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Re: CULT:potting irises

  • Subject: Re: CULT:potting irises
  • From: Glenn Simmons <glsimmon@swbell.net>
  • Date: Wed, 03 Feb 1999 09:32:25 -0600

From: Glenn Simmons  

Chris Hollinshead wrote:

From: "Chris Hollinshead" <cris@netcom.ca>

Couple of questions, Glenn... I was particularly interested in the fact that
your experience involved the *West Coast irises... I have had consistent bad
experiences/luck with the survivability of them too with huge overwinter
losses (rot, botrytis and heaving). Most always with my TB replants, they
are heaved way out of the ground come spring... and I do mean way out! In
the Spring it looks like I didn't even bother to plant them, just threw them
onto the top of the garden bed. I have tried planting earlier but it does
not make too much difference. Letting the rhizomes dry out cuts into the
limited growing season left after receipt and correspondingly limits the
amount time left for rooting to become established prior to winter. Putting
bricks etc on top of the rhizomes overwinter to prevent heaving seems to me
to only treat the symptoms and not the cause. These things were partially
behind my reasons for considering this methodology on new acquisitions.

Now, to the questions:
1. Did you cut back the roots on these West Coast and other iris before
planting? if yes, how much?
2. What kind of medium did you pot with?
3. What would be the diameter of a 1 gallon pot? (I moved to the 6 inch dia
size for TBs)
4. How long did you keep them potted before transplanting into the garden

*West Coast iris defined in this discussion are iris that are
grown/propagated on the west coast and not necessarily confined to those
just hybridized there. My own West Coast iris were sourced from Oregon.

Look forward to comments. (Glenn, I have brought this discussion back into
the public forum of Iris Talk as I think many will be interested or benefit
from this information exchange)

Christopher Hollinshead

Hello Chris and others interested in this topic.  I have to apologize for taking so long to reply to this message, there has really been no excuse.

Last summer I contacted Walter because of some comments he made, on Iris Talk, about potting iris.

We are located in southwest / south central Missouri.  Springfield is about 40 + miles north of Arkansas and about 70 + miles east of Oklahoma.  Several of the long time small growers in this area cautioned me (or better word would be warned me) not to buy iris from "ANY" California grower, (Oregon & Washington were said to be okay).  I was told my over the winter losses would be staggering!  We have purchased almost all of our iris in the past from the local growers in this area and have generally had no loss problems.  However, in 1998 I wanted iris that most people in this area didn't have and the iris were mostly available from California.  But because of the "horror" stories I had been told about California grown iris I was very concerned about ordering them from the CA growers.  This is the reason I contacted Walter.  I felt there had to be a way to bring in CA irises without suffering huge losses.  Walter explained the potting method to me through many e-mail messages, I think I was probably a little dense!  After I finally understood what Walter was saying I started checking around Springfield with the other growers to see if they did anything like this and the response was "No!"

Now since I have explained my situation and location a little I will go on to your specific questions.

1. Did you cut back the roots on these West Coast and other iris before planting?  if yes, how much?

Yes we cut the roots back according to the way Walter told us.  Walter said to "shave" the rhizome and this is what we did. Believe me, this was hard to do!  It took quite a bit of mental effort to cut off all of those healthy looking roots all the way to rhizome.  But to our surprise the "shaved" rhizomes put on new roots very quickly.

2. What kind of medium did you pot with?

Walter instructed us to use "Sam's Magic Soil" mixed with equal amounts of sand and garden soil.  This is the soil mix we used!

3. What would be the diameter of a 1 gallon pot?  (I moved to the 6 inch dia size for TBs)

I just took my tape measure outside to measure our "1 gallon pots."  The pot size we used is 6 1/2 inch diameter by 7 inches deep.  Walter recommended 4 inch diameter pots but to us this size looked too small, in fact, some of the CA rhizomes wouldn't even fit in a 4 inch pot.  Walter told us we would get very tired digging the much larger holes when it came time to plant these potted iris and he was right but we feel the larger pots were worth the extra effort.

4. How long did you keep them potted before transplanting into the garden beds?

Walter told us we would need to leave them potted around a month or until the day time temperatures cooled down.  Remember, last year we were having day time temps in the 100 degree area, very hot and dry.  Walter also told us to keep the potted iris in a semi shade area and to keep the soil a little moist, not wet but moist.  We left our newly acquired iris in pots for around 2 months.  We were in no hurry to plant them.  Being in pots allowed us more time to prepare the beds which we took plenty of time doing!  :)  After we planted the iris in pots (shaved rhizomes, remember) I could pick up most of them by the fans, lifting the weight of the pot, within in a two week period.  This is how much the roots had re-grown in this time period.

As a point of comparison.  During the time we were potting the CA irises we also purchased a couple hundred rhizomes from local growers which we planted directly in our prepared beds during this same dry, high temp time period.  Since these were newly planted irises we did give them water since we were receiving no rain.  These were all irises that had been grown in this area for some time, in other words they were acclimated to this climate.  So far, our losses on the iris we planted directly in the beds has been around 50% whereas the potted iris have had (a guess) about 2% loss.  This has made a very definite impression on us!  We have learned a very major lesson!  Never again will we plant new iris directly in our beds like we did last year.  All of our new iris will go into pots!  I will say that last year was unusual because of the long hot dry spell we had and in the past years we have not had this kind of loss problem with locally grown iris.

Linda and I have discussed our planting methods quite a bit since last fall.  There is no question that potting all new irises is more work, takes more time and costs more money than planting directly in the ground.  But we have asked ourselves if the extra work and time is worth it and our answer is YES!  As for the extra cost of potting, which cost more, the potting soil or the rhizomes?
There is really no comparison on this point!  We will pot all new rhizomes, no matter where they come from, in the future!

The iris we potted then planted have virtually had no heaving problems this winter whereas the iris directly planted have had problems.  Heaving has really not concerned us too much in the past, it is just something we have learned to live with.  I'm sure we don't have the kind of problems you all have in more northern climates, especially like Canada.  But potting the iris and getting them planted early enough so that the roots have time to get a good hold in the ground seems to have solved our heaving problem.

I hope this has answered some of the questions and I will be happy to fill in any areas I may have missed.  I do want to say a big Thank You to Walter!  We took (what we considered) a big chance on buying CA irises last year and so far it looks like this gamble paid off.  We had a lot of money riding on these potted irises and we had decided that if it didn't work we wouldn't buy from CA again.

The other local growers here that warned us about buying CA irises always do so themselves anyway but are prepared to loose (according to them) up to 70% of their new purchases.  I have been checking with these people and they are reporting their normal (up to 70%) losses!  They do not pot the new irises that come into their gardens.  I have told them about our experiences but they have responded that they don't have time to do this!  All I can say about this is it is their loss!  I have done my part in telling them what we have done and what our losses have been, if they choose not to do this .......!  :)  As I said a little earlier, we did not pot all our new iris last year either!  :)


Glenn & Linda Simmons
Springfield, Southwest Missouri, USDA Zone 6
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