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In Praise of Siberian Irises

June 18, 2010

Siberian irises in my garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) When I think about my garden in June, the first flower that comes to mind is the siberian iris (Iris sibirica). These flowers usually begin blooming around June 1st and continue until the first week of July. I find all irises beautiful, but the siberians are my favorites.

Siberian irises were the first perennial flowers I grew here. A few years after I bought this property, a friend gave me divisions of two different varieties from her garden, and I created a half-moon flower bed under the bow window at the front of the house for them. I don’t know the names of these original varieties; one is a deep blue and the other is more violet. The blue one may be the original species because the new iris seedlings that pop up here and there always look like this one. Over the years, I have divided these original plants many times; and I now have their divisions and their volunteer offspring growing in many parts of the garden.

The original blue and violet siberian irises that began my love affair with this plant. Original siberian irises in my garden (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)

Butter and Sugar, the breaktrhough yellow and white siberian iris developed by Dr. Currier McEwen (photographed at Tranquil Lake nursery by Jean Potuchek) For many years, I assumed that all siberian irises were blue or blue-violet — until  I visited Eartheart Gardens in Maine one summer, was privileged to meet the pioneer iris breeder Dr. Currier McEwen, and discovered the world of iris breeding and cultivars. I came home from that visit with my first non-blue iris, I. sibirica ‘Chartreuse Encore,’ a yellow rebloomer, and planted it in the bedroom border at the front of the house. Alas, this cultivar has not rebloomed consistently for me; but, in the wet, cold summer of 2009, another of my non-blue irises, an unidentified white and yellow cultivar from the same friend who gave me my original plants, sent up a second set of blooms that lasted until the end of July.

Siberian iris fields at Tranquil Lake nursery (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Once I discovered the variety of siberian iris cultivars, I was eager to add more to my garden. When I created the deck border, I included three pink and lavender varieties; and when my mother and I visited Tranquil Lake nursery in Massachusetts to see their iris fields in bloom, I came home with four new plants in various shades of blue for the blue and yellow border. Today, I have eleven different varieties of Iris sibirica growing in six different flower beds.

Siberian irises in my garden (photo credits: Jean Potuchek)
Click on the collage above to see a slide show of all the siberian irises growing in my garden.

Why do I love siberian irises so much? First, they are happy to grow in my garden conditions. As their name suggests, cold climates suit them, and they are hardy to USDA zone 3. Moreover, although my plant references say that they prefer wet soil, they perform well in my sandy garden. I have never lost a siberian iris. Even the self-sown seedlings that develop in such unlikely places as the woodchip walkway or under the steps always survive (if I don’t yank them out).  When I first divided my original siberian irises, I moved those divisions to the back slope, planting some at the top, and some about halfway down the slope. Since then, these plants have seeded a third tier of irises at the bottom of the slope.

If that weren’t reason enough for loving siberian irises, I have also found that these elegant, graceful plants work well in the perennial garden. Their narrow lance-shaped foliage is attractive all season long; and, unlike many of their larger, more showy iris cousins, they are amiable companions for many other plants.

Siberian rises with companion plants (photo credits: Jean Potuchek)
Siberian irises getting along nicely in the perennial garden with Tradescantia ‘Danielle’ and Baptisia australis

Although the arrival of the iris budfly in my garden (see Battling the Iris Budfly) has kept siberian irises from being completely carefree plants for me, the beauty they bring to my garden each June is well worth the extra effort.

32 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2010 7:14 pm

    Worthy of high praise indeed! Like you, for years I assumed all Siberian irises were some shade of blue or violet. I actually rather like the yellow ones. I hope everyone takes the time to click through to your slideshow…it’s not to be missed. Up close these flowers are just breath-taking!

  2. June 18, 2010 9:06 pm

    I, too, find the Siberian Iris to be a better companion plant. The Germanicas may be showier but Sibericas are neater and more elegant.

  3. June 19, 2010 12:08 am

    You do have some absolutely gorgeous Siberian Irises … love that Chartreuse Encore!

