How to Raise and Divide Irises

Updated on July 25, 2018
This bearded iris is called Feedback.
This bearded iris is called Feedback. | Source

Dividing Irises Is Easy

The best time to divide irises is July through September. If you live in the South, however, they can be divided throughout the winter.

I originally wrote this article when living in north central Alabama, but now live in central Florida. I moved some irises in January of 2014, and, to my surprise, one of them bloomed the following April. Usually when moved that late, they pout, and refuse to bloom that spring.

This lens is about much more than how to divide irises. I will share what I have learned not only about how to divide irises, but also about raising irises, including their requirements, their tolerances, how to plant them (it's not the usual way), and even when to trash them.

I have been raising and dividing irises for many years, and have learned a lot about what works with them and what does not. They are easy to grow, drought-tolerant, and not overly choosy about their soil. Of course, the better the soil, the better they will grow, bloom, and show off for you.

I gained a love of bearded irises from my mother. Many people think of irises as old-fashioned flowers, but I find them to be exotic-looking and magnificent. They are one of many plants that gardeners often refer to as "pass-along plants" because they can be passed along from one gardener to another without harming the parent plant. That is how I received many of my irises, but first they must be divided.

Irises' Most Important Needs

Irises have few needs. But they really need those few things:

  1. Full sun — this means no less than six hours of sun per day.
  2. Well-drained soil.
  3. Rhizomes partly above the soil.
  4. No mulch on the rhizomes.

Bearded iris rhizome.
Bearded iris rhizome. | Source

Rhizomes and Roots

In the above photo, you see the rhizome and roots of an iris. The large brown part is the rhizome. The long slender roots are the only part that should be underground.

Properly planted irises should look like little potatoes lying on the ground, as shown in the next photo. These are very drought-tolerant plants. So, if planted underneath the soil, or if mulched, the rhizomes will rot due to too much moisture.

Crowded irises.
Crowded irises. | Source

Irises Too Crowded

The above photo was taken in February or March after a very mild winter. The irises had just begun a new period of growth. They appear to have been planted correctly by the previous owner of this property, but they have grown far too crowded. It was past time for them to be divided.

Again, the best time to do this is from July through September. But it can be done at any time. I usually do it in late autumn or late winter because it is often too hot from July through September. However, if done in late winter or early spring, they probably will not bloom that year.

A temporary fix for crowded irises.
A temporary fix for crowded irises. | Source

A Temporary Fix for Over-Crowded Irises

If you do not have time to dig up the irises and separate them, there is another way. Be aware this is only a temporary fix.

Take a good look at your crowded irises. You will see some of the older, original rhizomes, from which newer plants have grown. Now that the newer plants are large enough, the older, "parent" plant can be removed. In this photo I have circled in yellow some older rhizomes to be removed. The pink circles are around two plants that I will dig up and place in another bed. The others I will leave in the same location until I decide what to do with them.

Here's how:

Take a sharp knife or, if stooping down is a problem for you, use a sharp shovel to sever the connection between the parent plant and the younger off-shoot plants. Then simply pick up the older rhizome and examine all sides of it.

If that older rhizome has the little rows of holes made by iris borers, (they're usually on the bottom) or if it is shriveled, soft, or has any wet rot, put it into the trash can. Do not put into your compost bin, because you could introduce the borers or any mold or disease from the rot into your compost.

On the other hand, if it has a tiny new sprout on the side, give a chance. Plant it and see what happens. If it has no roots, just lay it on bare soil, and press some soil up to it, but do not cover it — I have actually seen these plants take root when just lying on the ground. Then just give nature time to do her work.

This shows a partially rotted iris rhizome.
This shows a partially rotted iris rhizome. | Source

Never Mulch Irises

Iris rhizomes should never be mulched. This encourages moisture which will cause them to rot.

The above photo is an example of wet rot from too much moisture. This iris was probably planted in a good place, but mondo grass nearby has encroached on the irises in this bed. One of them has to go. It will be the mondo grass. Another problem causing wet conditions are the weeds and leaves that need to be removed. In autumn, be sure to remove fallen leaves from around your irises.

As you can see, the entire rhizome has not been damaged. I will cut or break off the tuber at the point where I have drawn the yellow line, throw away the rotted portion, then replant the remainder of the iris in a sunnier spot away from weeds and invasive plants such as mondo grass.

The rhizomes should look like little potatoes lying on the ground, with only the long slender roots beneath the soil. --Maria


Never, ever put mulch

of any type on top of

your iris rhizomes.

— Maria

My First Hybridized Iris?

I didn't even try, but I may have a hybridized iris that needs a name.

I ordered a group of six irises from Springhill Nursery — one each of six colors: burgundy, purple, blue, white, yellow/purple, and orange.

