The iris is a reliable flowering plant suitable for use in mixed flower beds and a range of planting schemes. While the flowers add dramatic color, in a range of shades including blue, pink, lavender and white the foliage provides long lasting color. Once the flowers fade, the foliage remains in place, acting as a backdrop to late spring or summer flowering plants.
There are over 350 different types of iris currently recorded. These come in a range of sizes, shapes, flowering habits and colors. This article seeks to highlight some of the most attractive and lesser known types of iris. Developing in a range of shapes, colors and sizes the following plants are suitable for planting in a range of different situations.
These flowers are a great way to add long lasting color and interest to a range of planting schemes.
Agripinella (I. ensata), the first entry on our types of iris list, is a showy addition to the garden. The ruffled flowers, with rose pink petals and white centers stand out even further thanks to their bright yellow throats. Flowering from early to mid summer, Agripinella is particularly attractive when used in mass plantings.
Suited to most climates, Agripinella is popular for its large, richly colored flowers. When fully open the petals can reach 8 inches wide, while the plants can grow to 3 ft tall. This means that Agripinella is a great way to add color, texture and height to a planting scheme.
Ruffled flowers add visual interest and texture to a planting scheme.
Alida (I. reticulata) or the Dwarf Iris is a small cultivar ideal for growing in pots, window boxes and planters. Typically reaching 4 to 6 inches high, Alida’s flowers are cool blue with white and yellow markings. Flowering from late winter to early spring, Alida is particularly attractive when used in mass plantings alongside paths, walkways or at the front of a floral border.
3 Alpine Majesty
One of the tallest types of iris, Alpine Majesty (I. ensata) can reach up to 40 inches in ideal conditions. When in flower, the bright white double petals with attractive yellow throats are an elegant addition to the garden. A popular cultivar, Alpine Majesty plants thrive in moist soil. This means that they are particularly suited to planting positions next to streams and ponds.
4 Blue Moon
Blue Moon (I. sibirica) is one of the clump forming types of iris. This makes it a good choice for seasonal ground cover. As well as rich foliage, Blue Moon is also popular for its attractive long lasting flowers. Blue Moon’s violet-blue petals are decorated with purple veins and pale yellow bases. These low maintenance plants can reach up to 3 ft tall and 2 ft wide. Appreciative of a little, regular water, Blue Moon is best planted in a full or partial sun position.
Rich, purple flowers sit above masses of green foliage.
5 Blue Spritz
Blue Spritz (I. ensata) is one of the tallest types of iris, reaching almost 3 ft in height. The richly colored flowers of Blue Spritz are particularly attractive when planted near ponds, in water gardens or in Japanese style planting schemes. Usually flowering from early to mid summer, Blue Spritz flowers are lavender with yellow throats and dark purple veins.
6 Butter and Sugar
Another I. Sibirica cultivar, Butter and Sugar typically flowers in late spring or early summer. One of the many types of iris that is suited to planting alongside water features such as ponds or streams, Butter and Sugar prefers a slightly acidic or neutral soil. As the name suggests, the flowers of Butter and Sugar are white with yellow falls, adding interest and contrast to the flower bed.
Yellow and white combinations fill the garden with soothing color.
7 Carol Johnson
An I. ensata cultivar, Carol Johnson is a reliable, low maintenance variety which is resilient to a number of common diseases. The Carol Johnson cultivar is also deer resistant. As well as its resilience, Carol Johnson is also popular for its attractive, single flowers which are decorated with yellow throats and pale blue falls. These spots of color blend nicely with the flower’s plum-purple petals.
The pure white flowers of Casablanca (I. Hollandica) help the plant to stand out in even the most colorful flower bed. Adding further interest are the yellow-gold falls which decorate the petals. If used in a white planting scheme, these colorful falls add pops of bright color, lifting the space.
Reaching up to 2 ft above the sword-like foliage, Casablanca flowers sit on sturdy stems and can last for several weeks during the late spring or early summer. Casablanca is a great cut flower option, looking just as effective in a vase as in a flower bed.
Coho (I. ensata) is an attractive pink flower variety. The rounded pink petals, with a golden base, are an elegant addition to the flower bed or container garden. Flowering from early to mid summer, Coho is particularly popular for its long lasting flowers. Coho is an easy to grow cultivar which provides a low maintenance way to add interest and height to the garden.
10 Contrast in Style
One of the most striking types of iris on our list, Contrast in Style (I. sibirica) flowers are popular for their deep purple petals. These are accented with a hint of white while a yellow base adds further interest. Flowering in late spring and early summer Contrast in Style plants do best in full sun positions. While they also flower in partial shade positions, the plants may require a little extra care.
