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CAROL'S CORNER - Current Observations for the month......September 2004

    Fort Gardens - It has been a little over one year ago when Billie Gray was asked to head up a committee
to do a plan to rejuvenate our public gardens.  And much has been accomplished.  But there is still more to do.  Last year we asked for and received a bid from Caras Nursery to remove the plants, replace top soil and redo the edging, etc.  The bid came to $7,603!  Our club could not afford that.  So we had to do it ourselves.
    Needless to say, what our club has accomplished on it's own is very valuable.  But there is still more to be done, so try to get out for a couple of hours to help where needed.  The biggest job now is probably replanting and replacing edging and sod..  Give Billie a call to see how you can help.

    Next year is our 25th Anniversary for the Fort Gardens.  We're looking for ideas on ways to celebrate our accomplishments for the past 25 years, and to create more public awareness as it deserves, so give Billie or myself a call if you have any promotion ideas.  Or volunteer for the committee to plan the 25th celebrations.

A note on iris culture.  To the beginner, iris are one of the easiest perennials to grow.  They survive with less care and reward you with fine bloom with a minimum of attention.  These few suggestions are all simple, and proper care is very easy.

Soil Preparation. Work soil well to a depth of 10 to 12 inches.  If soil is heavy, incorporate sand or compost so moisture percolates out quickly.  The soil should not be acid.  If it is, apply lime; otherwise no lime is recommended.  Well processed compost is ideal.  The compost furnishes humus and valuable soil organisms.

Fertilization.  Iris will thrive without feeding, but some is good.  A nice garden soil will grow fine iris.  Use care not to get nitrogenous material on or near the roots, as rot may start.  An application of a well balanced (12-12-12) fertilizer applied as a top dressing, dusted around and in between the plants in early spring is desirable.  Steamed bone meal and super-phosphate are fine top dressing materials.

Cultivating.   Do it shallowly.  Iris roots are very near the surface and you don't want to nick them.  Keep your iris free of weeds and do not allow neighboring plants to encroach upon them.  Remember, they should have sunlight right down to the rhizome.  Remove the outer leaves as they begin to brown.  At all times, keep litter, old iris leaves, grasses, etc. away from the rhizomes.  Clean cultivation is the finest precaution against iris troubles.

When to Plant.   For best results, plant during July through September.  Early planting establishes the new iris plants before winter.  This is the time to reset clumps of iris that are crowded, generally clumps 3 to 4 years old.  In the extreme heat, it is more advisable to plant after the extreme heat up through September.

When re-planting, trim the foliage about 2/3 down.  Trim the roots below a fist-full.  The more foliage left on the rhizome, the more likely it is to bloom the next year.  But don't worry if it doesn't bloom the first year; it's stocking up energy for a fine bloom the next year.

Where to Plant.  The ideal location for your iris is a sunny, well drained location.  A minimum of a half day of sun is recommended.  Iris will not do well in the shade.  No water should stand in the beds, either.  Raise the beds slightly above the level of your garden paths if necessary.

Depth to plant.  Place the rhizomes just below the surface of the ground with the roots well spread out underneath so the rhizome is within reach of the warmth of the sun's rays while the roots beneath are in moist (not soggy) soil.  Be sure to firm the soil tightly around each rhizome when planting.

Watering.  Newly set plants need moisture daily for a few days until they are established so they can grow a new root system.  They appreciate this attention. Water at fairly long intervals in dry weather. Established plants do not require a lot of watering except in very arid areas.  Once a week in the summer should be fine. A common mistake is to give the iris too much water.

General Garden Care.  Cultivate shallowly after each rain when the ground has dried sufficiently.  As the iris grow, the outside foliage becomes limp.  Remove these outside leaves every so often-particularly about two weeks after blooming time.  But don't pull them if they resist; it's safer to cut them off so as not to damage the plant.  No need to trim the iris foliage down on established plants, except to cut off some leaf spot should that show up.  Bloom stems are cut level with the ground after blooming on a dry day so the cut heals quickly.

Should Old Clumps Be Thinned.  Yes, after they become crowded, about every four years.  Dig up clumps, remove and discard the old center divisions that have blossomed and replant the fresh, larger foliage fans after the soil has been renovated.  If you have the room, the old center rhizomes and the smaller fans may be grown in a separate bed for a year and cut into single or double units.

Winter Protection.  I don't give my iris any special winter protection.  But newly set plants might appreciate a light covering of marsh hay, straw or a similar weed-free litter to prevent heaving from freezing and thawing.  Remove covering when spring growth begins.  Late planted iris can  have a brick placed on top of rhizomes after the first hard freeze to prevent heaving.

Leaf Spot.  Easily recognized from characteristic brown spots on foliage. Treatment is to remove the diseased portions, spray or dust with Bordeaux at strength recommended for roses, or a spray of 2 teaspoons of Clorox per quart of water is effective.  The annoying fungus is caused by overhead watering and planting too close together.

Root Rot.  If you find rot on your rhizome when dividing, trim off the damaged part and rinse with a mild Clorox rinse.   Check the conditions to see if the soil still has good drainage, as that could be the cause.