Monday, September 28, 2015

Reblooming Cross: 2611: Zone 6: Southcentral KY

by Betty Wilkerson

A few years back, my breeding program switched from rebloomers in general to trying to produce summer rebloomers.  I'd gone to bed one night and sat straight up in the bed, thinking about irises that would bloom during the summer.  I jumped out of bed and started the research, worked for a couple of hours before I got tired enough to go back to sleep.

I guess I should emphasize the word "trying."  This change in goals really slowed things down.  One of my planned crosses, in 2011, was to use 2130-01Re, a summer rebloomer, as a pod parent with another summer rebloomer, 'Over and Over'.  That cross was made but has not provided any rebloomers, yet.

2130-01Re  (Wilkerson seedling) ('Again & Again' X 'Echo Location')

2025-02Re (Wilkerson seedling) is a lovely white from 'Total Recall' X 1625-01Re ('Star Gate' x ('Violet Returns' x 'Breakers')

Since I had another stalk with blooms, I crossed it by 2025-02Re. 2025-01re, a sibling to 2025-02Re, is a summer bloomer, but, as is often the case, it wasn't blooming when I needed it.  Several of the 2011 seedlings bloomed in the spring of 2015.  All were a reddish purple, similar to the darker area in the falls of 2130-01Re, not really attractive. Only two seedlings looked different and one of those two rebloomed. 

This reblooming seedling, below, is 2611-01Re. It has perfect show bench branching, something I've been working toward for thirty years, and good form! Once branching is lost, it is hard to regain. Theoretically, most of the things I cross to this should have a very good chance of producing good branching.  In theory, many of these should rebloom.  So far, I've only seen the one.

2611-01Re (Wilkerson seedling)

2611-01Re top view (Wilkerson seedling)

My goal is to have a line of irises that start their rebloom a bit earlier. This seedling does not open until mid September. Although I'll take whatever I can get, I don't expect to see this one bloom on September 1.  It does look like we either have fall rebloomers or summer rebloomers.  Only a handful will bloom from spring through fall.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Autumn: Transplanting time for Pacifica Iris

Kathleen Sayce 
September 20, 2015

Many irises are easy to transplant at any time of year. Dig them up, divide, cart to new homes and tuck in. Clip off some leaves to reduce moisture loss while the new roots form, and away they go. Not so for PCIs. Treat them this way, and they go root tips up before you can find your watering can.

Healthy PCI transplants:  new fans, and healthy new white roots. Both of these I. douglasiana pieces are ready to plant. 

There are two times of year to successfully transplant PCIs: Autumn and Spring.

At these times, PCI roots are in active growth. Check the roots, removing soil gently around the base of a fan or two. If there are white roots, one to four inches long, then get out the shovel and start digging. It's time.

New fans on a PCI, but no new roots yet; this plant needs to wait a few weeks before being divided.

Why Autumn and Spring for root growth? Pacifica Iris are native to the West Coast of North America, which has a Mediterranean climate––during the drought period each summer, these and other native species go dormant. In mild winter climates, PCI may have live roots all winter, but they dry down and wait out dry summers.

Summer drought duration depends on latitude, the farther south you are, the longer the duration, which varies from less than three months to more than ten months on the West Coast. I garden at 46°N, so droughts usually last less than three months, though this year it was more than five.

If you water regularly, PCI initiate new roots earlier in the fall than do those depending on rain. You can divide and transplant much earlier in the fall and later in the spring.

This flat of PCI seedlings has been watered regularly all summer, and is ready to move into the garden.

PCI seedlings in pots are tough, and can stand being transplanted several times in the first year or two of life. Even larger plants, one to five gallons, can withstand transplanting slightly outside the Autumn or Spring periods. These have all had regular water, as they must to live in pots.

Other tips:
Mulch after planting to keep roots cool
Amend soil with carbon, such as compost and biochar
Move plants on cool cloudy damp days rather than on hot sunny days
Add 'Superthrive' (a registered vitamin formula for plants) to the watering can
Water well for a few weeks after planting
Use a dilute liquid fertilizer when watering

Every Autumn I host a 'Come and Dig PCI' day in my garden, to share out plants to other gardens in my community. I checked my plants this week; new fans are starting to form, and new roots are short. I'll wait a week or two, until new roots are more than an inch long. 

There are exceptions; one variety has long white roots and could be divided now, but it will tolerate moving in a few weeks. The seedling PCI can be planted anytime from now until early November. They are much tougher than fan sections, which is why growing PCI from seed is so successful for many gardeners. Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris will hold its seed exchange from 1 November to the end of the year, so now is the time to be thinking about what species and hybrids you'd like to grow in your garden from seed. 

