Author: Heather Hacking firstname.lastname@example.org @HeatherHacking on Twitter
This drought is making garden choices more confusing. From what I’ve read, we don’t know if we’ll get small, medium or no rain this fall and winter. Even if the sky suddenly gushes forth with boatloads of rain, it may be a long while before our overdrawn aquifers rebound.
Will I need to write about drought gardening for another 10 months? Will Sow There ! Need to shift to hydroponic gardening tips?
What about lichen? Would readers relish reading about foliose and fructicose (types of lichen) instead of water-grabbing hydrangea and impatiens?
I was in such a quandary I called my buddy Bob Scoville, at the Master Gardener program over in Glenn County.
Bob has also been dwelling on drought, so much so that we had a short, yet spirited conversation about his dead lawn.
New digs, old drought
This will be the first autumn in my new house, which is 15 feet from the house where I grew a garden for the previous 18 years.
With not much going on in my new yard, I’m getting a bit itchy.
My new yard, by the way, contains weed plants like privet, wild viola and a giant mimosa tree.
The previous tenant also had two pitbulls with mean voices. They ran the perimeter of the yard, barking at passing school children. The dogs also loved to dig holes.
If I was more optimistic, I could view the mostly barren yard as an “empty palette.”
A dozen years of irises
For example, if I look over at my old house, I see at least 100 irises.
I planted six deep-purple bearded irises about 15 years ago.
The thing about irises is that they are designed to be shared. In fact, if you don’t divide irises every 3-5 years, they won’t bloom.
When I look at those 100 iris plants, just over yonder, I see my years of dividing and dividing. Every few years I filled black plastic bags with irises and dumped them in the lunch room at work.
People who don’t have lunch rooms probably drive around town finding random, barren yards in which to dump bags filled with irises.
Clearly, it’s time to divide the irises in my old yard because I clearly need something to fill those dog-beaten spots in my new yard.
I asked Bob at Glenn County Master Gardeners if I have any business planting things in the middle of the drought.
Would I be a bad person for planting something new, something that would inevitably require water?
Bob didn’t have an answer to that.
However, UC Cooperative Extension literature clearly states that irises should be divided in the fall.
Decision on division
Even I am not intimidated by dividing iris plants.
If you look among the pointed leaves, you’ll see the rhizomes at the top of the soil. These look something like carrots.
Under the carrot-type things are roots extending 4-6 inches into the soil.
Sink the shovel into the mass of plants and dig down as deeply as you can.
If you chop off some of the rhizomes with the shovel, don’t fret. There are so many it won’t matter.
Lift gently with the shovel and get down on your hands and knees.
Now you should be able to gently separate the plants, being careful to keep as many of the roots a possible.
Leave enough plants in the ground so you don’t have a giant bald spot.
The recommendation is to space plants 12-24 inches apart, but I rarely follow directions.
Many people trim the leaves of the plant down to about four inches. Tammy Cripe, another helpful Master Gardener who gets to spend time with Bob, said she has personally never trimmed the tops. Yet, people who take the time report that the plants do well, she said.
The link below recommends watering so that three inches of soil is wet after planting, then as needed.
I can’t speak for all iris varieties, but mine are virtually indestructible. When they are watered, they bloom well. When they are neglected, they somehow survive.
For far more helpful cultivation tips, check out the American Iris Society info. here: http://goo.gl/MmBt3h