A Collection of Comments from Various Writers About Growing Louisiana Irises in Various US States compiled by Marie Caillet in about 1985
Eleanor McCown of Holtville, California: "I have been growing a few Louisianas haphazardly since about 1955. I've never lost one, but some of them could be pretty sickly. They seem to prefer a part of the garden that has protection from the west wind and gets sunlight only in the morning. They receive the same treatment as the spurias.
I would say it differs here in two ways from conditions in South Louisiana: a lack of humidity and the water from the Colorado River, which is highly a.Lk a Li ne . They, like the spurias, do better if planted in October; however, I've transplanted them at other times. Occasionally, I have had a bloom in January or February, but this is very unusual. Valera Chenoweth has experienced the same thing.
All my rhizomes have come from the west coast area, so I do not know if it makes a difference. Some, such as ILA NUNN, seem to develop chlorosis more than others. I really have never gone into the species end of it, but my early introduction LIME STAR was from a collected species, 'Cameron White', and GREEN TRACERY, a Dorman introduction. Outside of the Orioles, the Louisianas don't seem to be much bothered by pests. Occasionally, red spider mites invade the garden and I take a hose and wash down the leaves. A few times, I have used a dusting of sulfur around everything.
I think they thrive best where the soil is kept damp during the growing season. My garden is flood irrigated by opening a valve in the canal and allowing the water to run down the rows on which everything - spurias, Louisianas and TB's are planted. One reason both the spurias and Louisianas do better for me than the tall bearded is that they do not seem to mind the "heavy soil and poor drainage."
Louise Nichols of Amarillo, Texas: "So many people think Louisianas will not grow in this far North Texas area of Amarillo, but I can guarantee they do. They may not grow tall here as in their native habitat of Louisiana, but they will grow and bloom beautifully with proper care and feeding. The beautiful blooms are r~warding, indeed, for all the colors are more distinct than those of tall bearded irises. A red Louisiana iris is really red!
Louisiana irises need an acid soil, which we do not have. I prepare a bed at least two weeks in advance of planting time, which is in June or July and not later than August. The rhizomes need to develop a good root system before the cold weather of late October and early November. I use this formula for preparation of the bed:
For 100 square feet of garden, I add 100 pounds of cotton seed hulls and meal (80% hulls and 20% meal), 5 lbs. superphosphate, 5 lbs. sulfa soil and 5 lbs. potash. I spade the bed and remove the topsoil, dig out the bottom soil to discard, and then put the topsoil back. Mix in the above formula thoroughly and water well. Plant later. The bed needs to be at least two inches lower than the top of the ground so that it will hold water. Louisianas need a lot of water and I try never to let the roots dry out. Louisianas are also heavy feeders and need food before, during and especially after bloom. I use an azalea fertilizer for all of my acid loving plants, including Louisianas.
In early spring, when the new growth begins, I give each plant a handful of Borax and Epson salts. If the plant shows any sign of yellow foliage, I give it a feeding of iron chelate, using one tablespoon to a , gallon of water and pouring this on the plant as well as on the soil around it. This may need to be done more than once.
My soil has a heavy clay substance, so I bury my garbage in the soil to provide humus and also add sand. I plant the rhizomes 18 inches apart, as they travel and grow into each other.
In the early fall, I shred a bale of alfalfa hay and spread it on for a mulch. One could use pine needles, leaves or cotton seed hulls. In the spring, I work this into the soil and then mulch again with alfalfa hay to prevent the soil from drying out during the summer. This also helps to prevent weeds.
I find it hard to find fault with any Louisiana iris, even if my soil is not too good and the tree roots next door sap the food and water. We do have extremely cold weather, 19° above, sometimes 0°, and the wind chill factor making it 30° below. Even then, if I mulch them heavy enough, they come through fine and the summer heat is no problem; the mulch helps preserve the moisture.
I think the ones from Arkansas do better all around, because their climate is more like ours. BRYCE LEIGH is very prolific. I have given much of it away and can't miss any. COUNT PULASKI grows very tall and blooms beautifully, but fades out. I like LITTLE ROCK SKIES, but CLYDE REDMOND is my favorite blue. It blooms by May 15 and sometimes early enough to exhibit in the Amarillo show. FREDDIE BOY also does well and has a beautiful color. PROFESSOR IKE has done very well here. URALBA GOLD is very strong and grows well, but I can't say much about the color."
