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"At Pond's Edge" by Jim Leonard, published in Water Gardening Magazine, August 97

I stood at the entrance to the display room for the Society for Louisiana Iris Show and was riveted by the beauty of the numerous Louisiana Iris bloom stalks. I hadn’t expected to see the range of colors, the grace and form of the stalks, the multiple blooms on the many stalks, or the combination of the colors. I went to the show to find something native to plant around my pond, something which didn’t require too much work and care. What I found was a permanent excitement that fifteen years later led to a company called Louisiana Iris Farms, LLC, which grows and distributes Louisiana Irises across the country.

Culture of Louisiana Irises

Pond of water culture of these irises takes care of almost all of the necessary requirements. If they are planted along the bank or edge of a pond, not much needs to be known or done. The irises are then growing in their natural habitat. These plants were born in the back waters of the alluvial deposits from the Mississippi River which were regularly fed by the slow rise and fall of the bayous. The soil was rich and wet. The seeds would travel with the flow of the bayou and in later summer and early fall with the low water they would germinate and take root. The established Louisiana irises would also begin their new growth in those months, and as the waters began to rise, so would their foliage. In the spring, when the water was the highest, so were the Louisiana irises, which stood from thirty to fifty inches, depending on variety, from the ground. Fortunately, you don’t have to get into a pirogue and paddle into the marsh to see these irises blooming. Louisiana irises are successfully grown all over the U.S., as well as in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and parts of Europe and the Orient. And they are grown in different ways with great success. Irises are adaptable, but with each step away from their native habitat, they require some cultural compensation. There are some proven steadfast rules for successful cultivation; sun, wet feet during the growing season, mulch, fertilizer, and an acidic soil. The natural pond’s edge is perfect for growing irises. However, plant the rhizomes in as sunny an exposure as possible. Irises need at least a half-day of full sun to bloom — the more the better. Put the rhizomes about an inch into the ground and space them about a foot to a foot and one-half feet apart. Since they multiply, one this year likely produces two or three in the next year. Over a couple of years a clump will form. If it grows too tightly bound, the blooms diminish. Although they are ideally planted into about six inches of water, the foliage should be well above the water’s line. About six weeks after the last hard freeze, your efforts are rewarded. In small ponds growers may keep the rhizomes in a pot. The pot may be entirely out of the water, a couple of inches in the water, or entirely submerged. By potting in containers without holes, soil is kept from dirtying the water. In any event, I recommend that the pot be at least ten inches in diameter with a depth of at least six inches. The mixture of soil in the pot is not overly important, for it supports the rhizome’s root structure and gives reinforcement to the weight of the tall bloom stalk as it matures. Otherwise, the stalk may tilt or fall into the water as the rhizome loses hold. With the rhizome planted about one inch from the surface of the potting soil mixture, the root system eventually advances all the way to the bottom of the pot. Even though they prefer water and boggy conditions, their adaptability is such that Louisiana irises can be planted in numerous other locations. I don’t recommend rock gardens, but since modern hybridizing began in the late 1940's, much of the plantings have been under ordinary garden conditions. Accordingly, much has been learned of the irises’ preference in soil conditions, preparation of beds, planting, fertilizing, watering and mulching. An acidic soil is a must for these plants. They will not perform well in alkaline soils. The pH level should be 6.5 or less; any soil suitable for azaleas and camellias is ideal for Louisiana irises. As you might expect from its natural habitat, high soil fertility and organic matter is also a needed ingredient for successful growing. Organic matter can include peat, composted leaves, old sawdust, or nearly anything with decaying nutrients. The best time to plant and divide irises is just after they are coming out of their summer dormant period. In Louisiana this is late August or early September. We have found with proper care, the irises may be planted and divided after bloom from April until June, but the preferred time is in late August or early September. The blooming period in south Louisiana begins in the last week of March and extends to the third week in April. This blooming period is delayed about a week for every one hundred miles further north. Louisiana irises are perennials and are grown from rhizomes. The rhizome blooms only once, developing offshoots that bloom the following year. After due time, the newly planted beds will be full of offsets. For that reason, do not plant them too closely together. As in the pond plantings, place each rhizome about eighteen inches apart. When the clumps have become big or invasive, divide them and replant. This is relatively easy since the rhizomes are growing just below the surface. Dig them up, cut the foliage back to within three inches from the rhizome, and then cut the rhizome about two inches from the growth of the foliage. Cut the rhizome just like you would slice a potato and then replant. If you cannot replant right away, or if you have a bunch of extra rhizomes which you want to share, put the rhizomes into water. Keep the top of the foliage above water. They will store for a long period of time. To insure bloom in Louisiana, the rhizomes need to be in the ground by late October. Watering is also important to insure bloom. Watering must be regular during the fall months after new growth has begun. The beds should not be allowed to stay dry for long periods of time — not more than one week. Obviously, since their natural habitat is very moist to wet conditions, the more water the better. These irises respond to nutrient-rich soil. An application of fertilizer is suggested about two months before bloom. Established beds benefit from an application of fertilizer at the start of the growing season and again a month or so before bloom. Prior to bloom, it is not advisable to use fertilizers which have a high nitrogen content to prevent excessive leafy growth and early bloom. Early nitrogen feeding can make the iris stalk susceptible to damage by a late freeze. I have been using 6-24-24 in mid-February for the bloom season to start in late March. The closer the bloom season, the more balanced a fertilizer you can use. If planting a new bed, use about 2-4 pounds per 100 square feet of an 8-8-8 formula. Mulching is another important factor in the successful growing of Louisiana irises. Mulch helps maintain soil moisture as well as keeps weeds under control. Also, it prevents the sun’s rays from burning the shallowly planted rhizome, a condition known as "sun scald" that can lead to deterioration and rot. This problem is prevented with 2-3 inches of rotted or semi-rotted leaves, pine straw, or any other mulch cover. You don’t need to worry about mulching or sun scald if the rhizomes are grown in water, but mulching is still very important in colder areas. If you live in zones 4-6, a year-round mulch provides a blanket of warmth and protection. Another consideration for growing irises in colder zones is to plant them in May and early June so that the plants can establish. Planting in later September or October may delay bloom. Also in the northern zones fertilization is essential to promote growth in a relatively short time. Liquid fertilizer such as Miracid or Rapid-Gro Evergreen and Azalea Food may provide quicker results. Apply the plant food every 3-4 weeks through the growing season until after the bloom.

