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The Iris is a low maintenance perennial that adds color, texture, and interest to your perennial flower border, without much effort. There are many varieties and colors to choose from. Most have large showy blooms that can range in every shade of the rainbow except true black and true red with thousands of colors in all to choose from because of extensive hybridization.

Irises have long, leathery, upright, grass-like leaves that can vary from three to eight inches in the dwarf varieties to a range of one to nearly two and a half feet tall, in the largest varieties. There are varieties that have variegated leaves, but a light green leaf is more common.

The leaves create the Iris' only maintenance chore because the leaves tend to turn brown and flop down to ground level in late summer. At this time the dead leaves can be trimmed away for a neater appearance, trimming the foliage to about three to six inches. New growth will resume again the following spring.

There are more than three hundred species of Iris and over 15,000 individual shades of flowers. The two most common groups of Iris are the Bearded Iris and the Siberian (Non-Bearded) Iris. Of these, the Bearded Iris is the most common. In Northern regions this variety is often called "Flags" because it blooms around Memorial Day. It is also the tallest variety at about two and a half feet when in bloom.

The Siberian Iris is usually smaller and more delicate than the Bearded Iris. Another grouping of Iris are the Arial Iris, which are a more exotic variety that looks very different from the other two groups. The Arial Iris grows from a bulb while the other two groups have roots called rhizomes.

Iris do best when planted in full sun. Although they will tolerate some shade, they should receive at least a half day in the sun. In more shady areas they will have less blooms and will bloom later.

By mixing varieties you can have an interesting blend of textures, foliage colors, and a longer bloom season. Most Iris only bloom for a few weeks each year, but with a mixed border you can extend the bloom season from March to June.

Iris are best divided in late summer after the current season's bloom is finished. Cut the foliage down to approximately three inches above the root clump. Gently wash the clump to remove remaining dirt and pry the rhizomes apart into smaller clumps. Replant the new divisions one to two feet apart.

Iris like to be planted shallowly, but the roots can sunburn if exposed. It is best to cover the roots about one inch deep, or the minimum required to hold the plant upright. No winter mulch is need in Southern climates. In the North straw or pine needles make a good winter mulch.

Iris are drought tolerant but will have more and bigger blooms if well watered during the blooming season. However, they like a well drained soil and do not like wet feet so don't overdo it.

The Iris is somewhat prone to leaf hoppers in late summer and is susceptible to powdery mildew. For this reason, it should not be watered in the late evening since the water standing on the leaves in cooler temperatures encourages powdery mildew to grow.

Overall the Iris is considered to be a low maintenance perennial flower that will enrich your garden for many seasons to come.