Pacific coast irises: Look now, buy later

Posted on | April 1, 2012 | 5 Comments

Last spring I wrote about how the March release by nurseries of Pacific coast irises  tempted many — myself included — to plant the flowers in April. I put up this post-script because, having done it in 2011 after a wet winter leading into what proved a cool summer, I still saw mortality rates of 15%. Anyone trying it this April would be starting after a dry winter going into what looks like it’s going to be a hot summer. Here’s the problem: If you are watering newly planted irises as they become dormant in May and June, and given the only partially charged soil, you probably will be, it’s a perfect recipe for root rot and death. At $5 a plant, or more, there are much less dispiriting ways to waste money. So in these dewy days following our long-awaited rain, my advice is to inspect established Pacific coast irises in good native gardens, note which you like, even take pictures. Then take your shopping list to a good nursery (a Pacifica hotspot being Matilija Nursery in Moorpark) next  autumn, and then plant irises when they have a long cool period to become established. These are shots of this year’s survivors from a selection of plants purchased from Matilija and the Theodore Payne Foundation in Sun Valley.

Comments

5 Responses to “Pacific coast irises: Look now, buy later”

  1. Charlie
    April 1st, 2012 @ 2:16 pm

    I remember Matilija Bob having some really neat iris varieties last time I was at Matilija Nursery a few years ago.

  2. Bob Sussman - aka Matilija Bob
    April 1st, 2012 @ 4:48 pm

    Glad to see you have some nice pci’s this year. Your results will be better if you plant in fall/winter. I still plant through May and just take the slightly higher level of losses. It also depends on where your garden is. If you live in Pacific Palisades or Santa Monica you can get away with a lot. If you live in Northridge, for the average person, planting in April won’t be a good experience.

  3. Ilsa Setziol
    April 1st, 2012 @ 7:13 pm

    Mine are just starting to bloom. Hooray!

  4. Melina Watts
    April 1st, 2012 @ 9:00 pm

    My mother, definitely not a native plants person, ;-), grew many flowers from bulbs. After they were done flowering, she would go in, pull out the bulbs, whack off the tops at the base of the bulb, dust them off, lightly wrap them in paper (maybe foil, but I think I remember the ubiquitous paper towels) and keep them in the dark, in the drawer on the bottom on the left of the refrigerator for months at a time, putting them back in the ground in late fall to be ready to come up in the spring. As far as I recall…mortality was 0. Her name was June Marie DeVore Watts and she was a great gardener.

  5. EmilyGreen
    April 1st, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

    June Marie DeVore Watts, hats off! I love the sound of her. That is perfect practice for bearded irises, which can be pulled from the ground, mailed to a friend, left on a doorstep for a week and still survive. They’re great for gardeners who move plants a lot, or just want to clear space for the next season. What sets our Pacificas apart is that, unlike the imported bearded ones, they are incredibly delicate and fussy and easy to kill. Their leaves are more grass-like, less sword-shaped. The roots are small. If the phone rings while you’re dividing them, that can be it. If you divide them too early in the fall before new roots are growing, they can croak on you. If they weren’t so darn beautiful, I’d never go through the ructions. Bob Smaus once gave me a beared iris that resembled a Pacifica apart from the broad leaves. It took me years to appreciate what he already knew — they are very practical plants.

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