New white roots, this PCI is ready for a new home.

For western gardeners, Autumn is the best time to plant many native plants, not just Pacifica Iris. Trees, shrubs, perennials, ferns and grasses all do well if planted now (late September to early November), as the weather cools and moisture arrives from the Pacific Ocean over western North America. This gives the plants a jump on growth for the coming year by establishing good root systems first, with much less water use now and in coming years. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Newly Published: BEARDLESS IRISES, A Plant For Every Garden Situation

By Andi Rivarola

We iris lovers take for granted the huge amount of information that is available online, and because there are so many people sharing their love for iris with photographs, blogs, and plainly just posts on Facebook, we forget that there are those in the iris community that are really experts in the field.

I didn’t know anything about Kevin Vaughn just a few months ago, and didn’t think of him as an expert when I first met him. In fact I thought of him as another iris fan with an amazing taste for garden design, but after reading all the details in his book I realized that the love for irises runs deeply than that for him.
Today I believe that he has not only great advice to give on how to grow irises successfully, but also offers a multitude of information that makes reading his new book a joy. 

During the recent National Convention of The American Iris Society, held in Portland, Oregon, attendees were able to experience the beauty of Kevin Vaughn’s garden twice. Once during the pre-convention (optional) tour, and then as part of the Siberian & Species Convention held after the regular convention.  It was during these two sessions that I had the pleasure to meet Kevin Vaughn and enjoy his friendly demeanor, and also his knowledge of irises.

Cover photo provided by Kevin Vaughn

One feature of the Portland convention that was really different from other conventions is that many of the irises were blooming at the same time. Call it "Global Warming," or simply, "the weather." Normally, one would not see this, but having all the different irises blooming at the same time made it an extraordinary experience. The Vaughn garden had a huge variety of iris types, Louisiana, Spuria, Siberian, median and other irises, several of which he's also hybridizing. There was a particular combination towards the back of the property that really caught my attention: a fantastic display with a gorgeous bright yellow i. pseudacorus next to a deep purple Siberian iris seedling. Both reaching five feet tall and blooming in full glory. What a sight! (I'm still to post the many photos of this garden, stay tuned). 

Pacific Coast iris 'Caught in the Wind' (Joseph Ghio, R. 2012)
Even though Kevin grows many bearded and non-bearded irises, this book focuses on everything that is fascinating about the latter. 

So why write about beardless irises? Kevin says,”Compared to their bearded iris cousins, the beardless irises have remained a secret to many gardeners…” 

With this gorgeous book, suddenly a wide variety of non-bearded iris types are introduced in a way that is easy to understand, with a multitude of photographs to tempt the unsuspecting reader to take a chance; perhaps grow a few of them.

Louisiana iris 'Aqua Velva' (Kevin Vaughn, R. 2014)

You will also find answers to the following questions:

"What are beardless irises?"
"What is the purpose of the beard on bearded irises, and how do beardless irises do without them?"
Pacific Coast Native iris 'Moderator' (Joseph Ghio, R. 2011)
If you don't grow beardless irises in your garden at this time, after reading this book you may just start doing so. Some of the sections on each chapter such as, "Garden Use and Culture," Pests and Diseases," and Kevin's own "Favorites," will help you make decisions about where to start. 

Vaughn Seedling 40-chromosome Siberian iris seedling 
I hope you also start keeping an eye on Kevin Vaughn's work as I have, as many of the iris seedlings in his garden show much promise. I have started to add some of his Spuria irises to my wish list, and one of the first ones is a child of 'Adriatic Blue' called 'Adriatic Memories,' that is just amazing. Can't wait to see it growing in my own little garden.

Vaughn wide-ruffled Spuria iris seedling
Enjoy this preview of pictures provided by the author, and let me assure you that there are many more in the book. Besides being a great writer, Kevin Vaughn is a great photographer and hybridizer. Here's the list of iris varieties covered in the book:

Pacific Coast Natives

"BEARDLESS IRISES, A Plant For Every Garden Situation" is available via 

Monday, September 14, 2015


By Dawn Mumford

Plicatas: irises that have stippled, dotted or stitched edges around the rim and possibly also the standards on a ground color of white, yellow, apricot, or pink. (Stippling, in drawing, painting, and engraving, is to mark a surface with numerous small dots or specks.) The ground color on the standards and falls doesn't have to be the same. There can be dotting, peppering, or striping covering the falls and standards. Hybridizers are working on creating plicatas with more intense depth of color, such as orange, for the background. 

This is 'Drama Queen' (Keppel,2002) with artistic effects that really dramatize the lines and stippling of this stunning iris.

