Iris unguicularis (Algerian Iris)

I planted our winter-blooming Algerian Iris by our driveway in a gravelly spot in full sun. Bonus: It has a great ability to flower right out there, when few other plants dare do anything. The narrow green strappy leaves, are evergreen and only 18 inches tall, and make a dense deer-resistant clump to about the same distance across. It does not like shade at all and must have very good drainage.

Starting in November (weather permitting), the clumps begin to flower with two-inch, fragrant, light lavender-purple flowers. It is a vigorous plant that slowly spreads by rhizomes (also known as rootstalk, or rootstock – the horizontal stem of a plant from which a variety of individual plants can grow – great for filling in spaces, such as alongside my driveway!). The blooms make good cut flowers arrangements, but if you do not slug bait, all of them will have some chew spots

They can continue to bloom through April (temporarily ceasing when the temperature drops below 15 degrees F). The Royal Horticultural Society named Iris unguicularis as one of the top 200 plants of the last 200 years!

This plant is great for rock gardens, raised beds, banks, slopes and containers. It can even handle coastal gardens. It is one tough plant.  It seems to handle our zone 8 climate with no problem.  I have only seen a little leaf burn when the temps got down to 12 F.

I cut the foliage down to about two inches in the late fall once it is obvious to me that it is starting to bloom. This shows off the flowers better.

It does not like being dug up and disturbed, but sections can be dug up off the sides to give to your friends and family. Be forewarned, thought, it takes more than a year to make it happy again. The center of my clump tends to give out, but I put compost and fertilizer in the middle and it grows back.

I am told that it can cause indigestion if eaten. Do not eat it.

With these few exceptions, I just leave it alone most of the year:

  • Trim back the foliage just before it breaks into bloom.
  • Bait for slugs at the same time.
  • Add a circle around it of compost and manure in March.

 

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