Deep purple cultivars are particularly popular.
11 Fond Kiss
Fond Kiss (I. sibirica) is one of the more stand out types of iris thanks to its ivory white petals which are decorated with a light pink flush. These attractive flowers sit on elegant stems above gray-green foliage. Once established, Fond Kiss is a drought tolerant specimen. However it does better with a regular drop of water. Fond Kiss can reach up to 3 ft in favorable conditions.
12 Frilled Enchantment
Frilled Enchantment (I. ensata) is one of the most distinctive types of iris on our list thanks to its ruffled flowers. The white flowers, with a mauve or purple trim, sit above elegant sword-like foliage. Reaching up to 42 inches tall, Frilled Enchantment rhizomes are a great way to add both height and interest to a flower bed.
George (I. reticulata) is another of the dwarf types of iris on our list. Ideal in mass plantings, of at least 20 bulbs, in pots, or under trees you can also use George to fill the front of planters, flower beds or to edge paths. Resilient and easy to cultivate, when in flower George produces elegant deep purple or violet flowers with bright yellow centers.
Bold purple blooms add drama to a planting scheme.
14 Magic Opal
One of the more distinctive, pale pink flowering types of iris, the elegant blooms of Magic Opal (I. ensata) are decorated with yellow throats and mauve veins. Happiest in moist soil, with a little care Magic Opal plants flourish almost anywhere. Like many other types of iris they are at their best when planted alongside garden water features such as ponds or fountains.
15 Over in Gloryland
One of the most dramatic types of iris, the ruffled flowers of Over in Gloryland (I. sibirica) are dark purple in color. Adding further interest, the center of the flower is lighter, often white or yellow in color. Reaching up to 3 ft in height, the flowers sit elegantly over a mass of rigid, blue-green leaves. This combination makes for a striking addition to the garden.
16 Pink Frost
Pink Frost (I. ensata) is an attractive plant, suited to water gardens and Japanese planting schemes. Despite their showy flowers, Pink Frost is one of the easiest types of iris to successfully cultivate. The petals, opening in early or mid summer, are lavender or pink in color with ruffled edges, white blotches and a yellow throat. Reaching up to 30 inches tall, in mass plantings Pink Frost blooms can create the appearance of a floral bouquet.
A dwarf cultivar, Pixie (I. reticulata) is a drought tolerant, deer resistant cultivar. Particularly attractive when used in mass plantings under trees and shrubs, Pixie is also a good addition to the front of a flower bed or a container garden. Wherever you choose to plant Pixie, the blue-violet in color with gold or white markings, add long lasting, colorful interest. One of the smallest types of iris on our list, the plants rarely exceed 6 inches tall.
18 Queen’s Tiara
One of the most distinctive types of iris, the white petals of Queen’s Tiara (I. ensata) can reach over 6 inches wide. A popular choice if you want something more than just a plain flower, Queen’s Tiara blooms are decorated with purple veins and yellow throats.
Reaching up to 3 ft tall, a collection of Queen’s Tiara plants are a great way to add height and color to the garden. Flowering in early or mid summer, these are easy to grow plants that provide long lasting, showy interest.
Marks of color help to lift pale white petals.
19 Returning Tide
Returning Tide (I. ensata) is an award winning, deer resistant cultivar that is ideal for water gardens as well as Japanese planting schemes. The large lavender petals of Returning Tide flowers can reach about 5 inches wide. From afar the petals seem to be entirely lavender in color, but upon closer inspection a white tint is visible, as is a yellow throat.
20 Silver Edge
Silver Edge (I. Sibirica) is popular for its sky blue petals which are decorated with thin silvery edges. The center of the flower is yellow or white in color, adding a stand out quality to the already attractive blooms. Silver Edge plants can reach up to 30 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Like many other types of iris, once planted they are easy to care for, typically flowering in either late spring or early summer.
21 Sky Wings
The sky blue petals of Sky Wings (I. sibirica) are decorated with a delicate yellow center. This helps the plants to pop out, particularly when used in mass plantings. The grass-like foliage of Sky Wings has a pleasing upright growth habit, reaching up to 3 ft in favorable conditions. Best planted in full or partial sun, Sky Wings is a popular planting choice near water features.
22 Strawberry Fair
Strawberry Fair (I. sibirica) is one of the most showy types of iris. Reaching up to 30 inches tall and spreading over 2 ft wide, it is also one of the larger entries on our list. The ruffled flowers of Strawberry Fair come in a range of eye-catching, colorful combinations including lavender pink blooms with magenta-pink falls and white-blue edging.