For this post, I have put together a continuation of my last theme on how to use photos to extend the iris season. The last post described using different media to enjoy irises.  This slideshow is on plicatas, and also uses Smilebox (you do not have to have it downloaded on your computer to view the show). 

The slideshow has 49 pictures, counting the collages at the end, lasts seven minutes, and has musical accompaniment, so adjust the volume on your speakers.
Here is the link: Plicata Slide Show Plicata Updated 

While the slideshow is loading click on the button to make the show full screen.  It looks like this except yours won't be yellow. 

I hope all of you have at least a few plicatas. They add interest to the garden. If you grow plicatas, post in the comment section below which are your favorites.  I would love to hear from you.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

Growing Irises Organically

by Tom Waters

Today, I thought I'd write about organic gardening methods, particularly my experiences of them as an avid iris grower. When I first took up growing irises in the 1970s, organic gardening was still very much a fringe movement. Storage sheds full of bags of synthetic chemicals intended to address every conceivable gardening problem were the norm.

Today, organic gardening has become mainstream. Most modern gardening books emphasize organic practices, and many people are excited about having gardens that resemble nature and use nature's own cycles and processes. This post is not meant to be polemical. Rather, I'm just hoping to provide some starting-off points for people interested in using more organic methods in their own gardens.


When I began transitioning to organic gardening methods in the 1990s, I was relatively unconcerned about synthetic fertilizers. A fertilizer is not a poison after all. And what difference does it make if the nitrogen a plant needs comes from a factory or from a compost pile? Nitrogen is nitrogen, after all. But a lot has been learned about the negative effects of synthetic fertilizers in recent decades. The processes used to synthesize nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizers depend on petroleum, and so are not sustainable and contribute to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Furthermore, fertilizer runoff has created an enormous problem: eutrophication of our lakes and waterways, causing ecosystem destruction on a huge scale. Granted, home gardeners are not the main culprits in this problem, but why should we be adding to it if we don't need to?
despite rumors to the contrary, irises do grow and bloom
without the use of synthetic fertilizers

Beyond all these considerations, our understanding of soils has progressed tremendously since the mid-20th century. A healthy soil is an ecosystem unto itself, harboring extraordinary numbers of decomposers, from earthworms and beetles down to micro-organisms and fungi. All these creatures process waste matter into nutrients that plants can use, creating a self-renewing reservoir of the ingredients plants need to thrive. A blast of highly soluble nitrogen or phosphorus from synthetic fertilizer can completely disrupt the chemical environment in which the soil organisms live. The instant "boost" the irises get from the synthetic fertilizer comes at the expense of destabilizing the soil ecosystem over the long term.

Consider doing nothing. Beginning iris growers are often told something like "fertilize with superphosphate or a low-nitrogen fertilizer such as 5-10-10 before bloom in spring and again in fall." So common is this mantra, that people often do not even step back to consider why fertilizing is necessary at all. There have been flowering plants thriving on the Earth for the last 160 million years or so, and petrochemical-based fertilizers have only been around for about a century. So obviously they are not needed - in the big picture of things, at least. Irises will grow and bloom almost anywhere their water and sunlight needs are met. My advice to beginning growers is to not worry about fertilizers unless your plants appear unhealthy. And then, have a soil test so that you know what exactly is deficient. Then, look for organic methods to supply the deficient nutrients.

The virtues of compost. Compost is the single most important thing you can do for your soil. If improves soil texture, helping to capture air and water which plant roots need. And it feeds all the decomposers and other organisms that make for a healthy soil ecosystem. Even better, it does all this almost irrespective of what type of soil you are starting with. Everyone should have a compost pile. But remember its main virtue is as a soil amendment; it must be added in volume to make much of a difference. Composting your kitchen scraps is not going to produce enough compost for a whole garden. You can buy compost from commercial sources. You can also collect leaves and other vegetation waste to compost. Animal manure is also an excellent compost ingredient.

There are various other organic products intended to provide specific nutrients, such as cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal, bone meal, blood meal, and so on. These provide organic alternatives to some of the synthetic fertilizers. But as with synthetics, it makes sense to do your homework and learn if the specific deficiencies these products address really apply in your case.

A final thought: A boost of synthetic fertilizer can indeed create visible effects quickly. You might get taller stalks and larger flowers, for example. Putting synthetic nitrogen on your lawn can make it look noticeably darker and greener a week later. But these effects do not mean that the synthetic fertilizer is improving the overall health of your irises, or your lawn. Health requires more of a focus on the long term.


weed or wildflower?
One well-known herbicide is the focus of controversy everywhere you look these days. I don't intend to engage that particular debate here, as it would quickly take on a life of its own and distract from the bigger picture of organic gardening practices, which is the subject of this post.

