Monday, February 1, 2021

Wrapping up this winter's iris planting season

By Gary Salathe

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative (LICI), of which I am part of, is in the process of winding down our iris planting projects for the 2020 - 2021 fall and winter Louisiana iris planting season.  

In two previous World of Irises postings I explained how our group finds native I. giganticaerulea species of the Louisiana iris that are threatened with destruction.   We relocate the irises into public refuges and nature preserves after getting the landowner’s permission.  The purpose of this is to engage the public to try and motivate them into helping to preserve and protect native Louisiana irises by making their blooms easily visible rather than hidden from view in the deepest corners of the swamps and marshes. If we can’t bring the public to the wild native irises, then the idea is we will bring the irises to the public.



Photo on right:  Bringing blooming native Louisiana irises to the public is the goal.




In years past it has always been our goal to finish up planting irises in the swamps and marshes of Southeast Louisiana by the end of December, but this year’s disruptions with getting volunteers signed up due to COVID 19 restrictions and concerns slowed down our pace. 

The self-imposed deadline of the end of December is based on the theory that any irises planted later than that will likely not bloom in mid-March to the first part of April, which is usually our bloom period.  We have discovered through experience, however, that if the full grown irises are planted in clumps (and sometimes as singles) with the root ball still intact, and all of the soil is still attached, many of the irises will not even realize that they have been transplanted.  They can still be planted until the end of January with the expectation that they will bloom 1 ½ to 2 months later.  This is especially true if they are planted in the typical soupy and rich waterlogged muck that passes as soil in our area’s marshes and swamps.  The “end of December rule” is likely true for planting bare root Louisiana iris rhizomes in typical garden soil and the actual deadline may be much earlier.


Photo:  An example of a clump of irises with dirt still attached to the root ball that we tried to focus on planting starting in mid-December.








The only reason to care about whether or not the freshly planted irises bloom in the spring is that the volunteers really, really want to see the result of their work and the owners of the property, who are sometimes disinterested about their new irises, need that spring “bling” payoff to get them hooked on irises.  

Photo:  The volunteers involved and the landowners where we have iris planting projects usually need some iris bloom “bling” the first spring after the irises are planted. 

In projects where we are just adding to an existing stock of irises that we planted in the past, whether or not our new ones bloom is not as important.  We moved these plantings lower on the priority list so that they could be done in February.  Each one of these smaller iris plantings will require only a few volunteers to complete.

Our plan is to have our iris holding area in the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood of New Orleans empty of irises by the end of February. (We're almost there.) Our revised goal of planting 8,000 I. giganticaerulea Louisiana irises for this past year will then be accomplished thanks to everyone that has volunteered to help us.

Here is a list of the iris plantings and rescues we were able to get completed since I last reported in my mid-November World of Irises posting:



Photo on left:  We went back into the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge in late November and added more irises to our three previous plantings that started in September.


Photo on right:  In late November we also did another iris rescue event from the site we had worked in this summer to fill containers at our iris holding area that had been emptied of irises from our earlier iris planting events.




 Photo on left:  In mid-December we planted irises at the Sankofa Wetland Park & Nature Trail in New Orleans using volunteers from the Master Naturalist of Greater New Orleans.



Photo above:  Also in mid-December we did a small iris rescue event in St. Bernard parish in a drainage canal where the parish was considering spraying the water hyacinths with a herbicide because they were starting to block the drainage.


Photo on left:  December was a busy month.  The first of three iris plantings that took place over a five week period at the Town of Lockport, La boardwalk was done.








 Photo above:  In late December we did the first of what turned out being three iris plantings over a one month period at the Town of Jean Lafitte, La. Wetlands Trace boardwalk.


Photos above:  In the first days of January, 2021 we did an iris planting at the Bayou Teche Paddle Trail trailhead in Breaux Bridge, La. (left)  and on the same day an iris planting at the Chitimacha Tribal Nation of Louisiana in Charenton, La. (right)

Photos above: On January 9th we did an iris planting as part of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s cypress tree planting event in the Manchac swamp located south of Ponchatoula, La. 

Photos above:  On January 13th a small group of our volunteers planted irises at the Mandalay National Wildlife Refuge near Houma, La.  These added to the irises that were planted there last year. 


Photo above:  On January 16th we organized an iris planting in a freshwater bog at the Nature Conservancy’s Grilletta Tract in Grand Isle, La.   Some members of the Native Plant Initiative, Grand Isle Garden Club and the Terrebonne Parish Bird Club volunteered to get the irises planted.

 Photos above:  Four days later on January 20th volunteers from Common Ground Relief worked with LICI volunteers to plant irises in the swamp next to the Cajun Coast Visitors & Convention Bureau's visitor’s center in Morgan City, Louisiana.  It was the third iris planting we did there during January.






Photos above:  On January 24th a small group of our volunteers planted irises at the Joyce Wildlife Management area, which is  located south of Ponchatoula, La.


Photo above:  On January 27th working with volunteers from the St. Tammany Master Gardeners Association, Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater New Orleans, Native Plant Initiative of Greater New Orleans, Sierra Club of Slidell, Common Ground Relief, Limitless Vistas, as well as our volunteers, we planted irises at Fontainebleau State Park near Mandeville, La.


Photo on left:  Two days later we planted irises at the 40 Arpent Wetlands Observatory in Chalmette, La.


We have a few small “clean-up” iris planting projects that need to get done in the next few weeks involving either lesser number of irises or that have sites that are too treacherous to include large numbers of volunteers. 

 A very big “THANK YOU!!” goes out to all that have volunteered to help us this past year and to our donors that allowed us to create and maintain our iris holding area.

We will be doing Facebook postings, likely in early to mid March, as the native Louisiana irises begin to bloom to invite all of our volunteers to come out to boardwalks and trails where they planted irises to celebrate the results of everyone’s hard work!!

The Louisiana Iris Conservation Initiative website can be found here:

Our Facebook page can be found here:









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