  4. gardeningasylum permalink
    June 19, 2010 5:39 am

    Oh Jean I love them too, and I love all your varieties! I started with a small pass along clump and in a few years they’re growing everywhere in the sunny garden. That crisp foliage is such a plus with the bloom time being relatively short.

  5. June 19, 2010 5:54 am

    I ask myself, “Why do I not have any of these in my garden”. I did have a siberian in my last, and it was one of the best performers. You have so many beautiful varities, I really like the lavender one at the end of the top row in the collage. Do you know the variety?

  6. June 19, 2010 5:57 am

    What a wonderful variety of irises, I love that yellow! I so look forward to getting some additional gardening beds prepared so I can add more varieties. Your collection is beautiful. I do enjoy their upright foliage, too, as it makes such a nice contrast.

  7. June 19, 2010 7:51 am

    Those irises are just lovely Jean. I think the yellow and white is very pretty, but the blues, mauves and lavender shades are stunning!

    • Jean permalink*
      June 19, 2010 10:29 pm

      Hello Everyone, I’m glad that you enjoyed the irises; I do love them — even with the hassles of the iris budfly.

      Clare, I’m delighted that you checked out the slide show and thought it was worth your while. I have a number of these shots on the screensaver on my computer.

      Cyndy and Liisa, While I think the foliage is fine, I think it is less of a plus for me because I have so many daylilies and tradescantia in the garden, with similar shaped foliage. Thank goodness for all those varieties of geranium for some contrasting foliage shapes!

      Cyndy, The bloom period for siberian irises is not that short for me. This is probably in part because my climate is different from yours, partly because I grow varieties of irises that bloom at different times, and partly because I grow the same varieties in parts of the garden with different microclimates and therefore different bloom times. For example, my earliest old-fashioned blue irises (in the iris bed) opened this year on May 16 (exceptionally early), but the last flower of this variety on the back slope, where they bloom last, is still in bloom. My latest-blooming cultivar, Yankee Doodle Boy, usually begins blooming about a month after the old fashioned blues.

      Deborah, The iris in the top right corner of the collage is Pink Haze. In my garden, it usually looks considerably paler than it appears in this photo. (I have another photo of it that is barely tinged with pink/lavender.) This is the cultivar that has had the hardest time getting established in my garden. The original plant that I got from a local nursery was a bit of a runt, and I think this cultivar has some Iris ensata in its lineage and is less tolerant of my sandy soil than the other siberians. I went back and looked at my records, and it seems to bloom most profusely in wet years. This year, when our spring and early summer was unusually warm and dry, this plant didn’t bloom at all.

      Heidi, I agree with you. Even though yellow is my favorite color, I have lots of other yellow flowers in the garden, and it is the blue, mauve, and lavender shades of these irises that I find most beautiful.

  8. June 19, 2010 11:56 am

    Such beautiful flowers and photos! I love irises too, but have more bearded than Siberian. I’ll be adding more of the Siberian because they are so carefree. I did add 18 varieties of reblooming irises last year and have been enjoying their beautiful blooms this year. The first blooms are done now and I’m looking forward to a second round. Hopefully they will live up to their name. Thanks for sharing your beautiful garden.

    • Jean permalink*
      June 19, 2010 10:31 pm

      Jackie, Thanks for visiting. I would think that siberian irises would do very well in Minnesota. If they are carefree, I guess that means that you don’t have iris budfly there (lucky you!).

  9. June 20, 2010 6:24 am

    I share your love of Siberian iris and grow them in different parts of my land … and they have different bloom times. I have yet to add colors other than the common purple, but see white Siberians in my near future. When finished blooming, the foliage holds its lovely green all summer. I’ve never had pest problems – knock on wood – and find Siberians one of the easiest to grow of all perennials. Your photos are lovely.

  10. patientgardener permalink
    June 20, 2010 7:47 am

    I love Siberian Irises as well although I only have dark blue ones which dont rebloom. I did have some pale blue ones but they seem to have disappeared now which is a pity

  11. June 20, 2010 10:20 am

    Jean, a clump of Siberian irises in bloom and caressed by the breeze looks to me like a battalion of butterflies on the wing. They are so lovely. I have only seen them growing stream-side here, sometimes with their feet nearly in the water, and of course they bloom in late April. Maybe that water placement advice only applies if they need to stay cooler than average local conditions? Regardless, if I ever own a creek in need of some erosion control, they’ll be my first choice to hold the mud in place.

