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How To Divide Irises

Category: Flower Gardens, How-To Projects, Plant Ideas & Info, Presenting "The Curious Gardener"

Bearded iris (Iris x germanica) is the most commonly grown iris. Its fleshy roots are called rhizomes. The flowers are distinguished by a caterpillar-like fuzzy “beard” that runs down the center of each cascading petal or ‘fall’. The “beard” aids in pollination, providing a landing spot for bumble bees and other insects, and supposedly directing them towards the pollen.

Iris rhizomes should be divided every 3 or 4 years to maximize vigor and bloom.

Two years ago my irises bloomed nicely as shown in the photo here. Last spring and this spring, however, they had very few flowers so I decided to divide them this year. 

After digging into the bed I discovered there could have been another reason that caused lack of blooms this year. I may have covered the rhizomes with too much mulch, or voles or chipmunks ate some of the rhizomes; I saw some questionable evidence of the latter. Nevertheless, I went ahead and did some dividing.

The best time to divide is about a month or so after they bloom. The plant still has foliage, but it allows enough time prior to the first frost to permit the rhizomes to ripen in the sun. This is a critical part of the process to give your irises a head start after the last frost in early spring.

Step one:

Use a fork to gently lift a clump of irises with their rhizomes from the soil.

Step two:

Divide rhizomes by breaking them apart or cutting them with a knife. I’ve even heard of dropping them on the ground to see where they break naturally.  Be sure each remaining section has a group or fan of leaves on it. Discard any soft, rotted rhizomes.

Step three:

Cut the swordlike leaves back to about 12 inches tall. Ruth Clausen says that in less sunny climates, such as in England, the leaves are cut back to about 6 inches to give the rhizomes greater sun exposure to ripen.

Step four:

Replant each fan, setting the rhizomes horizontally only halfway into the soil, leaving the tops exposed. (See image taken in my garden).

Step five:

Bearded irises need plenty of air to circulate between the plants. Ruth Clausen suggests improving air circulation by removing dead leaves from the base during fall clean up.

Please feel free to share your iris images and experiences with us on Facebook and Instagram or below in Comments.

‘Indian chief’ bearded iris growing in Ruth Clausen’s garden.


5 thoughts on “How To Divide Irises

  1. Thank you for the information! Now I have to get busy and dig my Iris up and just maybe sell some.

  2. Perfect timing & very informative. Thank you. Wish me luck! 🙂

  3. Very helpful. My bearded Iris bloomed very well this year, however, they are close. Now I know it’s time to divide. Thank you

  4. Audrey Johnson says:

    Thank you for your information and advice concerning how to care and divide bearded iris. mine bloomed early June so I assume i can divide any time now.

  5. Yes, now is a good time to divide them.

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