How to Successfully Grow Iris from Seed

Have you ever dreamed of raising your own iris plants from seed? 

grow iris from seed

Growing irises from scratch is a rewarding experience that even home hobbyists and budding nursery growers can undertake. 

In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of the iris plant family and provide you with valuable insights to help you master the art of growing irises from seed.

How To Grow Iris From Seed

Irises are a great addition to any garden, and successfully growing them from seed is a rewarding endeavor.

Let’s focus on Iris missouriensis, a wild blue iris species native to North America.

This species is representative of many irises grown in gardens across the continent, and growing it from seed allows you to contribute to its preservation.

grow iris from seed
Iris seeds

Here are some tips for cultivating irises in your garden:

Sunlight and Moisture Requirements

Irises thrive in full sun, but they can also tolerate partial shade in hotter and drier regions.

They prefer well-draining soil that is kept moist but not waterlogged. While they can tolerate end-of-summer drought, they require adequate moisture to produce flowers.

Mulching around the plants, without covering the rhizomes above the surface, helps maintain soil moisture and prevents drastic temperature fluctuations.

grow iris from seed

Here are some quick facts to help you choose the perfect spot for your iris beds:

  • USDA Hardiness Zones: Iris missouriensis is a herbaceous perennial that thrives in zones 3 through 8.
  • Soil Preferences: This species can tolerate a wide range of soils as long as they are well-draining. The ideal pH range is between 6.0 and 8.0.
  • Plant Height: Iris missouriensis typically grows between 1 to 2 feet tall.
  • Plant Width: They have a spread of approximately 3/4 to 1 foot.
  • Growth Habit: Iris missouriensis has an upright growth habit with spreading rhizomes.
  • Bloom Period: This species blooms from May to June.
  • Harvesting: When harvesting iris flowers, cut the entire stem and immediately place it in water. Iris flowers make stunning floral displays!

Maintaining Your Iris Plants

To ensure the health and longevity of your iris plants, it is essential to provide them with proper care and maintenance. Here are some guidelines:

  • Weed regularly to prevent competition for nutrients and resources.
  • After the flowers have faded, remove the entire stalk to maintain the plant’s overall health.
  • Divide iris plants every 2 to 3 years to prevent overcrowding.
  • Allow the leaves to die back naturally at the end of summer. Only remove them when they have turned brown, as they play a crucial role in storing nutrients in the rhizomes for the next season’s growth.
grow iris from seed

Dealing with Pests and Diseases

To keep your iris plants healthy and disease-free, it is important to address potential issues promptly.

The most common contributors to iris failure are overcrowding, poorly-drained soil, and insufficient sunlight.

Iris plants are susceptible to various fungal and bacterial diseases, as well as pests such as aphids, crickets, iris borers, and moles.

Regular monitoring and proper cultural practices, such as maintaining proper spacing, adequate sunlight, and well-drained soil, will help prevent these issues.

If you encounter any diseased plants, it is crucial to remove them and avoid adding them to your compost system.

Growing Iris from Seed: A Rewarding Challenge

grow iris from seed
Green Iris Seed Pods

While purchasing iris rhizomes from a local home improvement center is a convenient option, growing irises from seed offers unique advantages.

Seeds are more cost-effective, especially for large plantings or market purposes.

Starting from seed also allows you to ensure disease-resistant parent stock and avoid inheriting any problems from previously cultivated plants.

While growing iris from seed can be challenging, it is a rewarding pursuit that many hobbyists enjoy. Here are some key tips to successfully grow irises from seed:

  • Seed Treatment: Cold stratify your iris seeds for 30 to 60 days to promote germination. Some experts recommend briefly immersing the seeds in boiling water at the end of the stratification process.
  • Planting Depth: Plant iris seeds at a depth of 1/16 to 1/8 inch, as they require sunlight to germinate.
  • Starting Indoors: Prepare biodegradable pots with a sterile seedling mix, and plant 3 to 5 treated seeds in each container. Place the containers under artificial light in a room with a temperature between 65°F to 70°F, or utilize a cold frame or greenhouse.
  • Outdoor Planting: Directly sow iris seeds outdoors once all danger of frost has passed.
  • Seed Spacing: Space the seeds 18 inches apart in any direction, creating staggered rows for an aesthetically pleasing effect.
  • Days to Germination: Iris seeds typically germinate within 28 to 35 days.
  • Transplanting Tips: When transplanting the seedlings, plant them with the biodegradable pots intact to avoid disturbing the growing rhizomes. Soak the pots before planting, and consider lightly scoring the sides to encourage root system development.
grow iris from seed

Iris Flower – A Journey Around the Globe

While the iris family’s origins can be traced back to Australia and South Africa, the majority of the species in the Iris genus are native to Europe and Asia.

However, North America is home to its own unique iris species. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are 28 iris species native to North America, with various habitats ranging from the Pacific coastal areas to the southeastern states.

One notable native species is Iris missouriensis, commonly known as the wild blue iris, blue flag iris, or Rocky Mountain iris.

This species, native to western North America and reaching as far north as Alaska, was first cataloged by European explorers Lewis and Clark in 1806.

Unfortunately, due to diminishing habitat, native iris species are at risk. However, you can contribute to their preservation by growing Iris missouriensis from seed.

grow iris from seed
Rocky Mountain Iris

Lore, Legends, and Symbolism

The iris has a rich symbolic history rooted in mythology and culture. It’s a symbol of the divine link between heaven and earth.

In ancient stories, the goddess Iris wore a dazzling rainbow coat that she used to make a path from our world to the home of the gods.

This path, called the “Rainbow Bridge,” was the way to cross over to the other side.

The iris flower’s vibrant colors symbolize the full spectrum of the rainbow.

This symbolism transcends cultures, with legends of rainbow-hued bridges appearing in Norse mythology as well.

grow iris from seed

Throughout history, the iris has held various meanings and representations. In ancient Egypt, irises adorned the scepters of pharaohs, symbolizing dominion, wisdom, power, and victory.

In Japan, a blue iris represents bravery, while in Mediterranean cultures, it was associated with death and adorned burials.

In Medieval European art, irises were a symbol of protection against the devil’s influence.

The famous fleur-de-lis, the royal emblem of France, is derived from the iris plant and represents faith, wisdom, and heroism.

In the United States, the iris is the state flower of Tennessee, and it is associated with February birthdays and 25th wedding anniversaries.

The Medicinal and Practical Uses of Iris

grow iris from seed

While many iris species have traditional therapeutic uses and are used in the creation of dyes and perfumes, it is important to note that some species are toxic when consumed, especially the roots. 

The iris flower also has a long history of uses for health. Its juice has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which since ancient times had been used to erase freckles, and swelling. 

However, be careful when you touch or grow this plant as its roots have a substance that can be toxic if swallowed.

Note that the toxicity effect might be milder to humans but stronger to your pets, who may exhibit signs of poisoning, such as drooling, throwing up, exhaustion, or stomach problems.

Iris’s Botanical Origins: A Journey Through Time

grow iris from seed

The iris family, scientifically known as Iridaceae, is believed to have diverged from other flora approximately 82 million years ago.

Surprisingly, the origins of this family can be traced back to Antarctica!

Yes, you read that right, Antarctica. Back then, the continent was situated closer to Africa and connected to Australia.

The iris family thrived in the warm climate, and its strappy, vertical leaves evolved to maximize sunlight absorption.

This adaptation allowed the iris plants to survive the cataclysmic effects of the dinosaur-extinguishing meteorite that struck the Gulf of Mexico.

While most of North America’s land plant species were lost, the Iridaceae family persevered, giving us the diverse and beautiful irises we know today.