    What a pleasure to have a gorgeous collection like yours! Thanks for showing us. 🙂

  12. June 20, 2010 8:35 pm

    I really need to plant more of these… they are such easy plants with great flowers.

  13. June 20, 2010 8:55 pm

    I really do love siberian iris, but my Ceasear’s Brother did not bloom this year nor did my white ones. I am going to have to move them to a different location – maybe too much shade.


    • Jean permalink*
      June 20, 2010 10:33 pm

      Joene, One of my favorite white siberian irises (although not one I currently have in my garden) is one called ‘Gulls Wings.’ Their falls are more horizontal than vertical and the flowers are tall enough that they kind of float over the top of the foliage. I’d love to have this one some day.

      Helen, I think the dark blue ones that are closer to the species are just generally hardier. I may have this wrong, but I think they’ve gotten some of the other colors by cross-breeding with Iris ensata, and I definitely can’t grow those in my lean, sandy soil. I don’t care that much about the re-blooming characteristic; there’s so much else going on in the garden at the time these would rebloom. (Although last summer was so cold, rainy, and generally dreary here, I was happy for any good news I could get in the garden.)

      Meredith, I have seen some similar irises growing in streams. In the northeast, there’s a native (Iris versicolor – commonly called Blue Flag) and a garden escapee (Iris pseudacoris – commonly called Yellow Flag) that grow in these conditions. And I must say that whenever I’ve come across them, for example while hiking along a stream, I have found them just magical.

      Dirty Girl, I couldn’t agree more; these are such beautiful flowers.

      Eileen, I had low bloom on several of mine this year, too. Pink Haze didn’t bloom at all, and Lavender Bounty — which usually lives up to its name — only had a few flowers. The issue for me wasn’t sun, though, these actually grow in a sunny part of the garden. I think the issue in my case was water; we had an unusually warm and dry spring. I looked back at my records and Pink Haze had it’s best blooms in 2008, when I had snow 5′ deep in my garden in March, and 2009, when it rained pretty much non-stop from the end of May until mid-July.

  14. June 21, 2010 5:36 am

    Jean – your irises are just stunning. I love the mosaic photo that you made of them. They truly ARE ‘June’s flowers’.


  15. June 21, 2010 8:32 am

    I never thought I could love an iris but I think you may have turned me. The Siberian flowers are much simpler than the Germanicas and that really appeals to me. Thanks for the beautiful slideshow. Marguerite

  16. June 21, 2010 9:39 am

    A beautiful collection of Siberian Iris, Jean.

    That was one of the first plants placed in our garden many years ago. A friend divided hers and gave us some starts. Besides being lovely, they are the first sign of the forthcoming garden blossoms and with easy care, erect green foliage all summer, they have always been a part of our landscape. Lovely photos!

  17. Lori Geiger permalink
    May 22, 2011 10:58 am

    Beautiful pictures! We had blue-violet Siberian iris in our garden when we moved here 19 yrs ago. Had to move them into a fenced area because of deer problems. They are near tall bearded irises of many different colors. Last summer, a yellow siberian iris came up among the blue-violet ones. Any ideas? I’m thinking it’s a new variety but how to find out? Waiting to see if anything comes up this year.

    • Lori Geiger permalink
      May 22, 2011 11:00 am

      P.S. What did you use to make the collage if I may ask? Thanks.

    • May 26, 2011 10:26 pm

      Lori, This is so exciting. I would be thrilled if I found a new yellow siberian iris growing in my garden! I don’t know enough about iris genetics to know how likely it is that this is some kind of new self-sown hybrid. All the volunteer seedlings that come up in my garden are blue-violet. You might try the American Iris Society or get in touch with Sharon Whitney at Eartheart Gardens. (She is a protege of Currier McEwen who is continuing his iris breeding program.)
      The collage is done with Picasa, a photo application available free from Google.

