Azaleas and Iris bring color splash for spring

In spite of a couple of surprisingly cold nights this last weekend it appears the spring season is in full gear and all of nature seems to be leafed out, blooming and springing back to life. You can now plant almost all kinds of container grown trees, shrubs, vegetables and flowers. Now is the best time to plant to take advantage of the full 6 month growing season between now and the killing frosts late next October or early next November.

Two of the plants making the biggest color splash now as you drive around our wonderful state are Azaleas and Iris. Both are plants that come back year after year with just a little attention and are available at garden centers and nurseries now if you want to buy some to add to your landscape. Azaleas are in the rhodendron  family and many varieties of azaleas are widely available in our area for use in full or partial shade . There are well over 10,000 varieties of species and hybird azaleas available in many tones of white, purple, red, orange and pink flowers.  Flowers range from a ½” to 2 ½” across but it is the huge quantity of flowers that makes a showy mound from 12” to 60” tall and across and the intensity of these flowers that makes them so impressive. Most popular deciduous varieties are native to North America and many evergreen varieties are native to Japan. Azaleas usually bloom at this time of year and stay in flower for 2 to 4 weeks although some new varieties like the Encore series bloom off and on throughout the season with bigger flower displays in the spring and fall.

In our part of the country Azaleas do best on the north or east side of the house or other buildings or in the shade created under trees. They like acidic (5.5 to 6 PH) and well drained soil. Adding lots of organic matter to your soil will help lower the PH and improve the drainage. You may want to dig a hole about the size of a bushel basket and mix Canadian sphagnum peat about 50/50 to your backfill as you plant azaleas into your yard. Azaleas are light feeders but will benefit from an annual application of a low PH fertilizer for acid loving plants. Any pruning should be done right after flowering in the next few weeks so you don’t cut off the flowers for next spring.

Iris is another plant available in thousands of varieties and we often think of them as a “grandma” plant as we probably saw them in grandma’s garden with their unique and royal looking bearded flowers. In reality, their history dates back much further than grandma as they were named after the goddess of the rainbow because of their many colors and their flower appears on the ancient sphinx statues and in many early Egyptian stone relief works. There are two major groups of iris, all with interesting green sword like or fan shaped foliage. Rhizome iris include the popular bearded, crested or beardless iris with thickened stems that grow horizontally and the smaller bulbous iris like Dutch iris that produce smaller flowers and need a period of dormancy between flowerings. The iris are available in a rainbow of colors including blue, purple, red, pink, yellow, white, black and many combinations of these colors. Some are especially interesting where the 3 upright or standard petals are one color and the 3 sepals or falls that drop down are another color. Iris roots have been used medicinally for dropsy, as a powerful cathartic and to remove freckles. Today the flowers are widely used to make a violet like perfume.

Select the Iris colors and varieties you like and plant them in the full sun in a well drained soil for best results. Space the plants one to two feet apart. They do best if you will work the soil 12 to 15 inches deep and mix in 2” to 4” of sphagnum peat or other good compost. You can plant container grown iris at the same depth as the soil in the container or if planting the rhizome or fleshy root dig a hole about 10” to 12” in diameter and 4” deep and make a ridge at the center of the hole where you can set the rhizome and spread the roots to each side of the shallow ridge and cover the rhizome with a thin layer of soil. Water thoroughly and regularly and get ready for your own iris flower show next spring like those enjoyed by the Egyptian Pharaohs and your grandma. Plant away and have fun in your yard and garden.

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