June 26, 2014
IRIS – The tall, beautiful iris, named after the Greek goddess who rode rainbows, comes in many magical colors. Every gardener wants this perennial. Despite its divine origins, it is hardy, reliable, and easy to grow. Irises also attract butterflies and hummingbirds and make lovely cut flowers. There are some 300 species in the genus Iris. The most familiar irises are the tall (at least 28 inches) bearded irises (Iris germanica).
The distinctive flowers have three large outer petals called “falls” and three inner upright petals called “standards.” The falls may have beards or crests. Bearded iris are so-called because they have soft hairs along the center of the falls. In crested iris, the hairs form a comb or ridge.
Most irises flower in early summer. Some, mostly bearded hybrids, are remontant, flowering again later in the summer.
- Irises need at least half a day of sun and well-drained soil. Without enough sun, they won’t bloom.
- They prefer fertile, neutral to slightly acidic soil. If your soil is very acidic, sweeten it with a bit of lime, and forbear summer watering, which can lead to rot.
- Bearded irises must not be shaded by other plants; many do best in a special bed on their own.
- Soil drainage is very important. Loosen the soil with a tiller or garden fork to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost.
- Plant iris in mid- to late summer.
- Bearded irises have rhizomes (fleshy roots) that should be partially exposed, or thinly covered with soil in hot climates.
- Water thoroughly.
- Avoid applying high-nitrogen fertilizers to the surface or carelessly mulching with organic matter, which may encourage rhizome rot.
- Keep rhizomes exposed. Unlike bulbs, which thrive deep underground, iris rhizomes need a bit of sun and air to dry them out. If they’re covered with soil or crowded by other plants, they’ll rot. Irises may benefit from shallow mulching in the spring.
- Don’t trim iris leaves. Leaves carry on photosynthesis for next year’s growth. Cut off brown tips—and cut the flowering stalk down to the rhizome to discourage rot.
- If iris foliage is hit with heavy frost, remove and destroy it to eliminate borer eggs.
- After 2 to 5 years, when clumps become congested or lose vitality, divide and replant sound rhizomes in fresh soil. The best time to replant irises is soon after bloom. Transplant them to places where they will have “wet feet but dry knees.”
Salvias are a large group of garden plants that includes annuals, biennials, perennials, and shrubs. The perennial salvias are mainstays of the midsummer garden border. Another common name is sage. A relative of the familiar kitchen sage, flowering salvias produce spikes of small, densely packed flowers atop aromatic foliage. These heat- and drought-tolerant beauties bloom from early to late summer in shades of blue, violet, red, pink, and white. Plants grow 18 inches to 5 feet tall, depending on the variety. Use care when choosing salvias, because not all plants are hardy in all regions.
- Plant in spring, spacing plants 1 to 3 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently.
- Water thoroughly.
- Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds.
- After the first killing frost, cut stems back to an inch or two above soil line. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps
Native to areas around the Mediterranean, this Sea Holly is a good choice for dry and sunny parts of the garden. It forms a low mound of unusual thistly-looking dark green leaves, heavily veined in silver. Taller stems appear in summer, holding branching heads of prickly blue flowers that are good for cutting or drying. Midsized, perfect for the border or in mixed containers.
- Full Sun exposure needed
- Versatile soil environments
- Blooms mid to late summer
- Adds texture to garden
- Drought Tolerant
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