Tired of struggling with bearded irises? Master the art of planting with this expert guide where I’m covering everything from timing and location to the crucial rhizome placement. Get ready for a breathtaking explosion of color! 

Have you ever admired the breathtaking blooms of bearded irises, only to be disappointed with your own lackluster results? You’re not alone. It’s happened to me before and it stinks when you get the foliage without the flowers.

Many gardeners struggle to get these beauties to flower abundantly. So I got you! The secret lies in planting them correctly.

This guide will equip you with the knowledge to plant bearded irises for a show-stopping display of color in your garden.

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Understanding Bearded Irises

Bearded irises (iris germanica) are prized for their vibrant flowers and stature in the flower garden. Unlike bulbs, they grow from thick, horizontal underground stems called rhizomes. These rhizomes crave sunlight and well-drained soil to thrive. So proper planting is crucial to getting gorgeous flowers.

Planting for Success: Timing is Everything

The key to lots of beautiful blooms lies in planting bearded irises at the right time. Ideally, plant them in late summer or early fall (around 6-8 weeks before the first frost). This allows the rhizomes to establish a strong root system before winter dormancy.

That said, if you are planting them as potted plants, you can plant them in early spring. I ordered a bunch from White Flower Farm last year that arrived in early spring and they bloomed their first season in the ground! I was thrilled!

angel's rest with dream of you bearded irises in garden

Location, Location, Location

Full sun is a bearded iris’s best friend. They need it to produce an abundance of blooms. So choose a location that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. That said, they can also grow and bloom well in partial shade locations. I had a bearded iris garden in my former backyard that was in the morning shade and it bloomed well.

Bearded irises prefer soil that is neutral to slightly alkaline soils, with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. When it comes to soil, drainage is paramount. They don’t love wet feet and are susceptible to rot if they are planted in areas with poor drainage. Raised beds or planting on slopes can be good options if your soil drainage is poor.

Preparing Your Garden

In early spring, it’s a great idea to amend your soil with compost, leaf mold, and other organic matter to enrich the soil and provide a base of nutrients for your bearded irises. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12-15 inches to encourage root growth. It’s always a good idea to amend the soil with compost at this stage because it can provide additional drainage and nutrients.

Pink and purple bearded irises: Angel's Rest with mother earth
Angel’s Rest and Mother Earth Bearded Irises

Planting the Bearded Iris Rhizome: The Secret to Blooming Beauty

Bearded iris rhizomes should be planted about 4 inches deep with a slight mound to accommodate root growth and roughly 12 inches apart to allow for proper growth and flowering.

Here’s how to do it right:

  1. Dig a shallow hole, around 4 inches deep.
  2. Create a small mound of soil in the center of the hole.
  3. Place the rhizome on top of the mound, with the roots spread downwards and the fan of leaves facing outwards. Crucially important: The top part of the rhizome (where the leaves emerge) should be slightly exposed, not buried deeply.
  4. Gently firm the soil around the rhizome to ensure good contact.

Keep the tops of the rhizomes exposed. When mulching, make sure there is no mulch sitting on top or they may not bloom. I’ve seen many landscapers completely bury them with mulch and that’s a surefire way to get no blooms. If they are deep enough beneath the mulch, it can kill them altogether.

close up of war chief bearded iris in the garden with nepeta
Bearded Iris ‘War Chief’

Spacing Bearded Irises for Future Success

Spacing your bearded irises depends on the desired effect. For a faster-filling clump, plant them about 12-18 inches apart with their fanning foliage facing facing in the same direction. Wider spacing (like 18-24 inches) allows for more individual blooms and may delay the need for dividing the irises in the future.

If you are growing multiple varieties in the same flower bed, plant different types together in odd-numbered groupings. Planting in groups of 3’s, 5’s, and 7’s is usually a great start for a bearded iris garden bed.

While it is recommended to space the rhizomes 12-18 inches apart, you can get away with planting them closer together to get a fuller look from the outset. Just keep in mind you’ll need to divide them sooner rather than later to maintain their vigor.

Watering and Fertilizing Bearded Irises

Give your newly planted bearded irises a thorough initial watering. Unlike many plants, they don’t appreciate mulch, as it can trap moisture around the rhizome and promote rot. Be mindful of potential pests and diseases, but a detailed discussion of these is beyond the scope of this post.

Bearded irises do not need to be fertilized after planting, or ever. Focus more on soil quality by amending it yearly with organic matter and mulching around it to suppress weeds.

close up of yellow bearded irises
Bearded Iris

Troubleshooting Lack of Bearded Iris Blooms

There are a few reasons your bearded irises may not bloom that could be related to planting. So here are a few things to think through when troubleshooting why yours are not flowering.

  • They need full sun and well-draining soil to thrive. If you lack blooms, take a serious look at where they are planted and note how much sun that spot receives.
  • Make sure the rhizomes are not planted too deeply or covered with mulch.
  • If they are newly planted irises, they may need some time to establish themselves so be patient. This has happened to me before with bearded irises, peonies, and hydrangeas. Sometimes, patience is all that’s required.
  • It’s always a good idea to check your soil to make sure it has a strong basis for your plants. Get a soil test to determine what, if any, nutrients it needs and amend the soil accordingly.

For more information about planting bearded irises, check out the following extension articles:

purple and white bearded iris in zen garden

More About Planting Bearded Irises

Are you planting bearded irises this year? What varieties are you growing? Have you struggled with getting them to bloom before? I would love to know more in the comments below.

And don’t miss joining my Gardening DIY and Decorating Community on Facebook for more chatter. And follow along there and on Instagram as well. There are behind-the-scenes daily things that I share on Instagram that don’t make it to the blog. Would love to see you there too!

If you prefer to binge-watch Bricks ’n Blooms on TV, we go more in-depth with tours and posts on my YouTube channel. Would love to hang out with you there!

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bearded iris mother earth reblooming
Bearded Iris ‘Mother Earth’

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Garden Supplies I Use for Bearded Irises

Since I’ve been gardening for well over twenty-five years, I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. Here are some of my favorites that I use in no particular order.

dahlia kogane fubuki in the potager garden

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Enjoy a beautiful day! xo

Stacy Ling

Want to learn more about me? I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.

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