Monday, August 15, 2016

Dry Summers, Summer Water and Pacifica Iris

Kathleen Sayce

Pacifica Iris, or PCI, thrive in a mediterranean climate––that’s a small ‘m’ for the climate, not the geographic area. This climate type has a wet fall-winter-spring period, with rain starting in early fall to winter, and ending in late winter to late spring, depending on latitude. In the Pacific Northwest, cool wet weather can last from six to ten months, and very dry weather (no measurable precipitation) two to six months. Most years, the August-September period is very dry. Going south on the West Coast, the wet season shrinks until in southern California, it lasts a few weeks in midwinter, and the dry season lasts most of the year. 

Iris chrysophylla x I. douglasiana, a large leaved, branched flowered form that flowers in June. 

It’s August now, and that means the West Coast is well into the annual dry season, from northern Baja California, Mexico to somewhere along the British Columbia coast. My garden is dry, and I’ve started supplemental water to some plants, but my PCI do not get supplemental water. The last of the PCI are ripening seeds, most have already open seed pods, and they are toughing out the dry season in a warm dormancy. Roots are not growing. These irises wait out the dry weather.

Seed pods from the same plant as above, 2 months later. 

I could clean up plants at this time, but I have learned that if the dry season is prolonged, then PCI will abandon more leaves, and I’ll have to take those leaves off later. So I limit my cleanup to removing vigorous weeds, dead plants, and any plants I want to remove from a particular spot. There’s no replanting this time of year. Plants that are dug out now will not reestablish if replanted. If I were watering regularly, I might be able to transplant in a few weeks. 

On watering PCI in summer, opinions are mixed. Some say no water at all. Many  nursery growers have found that PCI are fine with regular summer watering. As Secretary for the Society for Pacific Coast Native Iris, I’ve been offered many opinions from members all over the world on this subject, and have concluded that PCI do not like hot, alkaline water. Cool, neutral to acidic water is fine. I prefer not to drag hoses or sprinklers, so I do not water them, though my plants would probably be bigger and have more flowers if I did supply water all summer. 

Iris tenax, flowering mid June, on one of the last rainy days of the year. 

Late summer is a curious time in the garden:  Flowers are still abundant on many perennial and annual plants, which will keep flowering with supplemental water into fall. Butterflies make the rounds on warm days, feeding on those flowers. The end of second flight of Anise Swallowtails is still underway. Margined White butterflies are on their fourth or fifth adult generation for the year. Soon, the occasional south-migrating Monarch butterfly may pass through. Even these plants are shedding leaves, setting seed, getting ready for summer’s end. Meanwhile, fall flowering bulbs and perennials are starting to show buds and first flowers. 

The clear signal that fall is coming is birds migrating south. I live on a large estuary, Willapa Bay, where tens of thousands of shorebirds, ducks and other waterfowl fly through each fall. Shorebird numbers are picking up from week to week. Bald Eagles fledged their chicks; the adults will leave by September for inland rivers, to fish for fall migrating salmon. I hear the fledgling eagles call for their parents by mid August, looking for those formerly attentive parents.

New visitors, two Indian peacocks, check out the flower beds. The turquoise, silver and blue eyes in the tail feathers would make a striking PCI flower.  


 This week, there was a new bird species in the yard. It’s not migratory, and yes, it is introduced. Two Indian peacocks wandered into the yard. Sightings have traveled up and down the bay for several miles this summer, and this week, it was our turn for a visit. The editor of our bulletin asked me a few weeks ago about my hybridizing goals for PCI. A PCI with the brilliance of a peacock’s tail seems a very worthy goal!


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