One of the most popular garden flowers is the iris. There are several types of iris: bearded, Siberian, English, Dutch and reticulated. Within each of these types there are many different varieties, making iris one of the most versatile garden flowers, with one available for any gardening situation. It is important to know how to identify the different iris characteristics, so that the right type can be chosen for each specific planting location.
Look at the foliage. Most, but not all iris have distinguishing thin, ribbed, fan-like foliage. The rich, green, sword shaped foliage of English iris are the classic example, and bearded iris also follows suit. However, Dutch iris has rush-like foliage, while Siberian iris foliage is graceful and grassy. Reticulated iris can be distinguished by their thin, four-sided, blue-green leaves that appear only after blooming.
Check the stem. Bearded iris stems are pencil thick; Dutch irises have tall, slender stems; Siberian iris stems are thin, reed-like; while reticulated irises are short, dwarf varieties with stems only 6 to 8 inches in height.
Notice the bloom characteristics. All iris have the common characteristics of upright petals, called standards, and downturned lower sepals, that resemble petals, called falls. Bearded iris are distinguished by fuzzy little dabs of color that resemble tiny goatees, on their falls (or downturned petals). Aril and arilbred iris are bearded varieties that have a more exotic appearance, often with dual colored blooms. English iris, have open, frilly blooms with falls and standards of contrasting tones. Dutch iris blooms feature narrow, upright standards and oval to circular falls. The small, scented blooms of reticulated iris are perfect for rock gardens or container plantings. Siberian iris bears two to five dainty, elegant blooms with upright standards (or upright petals), and flaring or drooping falls.
Examine the rhizomes. Large fleshy rhizomes are desirable, as they indicate a healthy plant. Irises propagate through the rhizomes and can easily get overcrowded. Clumps that appear to be overcrowded should be dug and divided to increase bloom production.
Plant iris under conditions appropriate for that particular type. Bearded and English irises do well in almost any soil, as long as it is well drained, as they do not like soggy feet. This goes for reticulated iris, as well, although their soil should be kept dry during the dormant period. Siberian iris does well in spots that are too dry or damp for many plants, tolerating boggy conditions or dry soil. Japanese irises require a rich alkaline soil and large amounts of non-alkaline water, and are excellent for water gardens or pond edges. English irises like rich, moist, well drained soil.