Monday, January 30, 2017

Louisiana Irises

By Hooker T. Nichols

'Great White Hope' (Haymon)--image by Robert Treadway

One of the easiest ways to extend your iris season is to plant a few Louisiana irises in your beds.  If you are gardener who raises irises, as well as, daylilies, Louisiana irises will fill in the bloom between the two bloom seasons.

'Red Velvet Elvis' (Vaughn) image by MJ Urist

Louisiana irises can be grown in any type of fertile soil, though they prefer somewhat acidic soil.  The best time to transplant them is in early autumn when the summer heat has passed. I use any type of low nitrogen fertilizer.  8-8-8, 10-20-0 works well or use granulated geranium or azalea fertilizer.  A little each month does wonder for their growth. Autumn application is around Halloween and Spring when the crocus bloom.

'Deja Voodoo' (O'Connor)--image by Robert Treadway

Plant the rhizomes 3” deep and keep watered until new growth begins.  Mulch them the year round and one good watering each week during the hot summer months is a must.  Do not allow them to go dormant during the summer.  

'Dural White Butterfly' (Taylor)
Photo by Richard Sloan

The bloom stalks range from 10 to over 50 inches in height.  Cut all bloom stalks after the last flowers fade.  Remember that allowing seed pods to form and mature will result on a reduction of buds the following year.

'Ride for Dixie' (Morgan) image by Delane Langton

Here are some older varieties I would highly recommend to the beginner if they want to grow a few Louisiana irises.  Just remember, most are rapid increasers and must be transplanted every two years.  Three year clumps can yield lots of increase and huge clumps. One half to full sun is recommended.

'Daintree' (Taylor)--image by Terry Aitken
'Melody Wilhoit' (Nichols)--image by Patrict O'Conner

White-Dural White Butterfly
Red-Red Velvet Elvis
Blue-Deja Voodoo
Orange-Ride for Dixie
Yellow-Daintree, Spanish Ballet, Edna Claunch, Melody Wilhoit
Purple-Great White Hope, Cajun Serenade, Starpower
Bronze-Cajun Sunrise

'Cajun Serenade' (Nichols)--image by Jim Morris

You will not be disappointed with the beauty of Louisiana Irises.

'Cajun Sunrise' (Mertzweiller)--image by Richard Sloan

Editor's Note: Hooker T. Nichols is one of our new bloggers and a famous, award winning hybridizer of tall bearded and median irises; in recent years, he has been breeding Louisiana irises and has spuria seedlings under consideration for introduction. His irises can be found at his garden: Hillcrest Iris & Daylily Gardens.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cheerleading Reblooming Iris Hybridizing: Zone 6

by Betty Wilkerson

It's winter.  Time for me to grab the pom poms and start cheering for irises and reblooming irises in particular. I tend to think of myself as the number one cheerleader for raising and breeding rebloomers for the colder zones!  Many of the things that rebloom freely in Australia and the west coast of the US of A, will not rebloom in my zone 6 garden.  I've tested many throughout the years.

Once again I will attempt to encourage and support young people to join the small group of people working toward better rebloomers and better acceptance of rebloomers in the colder zones .  Why not grow irises that provide a second, and sometimes more, round of blooms?

After some 31 years of trial and error and lots of research, here is what I propose might be the best avenue to pursue in a breeding program.  Since most, if not all, of the plant habits come from the pod parent, it is important to start a program with a healthy plant that is disease resistant with good branching and required bud count.  Use strong rebloomers with good form, like 'Lunar Whitewash,' 'Gate of Heaven,' and Wilkerson seedling # 2130-01Re, as the pollen parent.  It is thought this is the best way to pass on form while having a good chance of rebloom.

'Lunar Whitewash' (Innerst 2003)

'Lunar Whitewash' and a seedling (Innerst 2003)

'Gate of Heaven' (2004)

2130-01Re (Wilkerson seedling)

Some of my best parents for rebloom have been seedlings 2130-01Re and 2025-01Re and also 'Star Gate' and 'All Revved Up.'  

2025-01Re (Wilkerson seedling)

'Star Gate' clump (Wilkerson 2004)

'Star Gate' (Wilkerson 2004)

'All Revved Up' clump (Wilkerson 2007)

'All Revved Up'  (Wilkerson 2007)

Some irises with the strongest rebloom characteristics, like 'Over and Over' and 'Immortality' have a more tailored form. The solution to this problem is to use the irises with good form as the pollen parents, as stated above, while using the more tailored ones as the pod parent.  It's also fun and educational to do reverse crosses, or do the cross both ways.   'Over and Over' can give good form, too, if used with a more modern formed rebloomer.  I've a spot that 'Immortality' likes and I'm happy to have blooms each fall.