  18. June 24, 2012 1:10 pm

    Hello Jean;

    I have been growing Siberian Iris for over 25 years and have a collection of roughly 300 varieties.I have been actively hybridizing SIs for a decade. PInk Haze was registered in 1969 by Dr. William McGarvey, and is a complex cross involving Royal Ensign, White Swirl, and a pinkish McGarvey seedling, all Siberian Iris parents. Pink in SIs are derived from blue that is why given certain environmental conditions Pink Haze can have strong blue overtones throughout the flower.

    • June 24, 2012 10:30 pm

      Will, Thank you so much for stopping by and for this information on Pink Haze. I love this cultivar, but I have a lot of trouble getting it to bloom in my garden. Any ideas about why it seems to need more moisture than other SI varieties?

  19. July 9, 2012 5:34 pm

    Hello Jean;

    Eventhough PInk Haze won the Morgan-Wood medal in 1988, (highest award given a Siberian Iris by The Society for Siberian Iris) I also found it to be a reluctant bloomer and gave all my plants for sale through my local iris society. There is nothing in its breeding to account for additional water needs.
    I really don’t have many good pinks in my collection. Fond Kiss is white with a pink blush,
    large flowers, another Morgan- Wood winner. Strawberry Social and Sugar Rush are two recent pink introductions through Joe Pye Weeds Garden. Sweets of May, an early bloomer is also very attractive, Has red spathes and a shock of yellow gold in the light lavender style arms.


    • July 23, 2012 5:53 pm

      Hi Jean,

      Check out my blog, See some of the dwarf Siberian Iris I have developed!


      • July 24, 2012 10:18 pm

        Will, Thanks for calling these lovely plants to my attention.
        Regarding Pink Haze, a clue to its water needs may be its ‘White Swirl’ parentage. I have ‘White Swirl’ in my garden and, unlike ‘Pink Haze,’ it is a very vigorous plant that quickly formed a large clump and that blooms profusely every year. But in two years when we had heavy rains in May and June, ‘White Swirl’ rebloomed in July. In the very wet summer of 2009, it rebloomed with a full set of new flowers (one of the few bright spots in what I thought of as a “lost garden season”); this year, when we had very heavy rain in early June, it got two new flowers on one spathe.

        • July 25, 2012 6:27 pm

          Hi Jean;

          Rebloom is always a pleasant surprise. In my continental climate its a rarity.
          A few years ago as President of our local iris society we conducted a symposium on rebloomers. In the case of Siberian Iris it is remontant bloom, an extension of the bloom season. In bearded iris it is rebloom, occurring in a different season entirely, first bloom in June and rebloom in the fall say September or October.
          You can still see the listing of Iris especially Siberian Iris which have rebloomed in my area if you go to the Iris Society of MInnesota website,

  20. PaulK permalink
    September 3, 2012 9:12 pm

    My quick question. If I do plant Sinerian iris on a dry bank and it takes and my problems are solved…no mowing the darned bank, will I need to dig up the bulbs to keep the irises looking good after several years. I seem to see some day lilys growing very slowly on this dry bank. I expect to plant 100 siberian iris seedlings I grew from seed last year. Maybe I have this all wrong. Anyway, I grew several hundred (looks like tall grass now) irises from seed, and am considering planting them up and down a 75′ embankment. Your thoughts? Will I need to separate them in five years. I can’t do that. As I said, some red/yellow lilys on the same bank seem to grow slowly due to the dry conditions. Maybe I wouldn’t ever have to divide them. That would be the ideal.

    • September 4, 2012 12:15 pm

      Dry slopes are not ideal conditions for Siberian Iris if you want a sustainable low maintenance garden.You will need to mulch ard irrigate, roughly an inch of water a week.
      A better place would be the bottom of the slope if water accumulates and does not quickly drain. Siberian Iris are wet meadow plants, while meadows dry through the season and mature clumps are drought tolerant in these condtions they may be difficult to establish and maintain.
      I have clumps of Siberians which have not been transplanted in a decade and still bloom profusely.
      You may want to use ornamental grasses for your slope.

      • paulk permalink
        September 4, 2012 6:59 pm

        Thanks Will. Much appreciated.


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