May 10, 2016

How to Divide Irises

Irises are so elegant.
They remind me of my grandparents.
My one grandpa used to call them "flags," and kept a small patch of them.
My grandma on the other side though, she really loved them.
I remember she had at least 2-3 rows of her garden completely dedicated to irises.
When they were all in bloom, they were a sight to behold.
And their scent! There's nothing quite like it.

I divided my irises last week--just in the nick of time!
They have started to put up buds this week.

This is from last year. Look what I have to look forward to!!

So here's the thing with irises--they are pretty easy-going plants.
You can procrastinate dividing them until they're practically blooming, and they will probably settle in and still bloom for you. In fact, I'm fully expecting the ones I just divided to bloom--though they may be a week or two later than the rest.

That being said, if yours are already blooming--wait until later this summer.
The irises would probably put up with the disturbance, but it can be tough to do everything you need to do without breaking off the flower stalk.
And that, my friends, would be a crying shame.

If this is something you have never done before, be brave!
You've got this!

So first, how do you know that your irises need to be divided in the first place?

Take a look at your iris patch.
Irises grow from rhizomes--that's the round, firm part halfway out of the ground.
Each rhizome eventually forms sideshoots, which develop into their own rhizome.
Once a few of these have formed, the central rhizome usually dies.

It may look something like this (although at this point your leaves will be much longer--this was taken in February.)
Can you see that the middle lump doesn't have any green leaves growing from it, but it's surrounded by healthy-looking babies?
It's time to divide!

Get out your shovel and dig 3-4 inches out around the outer perimeter of the whole rhizome family.
Carefully lift the entire bunch out where you can see it.

[Wow! Those grew fast! Ha. The rest of these pictures are from last week.]

Brush the dirt off the best you can and take a good look at what you've got.
You can even wash them off with the hose, but I'm generally too lazy for that!

Healthy irises should feel firm when you squeeze them, NOT mushy.
Also, there should not be any insect holes in them.
There should be healthy green leaves sprouting from one end.
The roots should not be black or withered-looking.

So here you can see there are two healthy rhizomes that need to come off, with the rhizome on the bottom looking black, with no leaves growing from it.
Now, here's why this is so easy: the rhizomes snap right off!
Grab hold close to the leaves and bend.
It should snap off from the parent without any problems.
Next, pull gently to tease apart the roots and free it completely.
The roots usually come right apart with a steady tug.
On to the next!

All of these were from 2 "families" that I divided.

Give it a try! 
Unless you're trying to fill up your flowerbed, you will have more than can fit back into that space.
Not to worry! Any extras can be used to make a new patch of May gladness somewhere else, or even given away. Gardeners tend to make friends easily! :)


  1. You've reminded me that I have a few that need dividing - many thanks.

  2. What a jolly post on propagation (that's something I never thought I would write!) All the information, so succinctly yet entertainingly given.
    Isn't it wonderful when plants remind us of people? I would have loved to have seen those rows of Iris.

    1. Thanks, Sarah! I'm extra fond of the irises because of those memories. :)