We would like to see more advancements within the rebloom group, by bringing them closer to the wonders of the more modern oncers.  It's a tough goal, but we need it to be done.  Just make sure your seedlings are an advancement of the rebloomer in your garden.  Keep the parents in your garden and compare yours to the best currently available that perform in your garden. I stress "in your garden" because only you have your growing conditions.

'Over and Over' (Innerst 2001 )

'Immortality' with Dahlias (Zurbrigg 1982 )

'Immortality' (Zurbrigg 1982)

Another reminder.  Rebloomers are going to be judged as garden irises, the same as the Dyke's Medal contenders. It will be rare that an early blooming rebloomer will make a show bench other than in the fall shows.  Typically we only have three fall shows: one in Region 4, one in California, and another in Georgia.  None in region 7.

If you choose not to work with rebloomers, at least make some regular crosses. One or two rows of seedlings across the back of your regular iris planting.  Some of the best irises have come from a small backyard.  You never know when something great may show up. 

In summary, I'd like to urge all people to remember the plant first and then their special interests.  It's really difficult, and frustrating, to bring plant health, branching and bud count back to your lines, so use a quality plant as the pod parent.  Some feel that rebloom counts as more or extra bloom. Personally, I think it's good to get a decent bloom count in both the spring and fall.  Will I hold back an otherwise good introduction due to slightly lower bud count?  No.  

Winter is a good time for research.   Read everything you can find about iris and rebloomers.  We need help!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Historical Japanese Irises

by Chad Harris

For the past two years (2015-2016) Mt Pleasant Iris Farm has been very fortunate to be the recipients of many historic Iris ensata (Japanese iris) from their homeland. Most of these plants are "Historic," never have been in the United States nor registered with the American Iris Society. I have been asked not only to register these but also, when the stock increases, to distribute them to the open market for prosperity.

This is the beginning of a photo journal of one of the two beds that will be posted and updated until they bloom.

This bed was planted last summer with 53 irises most no larger than the end of a thumb. Originally 6 were deemed to be lost; however, at today's count it seems that only 2 are not coming up.

At this time half will try to bloom this year. Looking forward to the bloom and the journey!

Just a few weeks later (4/15) and the iris have not only woken from their winter rest but have more than doubled in size. I can hardly wait until the bloom in about two months.

May 21 with the heat setting off an early spring, the plants have doubled and are now waist high with buds starting to show.

June 12 and the maiden bloom of the plants are showing the many colors and different flower forms that can be found with the Japanese iris, Iris ensata.

A more detailed look to the different flower forms, colors, and blooming habits will be presented by Chad Harris at the Society for Japanese Iris Section Program in Des Moines, Iowa at the American Iris Society National Convention May 22-27, 2017 titled “Old There, New Here” a look at historic Japanese irises. For more information about the National, click here to go to the website.

Editor's Note: Most of this blog first appeared on Chad Harris's garden site: Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm. While specializing in water land irises of Asia, there is a good listing of other types of irises too.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Developing New Pacifica Iris Hybrids

Kathleen Sayce
January 1, 2017

This could be titled the Frustrations of Developing New Hybrids. 

The current issue of Pacific Iris came out two weeks ago, and it includes sadness:  well-known irisarian Jean Witt died in 2016. Jean cast a very long shadow over many decades of iris breeding, including PCI and wide crosses between PCI and Sibiricae species. This issue celebrates her life, including decades of her work hybridizing, guiding generations of irisarians, and looks at the future of iris hybridization from the viewpoint of several current growers.

The last time we spoke, Jean told me that the world of iris breeding is still wide open. As much has been done, we have only scratched the surface, she said. New patterns, new colors, and new genetic crosses await us. 

My own perspective has changed greatly over the years that I’ve been growing PCI. I began with the desire to grow sturdy plants with flowers in a rainbow of pure colors in an ever widening range of flowering months. Local climate constraints [growing on the coast of the Pacific Northwest] became clear over several frustrating years of failed crosses, and even lack of seed set on open pollinated flowers during particularly wet springs. This reality led me to rethink breeding goals. I started other beardless Iris species from seed, with a goal of wide crosses with PCI. Several of those plants immediately picked up a virus, so out they went. It was time for rethinking. 

Iris tenax in the garden, grown from seed and showcasing the sturdy flowers, held well above leaves and in this case, with nicely rounded petals. 

I offer my modified goals here, as we enter winter in the northern hemisphere. 