The orange one was a free "bonus". This white/purple wasn't one of them. There was a white one that appeared to have died. Then this one (unfortunately, the photo has been removed by HubPages) came up in its place. Imagine my surprise when it bloomed.

I suppose it is possible that the growers sent me the wrong one, but I believe the purple one and the white one got together when I wasn't looking.Of the six plants, only 4 survived. The free one and one other one quickly shriveled up and rotted.

Maroon bearded iris.
Maroon bearded iris. | Source

Iris Day Is May 8

Did you know there is an Iris Day? It's May 8th every year, and is celebrated from late April through mid-June worldwide with festivals that include art shows, fun runs, beauty pageants, and much, much more.

This photo is of another iris whose name I don't know. It was on the property of our former home when we bought it. It didn't bloom the first year we were there, then we had some tree limbs removed and, with the additional sunlight, it began blooming each spring. Those irises demand their sunshine!

Digging in the Dirt

If you're like me, you're happier digging in the dirt, uh, I mean soil, than doing just about anything else. If you have garden stories, especially iris stories to share, please let me know. I would love to hear them.

Thank you for visiting my irises and me. I hope you enjoyed the article, and maybe learned a bit about this lovely, exotic-looking flower.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 MariaMontgomery

    Do You Raise Irises? Do You Need to Divide Your Irises?

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      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @Richard1988: Thank you, Richard. I do enjoy digging in the dirt, and working with plants. Thanks, too, for the squidlike and for your comment.

      • Richard1988 profile image


        4 years ago from Hampshire - England

        Those garden tool sets look great! You're clearlyba bit if a green thumb!

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @favored: I bet it was breathtaking. Wish I could have seen it. Thanks so much for the squidlike and for such a nice comment.

      • favored profile image

        Fay Favored 

        4 years ago from USA

        I have used the same company with good results. I used to have a flower get with just Iris in it called "Iris Island." It had hundreds of plants and looked so lovely in full bloom. Thanks for the tips here, especially for composting.

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @GrammieOlivia: Aren't they just gorgeous? I have only a very few that I brought with me when we moved, because I didn't think they would grow here. Now I need to get more. Thank you for the squidlike and for your lovely comment. Thank you, too, for sharing it with weekend gardeners on FB. I need to check out that group. Do I need to request membership?

      • profile image


        4 years ago

        Love Irises, they just bloom so quickly and then they are gone.... :( But the beauty they give while in bloom is to die for. Lovely lens and sharing it right now with our weekend gardeners on FB!

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @paulahite: Thank you so much. Thanks for the squidlike, too.

      • paulahite profile image

        Paula Hite 

        4 years ago from Virginia

        Lovely! and on Facebook today!

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        4 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @Zeross4: Thank you, Daisy for the thumbs up on this lens, and for your comment.

      • Zeross4 profile image

        Renee Dixon 

        4 years ago from Kentucky

        I love irises, they are so beautiful. I will have to remember this information in case I'm ever able to raise my own :)

      • profile image


        4 years ago

        We have purple irises. We pretty much ignore them, and they have bloomed beautifully like clockwork every year, without exception. We even transplanted them a couple times as we moved. They certainly multiply nicely! We give them lots of space.

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @takkhisa: I love them, too. Thank you so much for the squidlike and for your comment.

      • takkhisa profile image


        5 years ago

        I love Iris and it can be found where I live, especially in the public gardens.

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @anonymous: Thank you.

      • profile image


        5 years ago

        pretty. you have green thumb

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        5 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @Frednun1965: Thank you! I do love my irises...

      • Frednun1965 profile image

        Fred Alb 

        5 years ago from Uruguay


        Very nice work!

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @tracy-arizmendi: Thank you, Tracy1973. They're my favorite flower. Happy New Year to you!

      • tracy-arizmendi profile image

        Tracy Arizmendi 

        6 years ago from Northern Virginia

        Beautiful photos. I love irises.

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @LiteraryMind: I'm so glad you found it helpful. Enjoy those iris. I still need to "fan" mine. Thanks for the squidlike on this, one of my favorite lenses.

      • LiteraryMind profile image

        Ellen Gregory 

        6 years ago from Connecticut, USA

        This came just in the nick of time. I have a clump of iris I need to move and until now, I had no clue what I was doing or how to do it.

      • MariaMontgomery profile imageAUTHOR


        6 years ago from Central Florida, USA

        @Sylvestermouse: You're welcome. Thank you for the squidlike and comment. They are appreciated. I hope your irises do well.

      • Sylvestermouse profile image

        Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

        6 years ago from United States

        Iris are beautiful flowers! Thanks for the directions to properly separate/split tubers.

      • Mickie Gee profile image

        Mickie Gee 

        6 years ago

        Most excellent page about how to divide iris. Love the instructions and images. If you find that you are missing some tubers one day, don't ask me about them; I will deny everything--even knowing where you live!


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