Flower Arrangements

While the Louisiana iris is attractive in the landscape, it is gorgeous in flower arrangements. Cut the stems about two inches from the ground and bring them inside. The combination of colors and variations of the same hue are uniquely joined when placed together in the vase. The flower stalk bears five to seven bud placements, and as one bud expires, another flares open. Often two or more buds will open at the same time. When a bud dies back, clip it off to allow the new blooms to share center stage. Spacings between blooms on one stalk are filled by the blooms from another stalk. Whether in the yard or in the vase, the bloom stalk should last about a week. But the whole floral arrangement in a vase, amended by new additions, may last the entire season. Keep the vase full of fresh water.


Select easy-to-grow varieties of good garden value. Around the pond, select colors for the desired landscape effect at the time of bloom. If other plants or trees are blooming at the same time, integrate a color scheme. Use many plants of a single color or cultivar. A continuous iris planting from higher ground down to the shallows of the pond to provide transition and continuity. If the pond is yet to be dug, include contours of very shallow depths along the banks. In norther climates, select varieties which are cold hardy. Varieties hybridized from the native species I. brevicarlis survive better in colder regions. These irises’ genetic background is from the upper Mississippi Valley and Arkansas. When information is not available on the genetic background of a particular variety, remember that generally the smaller the iris is in stature, the more cold-tolerant it may be. Another factor in selecting varieties for the colder zones is the time the bloom will open. Varieties are classified in terms of early, mid-season or later bloomers. Late blooming cultivars avoid the risk of spring frost damage. However, for pond growing the general rule for northern planting selection may not apply. Water retains a tremendous amount of heat, and it gives off heat even as it freezes. Most of the Louisiana varieties can be successfully grown in norther water gardens. Grow I. brevicarlis hybrids in beds within the yard and the taller, more cold-sensitive varieties in the pond. Each variety should come from the supplier with the mature height range of the foliage. Follow the usual garden protocol of placing lower growing plants in the foreground and taller ones in the back. Annuals often used for blending with irises in border plantings include petunia, phlox, zinnia, marigolds, dusty miller, poppies, verbena, portulaca, and larkspur. These suggestions show that the use of the iris with other plantings is limited only by the willingness of the gardener to try using them in border plantings.

Louisiana Iris Farms, LLC

Admittedly, those irises at the flower show hooked me for life. Shortly thereafter I bought a fee bi-tone colorifics from Dr. Charles Arny. I continued to regularly add to my collection until I had about 1,000 blooming irises. But this mild addition was nothing compared to what happened to my partner, Bob Cole. Bob and his wife came over one late afternoon in early April for a boat ride to Abbeville to eat oysters. The irises were in full bloom around the house. Before we left, I showed Bob around. He hinted that if I had a few left over after an upcoming digging and division weekend, he would like to give them a try. A couple of weeks later, Bob returned to pick up a bucket full of plants around his pond near the coulee (natural drainage ditch or small bayou). The irises exploded in color the next year and he, too, was hooked. But it didn’t end with a few at his pond. Bob has a rice farm near Jennings, Louisiana, with one five-acre section that is surrounded by a coulee and pine forest. There, with his backhoe and massive John Deere tractor, he built iris beds and natural areas where he could grow and propagate the rhizomes. Now he has over 100,000 Louisiana irises growing in sections of the various colors — white, shades of light blue, dark blue, red, light purple, and wine. If a pond grower wants anywhere from 50 to 2,000 of any of these colors, Bob has them. On my farm in Lafayette, Louisiana, I grow almost two hundred different registered varieties. A registered variety is a hybridized Louisiana iris which has been submitted to the Society of Louisiana Irises for registering. The person who has filed the cultivar with the Society has determined that the iris has a distinctive or different characteristic than other registered varieties. On both farms we grow enough irises to fill mail orders from nurserymen and individual growers. We formed a distribution company called Louisiana Iris Farms, LLC. When an order comes in for registered varieties, I fill it; when an order arrives for a quantity of a certain color, Bob digs and ships them. The planting, growing, and enjoying of these incredible plants has been fun for both of us. We hope that you will find a spot in or near your pond or garden to give them a try.

Water Gardening

Water gardening has become very popular. The Louisiana Iris is a plant very suitable for any water garden. If grown in the dirt of a pond, its roots help hold the soil and filter the water. If grown in pots placed in the pond, it adds a natural habitat for fish and provides a rainbow of color during the spring bloom. The art of water gardening cannot be complete without the Louisiana Iris.

The Iris Flower

The Louisiana iris flower in many respects resembles an orchid. There may be as many as 4 to 5 blooms per stalk, depending on the variety. As a cut flower, the Louisiana Iris will continue to bloom after cut and placed indoors, and often will last for several days. Buds that have not opened will open indoors. The Louisiana Iris Flower makes a beautiful floral arrangement, either alone or with other floral decorations.