presences known in my garden. 
PCI 'Finger Pointing' is a lovely early flowering PCI, but fails to flower in many years due to wet windy weather. Seed set is also erratic due to vagaries of weather. 

Slugs and snails normally disdain irises in general and Pacifica Iris in particular, but not when there are young, tender leaves to be had early in the year, or tasty young flower buds. One of the better reasons to pull old leaves and winter debris from the iris beds is to reduce hiding places for slugs and snails.
A tidied up PCI plant. Not shown:  the five small snails and slugs that were removed with the dead leaves and winter debris. 

Then there are Stellar's Jays, which find germinating iris seeds and seedlings to be a delicacy. Black-tailed Deer also like Pacifica iris shoots, at least the first few mouthfuls, before they start spitting them out and leaving them alone.

And then the chipmunks moved in, capable of disbudding entire flower beds in one night. It's enough to make me think about an outside cat!
Right in the center of this image, the former flower bud, with the pedicle still visible between the bracts. Guilty party––a chipmunk. 

Jays and other seed eating birds drove me to use wire mesh to cover seed boxes. Once the seedlings are more than four inches tall, even the deer leave them alone, but until then these must be like alfalfa sprouts to them, young and tasty.

The weather doesn't help. Heavy rain and hailstorms in April and May often end the flower display from many a well known hybrid Pacifica Iris. I've used temporary covers over plants so that I can at least get a few photos of flowers. But there's a maxim that if the weather is wet enough to ruin early flowers, then protecting them won't help seed set, because the bees don't like rain and hail any more than the flowers do.

Rain screen deployed over a PCI plant. 

The flowering sequence at my latitude (46 N) is something like this: Modern PCI hybrids begin flowering in April, with the exception of PCI 'Premonition of Spring', which flowers off and on from September to April. This group continues to flower into May. In late April to May, many older Iris douglasiana selections come into flower, including PCI 'Canyon Snow' and 'Cape Ferrello'. In June, species irises begin flowering, including Iris tenax, I chrysophylla and I. innominata. A patch of I. tenax x I. innominata plants regularly flower into late June, and sometimes into early July. Some dwarf I. douglasiana plants also flower in June.

PCI 'Blue Plate Special' is ready to flower in early April. 

At the same time, Iris tenax is just getting started with new leaves. The difference is that the latter plant will flower better, and probably set more seeds, by flowering in June. In my climate, that makes a huge difference. 

Given a tendency lately for weather to be too wet in April, and too hot in May for good seed set, often it's the late flowering species and species crosses that do the best. I've come to treasure the durable late flowering plants, because they are more reliable than the gorgeous, early flowering hybrids.

PCI 'Blue Plate Special' in bud––a beautiful sight, but will there be flowers to follow? Only Pluvius, the god of rain, knows. 

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