Goal One: Well-shaped flowers that don’t melt in the rain. 
The pale yellows I developed a few years ago have fragile flowers. One good rainstorm, and the petals are gone. White and other pale flower colors often have the same issue. Richard Richards’ very sturdy white-flowered hybrids from southern California, bred for heat tolerance and long summer droughts, hold up to my local rain. Largely ruffly flowers with wide petals and abundant frills also tend to do badly in wet weather, as do most flat dinner-plate type petals. I have a new appreciation every wet spring for those narrow, sturdy falls on species PCI that bend down rather than out. 

Floppy pods! Snails and slugs may chew on the pods when they are flat on the ground. 

Goal Two: Flowering stems that stand up and flex in high winds, and hold their seed pods up, weeks later.  
While stems that flop over undoubtedly help with seed dispersal in nature; in the garden, this makes it hard to find and collect seeds. I started with green organza bags to enclose pods, only to find that they vanish in the garden, sometimes for years. Brightly colored bags do better, but upright stems are better still. 

One of the sturdiest PCI in the coastal garden is this dwarf Iris douglaisana selection. The flowers are plain, and yes, this one stands up to rain and wind nicely. 

Goal Three: Plants that are strong, vigorous, and sturdy, with a variety of heights. 
Too many current hybrids are all the same size. Historically, PCI had very short plants, well under 12 inches (25 cm) in height, as well as tall plants, more than 30 inches high (76 cm). Bring back the full range of heights! I’m now selecting, as much as I can, for taller, stronger plants. Each climate has its own constraints and opportunities, and in my climate, sturdiness is an important goal. 

An I. douglasiana selection from Cape Blanco, Oregon, has plain lavender flowers on sturdy stems, and is taller than most PCI. 

As for colors? Ha. I’ll take what I can get, to get started on the next century of PCI hybrids. It's back to the drawing board for me. Jean is right:  the field is wide open for new irises of all kinds.  

Monday, January 2, 2017

Colors, Patterns of Japanese Iris

by Chad Harris


Japanese iris, Iris ensata besides the varied flower forms has some of the most diverse patterns that blend colors in the iris world.  This being said when there are only three colors at this time available to Iris ensata.  White or Alba, Red-violet, and Blue-violet, however these violet colors come in a full range of pale pastels to dark almost black in tone.

‘Flamingo Waltz’

Self Pattern: a solid mono color without any visible markings or other patterns. The color of ‘Flamingo Waltz’ and other so called pinks are just a pastel red-violet. If you would hold a pink rose next to this bloom your eye will see that the color is actually lilac.


Halo Pattern: most times easier to see on the flower than to photograph, not very common however when present can be very striking. It is the dark coloring found surrounding the Signal, the bright yellow spot found on all Japanese iris, Iris ensata.


Rimmed Pattern: a flower with a sharp linear line around the petals. This can be a colored rim such as ‘Yuzen’ shown here, or it can be a rim of a lighter coloring than the color of the petals.

‘Sunrise Ridge’

Banded Pattern: similar to the rim only wider with the coloring on the flower petal.

‘Blushing Snowmaiden’

Brushed or Washed Pattern: looks as if the color was lightly brush painted on.

‘Pleasant Sandman’

Sanded Pattern: are very fine dots of color similar to looking at the funnies in the paper with a magnifying glass.

‘Freckled Peacock’

Freckled Pattern: If a flower has large random dots of color is said to be freckled.

‘Dragon Tapestry’

Broken or Splashed Pattern: random streaking of color (well known in Camellias that were also bred in Asia) with no two flowers looking alike.
‘Caprican Butterfly’
Veined Pattern: where the veins are darker than the background color of the fall, this is a public favorite.
‘Koto Harp Strings’
Rayed Pattern: one of my personal favorites, when the veins are lighter in color than the color of the flower petal.
‘Celestial Emperor’
Many of these patterns can be present on a single flower at the same time, with the colors that are available, the combinations can seem endless for the garden. Here ‘Celestial Emperor’ is showing a Halo, Washed, Banded, Rimmed, and the Veined Pattern all together with many shades of red-violet and blue-violet that can be found in the Japanese iris, Iris ensata flower.
A more detailed look to the different flower forms, colors, and blooming habits will be presented by Chad Harris at the Society for Japanese Iris Section Program in Des Moines, Iowa at the American Iris Society National Convention May 22-27, 2017 titled “Old There, New Here” a look at historic Japanese irises. For more information about the National, click here to go to the website.

Editor's Note: Most of this blog first appeared on Chad Harris's garden site: Mt. Pleasant Iris Farm. While specializing in water land irises of Asia, there is a good listing of other types of irises too.