CULT: Storing Irises over Winter
In a message dated 11/20/99 10:03:35 AM Eastern Standard Time,
<< I live in zone 5a and the ground isn't completely frozen yet. I will move
into my new house on Jan 15th. What can I do to make sure my iris come
through the winter? I can't plant them in January at the new house and really
need some advice on how to store them for several months until I can get
them into the ground in May? >>
Hi. I'm assuming you are talking bearded iris here. If it turns out to be
something else, I'll let someone else tell you what to do.
First, I'd hate to tell you to pot them up and drag the pots around all
through the moving process,although if you just have a few or are planning to
take just a few of each kind with you that is a possibility and will work.
Keep the pots outside as much a possible and bring them in only when the
weather is really severe and cold. They need some cold to be healthy.
If you are moving more than just a few you can do this: Dig them at the last
possible moment. Break them apart. I'd break them into double rhizomes
rather than single where possible, by which I mean that I'd leave the mother
attatched to the two increases in a Y shape. Cut the roots back to six inches
and the tops back to eight, wash them off well and shake them dry, let them
dry in a well ventilated place, when completely dry store them in a cool,
dark, dry location in single layers in boxes or lattice bottomed nursery
flats. Do not let them freeze, but keep cool like potatoes. As soon as you
can work the ground at your new house get the beds ready. If you can work on
that now it would be good to do so so it can melllow over the winter and so
you can move quickly when the time comes. When the world is beginning to wake
up for spring and the beds are ready and the soil is no longer frozen, plant
the rhizomes, discarding any that have gone nasty on you. Don't worry about a
little mold if the rhizome looks fine otherwise. You'll probably want to
remove the dried up roots for ease of planting and to avoid air pockets. Just
cut it off with your garden scissors. Expect the rhizomes to be light in
weight after storage and expect the foliage to have dried down, possibly to
nothing but a nub, but plant them anyway and water them in well and keep them
watered but not sodden. They will plump up quickly and when the sun hits them
they will know it. You will loose a few, probably, but enough will make it
A final word: Don't shortchange the bed preparation in your haste to get
things done, especially if the earth has been torn up or compacted by
construction. Add a little 5-10-10, but no manure unless you can position it
low in the bed so it will not touch the rhizomes. No manure at unless it is
well rotted. No chicken manure. No fertilizer with the nitrogen number over
6--that is the first one in the formula. Check that drainage. You'll need
superior drainage and no less than half a day of strong sun on the bed. While
you are preparing the bed put a good deal of alfalfa pellets in there, the
kind they sell for horse food. An inch layer tilled in is not too much.
Alfalfa meal is fine, too. This adds organic matter and contains a growth
stimulator which irises enjoy. Make sure you get the pure alfalfa, and in
particular don't get any feed product containing corn, which contains
compound that inhibit growth, or salt.
Hope this is helpful.
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