Petals with a mix of colors add eye-catching interest to the garden.
23 Super Ego
Super Ego (I. sibirica) is a blue flowering cultivar. When in flower the pale blue or white petals, which sit on sturdy narrow stalks, have dark blue flushes. Reaching up to 30 inches in height, these plants are particularly attractive in beds or borders. Best planted in a medium to wet soil, Super Ego is both drought tolerant and deer resistant.
Variegata (I. ensata) is popular for its flowers which have a yellow throat and small purple petals. The foliage is silver white in color, further adding to the interest. Variegata plants typically flower from mid to late summer, making it one of the later blooming types of iris on our list. Despite the showy blooms, Variegata is easy to cultivate, happily growing in both full and partial sun.
25 White Swirl
White Swirl (I. Sibirica) is a clump forming perennial. The flowers produce large white petals with golden flushes at the base. These sit above attractive, blade shaped leaves to create an eye catching effect. Like many types of iris, White Swirl is particularly attractive when planted en masse. A reliable choice, White Swirl plants thrive in both full and partial sun positions.
White or pale flowers help to calm busy flower beds.
General Care and Planting Tips
Whether you decide to plant one or a range of different types of iris in your garden, care is largely the same.
Most of the types of iris included on our list are hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9. However, some of the more delicate types may only be hardy in Zones 5 and warmer. It is always a good idea to check the information label before purchasing your plants.
These attractive ornamentals are best planted in a sunny position. This encourages healthy growth and lots of flowers to form. While they also flower in partial sun positions, the displays may not be as abundant.
Before planting, prepare the soil, weeding and working in any necessary enrichments. Enriching the soil before planting encourages lots of flowers to form.
If you are planting the rhizomes (the correct name for these types of bulbs) in containers, fill your pots with a fresh, general purpose compost. The soil should be well draining. If it retains too much water the rhizomes will start to rot.
To plant your rhizome, make a hole in the soil large enough to hold the bulb. When placed in the hole the roots should be completely below soil level, while the top of the rhizome sits level with, or slightly above soil level. This helps to prevent the rhizomes from rotting and is a particularly useful way to plant bulbs in poorly draining or wet soils.
Spread the roots as you position the rhizome in the hole. Backfill the hole, being careful not to sink the rhizome and water.
Apply a general purpose fertilizer in early spring. Spread the fertilizer as evenly around the rhizomes as possible. Reblooming types of iris appreciate a second application of fertilizer once the first flowers fade. Water soluble fertilizers, such as Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food, are easily incorporated into your regular watering routine.
Be careful not to overwater your rhizomes. This can cause them to rot. Water regularly and deeply during dry spells.
Taller varieties may require support from a stake to prevent them from toppling over. Garsum Green Bamboo Sticks provide sturdy support whilst also blending into a flower bed.
Deadhead flowers as they fade. Once flowering has finished, allow the foliage to remain in place until it turns yellow. While the foliage is green the plant is still gathering and storing nutrients in the rhizome. This is necessary for the plant to have enough energy to flower again next year.
Yellow foliage can be unsightly. Planting a number of different types of iris or plants that flower at different times of the spring and summer helps to hide this. You can also plant other spring flowering plants to plug the gaps. Some of the best combinations include:
After a few years flowering may decrease. This could be a sign that the rhizomes are overcrowded and need to be divided. Rhizomes heaving or being forced out of the ground is another sign that the plants require dividing.
The best time to divide rhizomes is either in the summer or the fall, once flowering has finished. Gently remove the soil from around the rhizome, being careful not to damage it.
Lift as much as possible of the rhizome with a fork or spade. If you can’t lift the entire clump, break it into sections in the soil and lift them piece by piece. Brush away any soil or dirt remaining on the rhizome and inspect it for signs of damage or disease.
Divide the rhizome into 3 to 4 inch long sections. Each section should have a fan of leaves and some roots. Do not remove the roots. Central older sections may have no fans, these can be discarded. Any sections that are damaged or diseased should also be discarded. Cut the fans down to 6 to 9 inches and replant.
Ideal for mixed planting schemes in spring gardens you can grow all types of iris alongside other spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Other good flowering combinations are:
You can also underplant many types of iris in combination with spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia.
If you want to learn more about growing these plants, our guide to the Siberian Iris is a great place to start.
These colorful plants are ideal for a range of different style and size gardens.
With just a little care many types of iris are reliable additions to the garden. Filling spaces with colorful flowers throughout the spring and early summer. These low maintenance plants are also partly drought tolerant plants, meaning that they can be successfully incorporated into rock and xeric gardens.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.