I find that weed control represents most of the labor involved in my garden. It's a huge task, much more laborious and time-consuming than watering, soil building, grooming, planting, dividing, and all the rest. I think most gardeners' experience is comparable, wherever they live.

Consider doing nothing. That sounds ridiculous, but let me explain There's two parts to this suggestion.

(1) Consider not using any herbicides at all. I remove weeds from my iris beds mechanically (pull them out). This is really the only way that is 100% safe for the irises and other desirable plants in the garden. And although it is a lot of work, it does have the bonus of keeping you familiar with how every square inch of your garden is doing. I couldn't do it without my handy padded kneeler, but at present I can more or less manage. Having said that, I do understand that there are many people who would have to give up gardening entirely if hand-weeding were the only option.

(2) Consider what needs to be removed, and what doesn't. In recent years, I've become very interested in native plants, and it has changed my philosophy of gardening. Certainly, there are some plants that will absolutely overrun a garden if left unchecked. But there are others that are really only a problem in the eye of the gardener. Originally, I ruthlessly pulled everything I didn't plant. Now, I know all the regular interlopers individually, and I pull things that I specifically know to be problem species. Some other natives (and self-sown garden plants) get to stay if they are in a place where they will not cause serious harm, Native plants in the garden help "tie it in" to the surrounding landscape, and provide benefits for local wildlife. They are also inherently adapted to the environment, reducing water needs and other types of care for the garden as a whole.

Understand what you use. If you do decide to go the herbicide route, there are certain questions you need to answer in making your selection. This is just as true for organic or "natural" herbicides as for others. (1) What does it do? Does it just kill top growth, or does it get the roots of perennial weeds? (2) How harmful is it for humans, pets, or wildlife? (3) Does it damage the soil? Some popular "recipes" for making herbicides out of household products circulate on the internet. Just because you can find something in your pantry doesn't mean it's "harmless" in the garden. Do the research.

This year, I've been using a commercial product that is a mix of highly concentrated vinegar, orange oil, and molasses. It's very satisfying to use, as it burns off top growth almost instantly. It does have limitations, though: it really needs sunlight to act fully, and it only kills the leaf surface that it actually lands on. This means the to completely kill a plant, you need to apply a lot of it. And of course, it has no effect on roots. I have extremely alkaline soil, so I'm not worried about the effects of the acid - that might be different if I lived where soil was too acid to begin with. It's useful stuff, but not suitable for all jobs.


The dangers of chemical insecticides have for decades given great impetus to the organic gardening movement. Things presumed safe by one generation of gardeners are later understood to be dangerous and taken off the market.  It's not surprising that some people just want to stay clear of all of them.

Today, people are also just more aware of the shortsightedness of introducing poisons into the environment we share with other plants and animals, even if there are no direct consequences for us humans.

But most every gardener at some point or other has experienced an insect infestation that has gone completely out of control.

'Dollop of Cream' with chives
Consider doing nothing. It's not necessary to react to every insect sighting or every sign that something has been nibbling on a leaf or two. In most places, in most years, there is an ebb and flow between pests and their predators; nature can be wonderfully self-correcting. Garden planning is an important too, as well. Pests tend to exploit monocultures. The more different kinds of plants you grow, the less likely you garden is to become a beacon to one particular pest species. Some plants actively repel certain pests. Aphids don't like alliums, for example. I have not had the tiniest aphid issue since I studded my garden with clumps of chives.

Now this has gone too far! Sometimes, though, doing nothing is not an option. Organic controls fall into two broad groups: predators (ladybugs, for example) or species-specific parasites/diseases. As I write this, I am in the midst of grasshopper infestation of Biblical proportions. All 150 iris seedlings I lined out this spring were killed in a matter of days. A friend recommended Nolo bait, a parasite that eventually spreads through the grasshopper population. It's not instantaneous, but works gradually over months, sometimes requiring further application the second year.

local fauna or evil incarnate?
A little research on the internet will turn up a range of organic solutions to most gardening problems. One of the things we give up when going organic however, is instant gratification. Organic methods are not about the quick fix, but about putting things in place now that will reduce problems in the future.

I know that for some people, the choice to use or not use organic gardening methods has a political dimension. For myself, I am more motivated by a passion for the natural world, the great diversity of life, and a love of growing things. When I use organic methods, I feel like I'm learning how nature works and gardening with nature, participating in the great web of life rather than battling with it.

Do you use organic methods in your garden?