Monday, July 6, 2015

Reblooming Iris Program: Zone 6: On the Cheap

by Betty Wilkerson

Many of the improvements in irises have been made by the backyard gardener, and some of their creations have won The Dykes Medal. You can spend a small fortune, hunting up fancy tweezers and paint brushes, but it's possible to breed irises without all this. When I started my rebloom program, I had a child in elementary school, and two in high school, so I couldn't justify spending much money on the iris program. I bought a cheap iris colletion from Schreiners and the next year I ran across a really cheap fall blooming iris collection from Fields, a mail order catalog. Then, I bought a few rebloomers from Monty Byers. 

An empty milk jug, cut into strips, and then cut again, made good tags.  I punched holes in one corner, with a hole punch, and used some orange yarn from my crochet bag to make ties. They were neat, but the birds really liked them, too, and used several in building their spring nests. If one was missing, I learned to look to the tree tops.  The tags would glisten and reflect sunshine from up in the trees. After I moved to Allen county in 2003, I switched to strips of plastic venetian blinds shown below.  To prevent fading, I use paint markers. I made 150 tags so I would not have to reuse any during any season. Early on, I bought a couple of pair of tweezers from Wal-Mart. I stressed over the method of pollen transfer until I found I was comfortable with using my ring finger as the implement of transfer.  Works fine for me.

A few years back, I bought a large garden bag that will hold all of my hybridizing equipment, and then some. Before the new bag, I would put everything in a gallon size ziplock bag.  The new bag is lined with pockets on the inside, which is convenient for pollen envelopes, tweezers, seed packets, nozzles for the hose, etc.. It even has a clip for my keys, if I choose to use it.  

Garden Bag

Hybridizing Tags

Lace Bonnets
The first summer I was in Allen County, 2004, a pod went missing.  It was my favorite from 'Strictly Ballroom' X 'Mariposa Skies.' Sorry, I do not have pictures of the irises. I spent way too much time looking for the pod, but with absolutely no luck. The following winter I made a bunch of these lace bonnets to protect my pods from the deer.  Haven't lost a pod since 2004.

Personal Size Envelopes
for Seed
Once the seed are harvested from the pods they are usually wet or at least damp and they need a home until time to plant.  Rather than take chances of getting the seed mixed up, it's just easier to go straight to the envelopes.  I put all of the permanent information onto the envelope, pod parent, pollen parent, and seed count, then I put the seed into the envelopes.  I place it/them on an envelope rack to dry.  I shake the envelope each day and turn it upside down. This is to make sure all seed fall to the other side.  They are usually dry within a week and can rest until planting time at the end of Oct.  The soil must be cool.

Mum Pots for Germination

Chicken Wire

Soil should be placed in the pots about six weeks before the seed are planted.  A natural settling of the soil in the pots will leave air in the soil, important, where tamping does not. In my zone 6 garden it's important to put chicken wire (mine is plastic and reusable) over the pots to keep out the vermin.  In my zone 6 garden the average date to expect sprouts is April 1.

Landscape Fabric
As I've grown older and more crippled, I've adjusted the way I care for my iris. The cost of my operation went up at the same time.  DeWitt woven landscape fabric is really good.  I buy it in big rolls that will cover about five beds.  I like the stuff with the green lines because it helps make straight rows and I need all the help I can get.  Each spring I must check for crowding and cut the landscape fabric where needed.  I use a thick grade of black plastic for the paths. I use a piece of pvc pipe with paint markers every six inches to measure between plants.

If you want to make some iris crosses, but don't think you can afford the equipment?  Please give it another thought.  Be creative. We need reblooming hybridizers in the middle and cooler states, zones 4-6.  To get rebloom you will need to use really strong rebloom stock. I'm always willing to discuss anything iris!  Just find me on Facebook or e-mail me at Put "irises" in the subject line. Good luck.


  1. Betty,
    I enjoyed reading this blog so much. You make it sound easier and cheaper than I thought. Thank you.

  2. Great information! I plan to try this, I live in zone 6 too.

  3. Thank you for such an interesting and informative article, Betty; I enjoyed it very much!


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