Editor's Note: Few Louisianas are ever in bloom for the Amarillo Show, but were this year. Louise won Sweepstakes and Queen of Show with her Louisianas.
Valera Chenoweth of Lemon Grove, California: "My garden is in full sun and consists of worn out sandy soil with poor drainage. I prefer to dig iris and rework the soil just after bloom and each bed at least once every second year. I spread 2 or 3 inches of manure, preferably rabbit, 2 or 3 inches more of humus, like compost, leaf mold, peat moss, etc. Soil sulphur at the rate of one pound per 100 square feet is then added. All are turned under, worked in and the bed watered thoroughly. When the soil is dry enough to be tillable, scatter cotton seed meal liberally, 5 to 10 lbs per 100 sq. ft. Work this into the soil and the bed is ready for planting.
I feed the iris six weeks before bloom with 0-10-10. After bloom and then again in September, I feed with a balanced fertilizer like 12-12-12. This can be any acid type fertilizer such as for gardenias, camellias or citrus and avocado trees. If plants look yellow, I may give them a foliar feeding of liquid acid food. Since our average annual rainfall is 6 to 10 inches, mostly during the winter months, I do water the rest of the year and never let the plants dry completely. I do not mulch because of problems with snails, slugs, earwigs and cutworms. I do keep the rhizomes well covered with soil.
I do prefer spring planting, but I do plant and/or transplant most any time of the year. Bloom is from mid-March to mid-May with the peak bloom coming mid to late April."
Mary Dunn of North Highlands, California: "The best time for replanting established clumps in Northern California is late Mayor early June. We try to get them right after bloom, when there is less increase to cope with and when they are in the slow stage after bloom. Plants will start almost immediately to put out new roots and increase without going into a dormant period. They stay green the year around for me even this winter of 1984-85, which has been almost 32° every night for two months.
First year baby seedlings planted into the ground from flats in early May will bloom the following season. I leave my seed and the seedlings in flats for two years before planting into regular beds. The reason for this is that I get better germination in the second year. Also, I am short of space and must discard something to make room for the new irises, but can't discard without seeing everyone bloom first. I plant my seed no later than September 15, using foam flats filled with "Super Soil". I usually get germination by January. Flats are always kept damp and are
placed in a warm corner of the garden.
As for soil, I get the best results by just adding bags of organic compost and bagged steer manure to our clay soil. This is tilled in to a depth of 6 inches and then I add "Care", an acid food, to the soil when I plant. I also use the wettable powder "Terrachlor" under each rhizome. This soil preparation gives me very good healthy plants. It is hard to give a bloom date for this area, as I plant in areas by a fence and against the fence to get bloom at different times. Bloom usually starts about a week before tall bearded - mid-April to about mid-May. Seedlings will start blooming earlier in most seasons. If I do not transplant, I give each plant a scoop of "Care" immediately after bloom. If they have been transplanted, I give each clump a scoop of steer manure about January. I scatter superphosphate in the beds in late February or early March and the rains will then melt it into the soil. The Louisianas get the same spray program as our TBs here, with "Benlate" and "Cygon" with a sticker in November or December and again in February or March. We do not have a problem with rust.
Most of the dark shades do not have the substance to hold up in our very hot spring weather. They fade badly and go weepy. I have a better chance if I keep them very damp in warm weather. We also have a problem with weak stalks that will not hold up the bloom. They are better when anchored in clay soil instead of the very loose soil some growers recommend."
Bee Warburton of Westboro, Massachusetts: There is a real market here for any Louisianas guaranteed hardy, and those from Hale and Chowning are really hardy after 0° weather without cover last winter. I can1t say that nothing will defeat them, but I don1t try to fight my climate. I grow too many different irises for that. Other things besides climate carry irises off .. We have a naturally acid soil and everybody automatically applies lime to vegetable gardens. All we have to do is omit it from the acid-loving part of the iris patch, and I usually never add it once the soil has been prepared for a section of garden. We use manure and I add 5-10-10 as a side dressing, although we favor the organic way when possible. Louisianas seem to like our New England soil and a little mulch keeps them happy. They don't seem to mind being frozen; most irises don't, but what they can't stand is the sort of winter where it's alternate deep freezing and sudden warm spells. A freeze immediately following a very warm fall can be disastrous to many types of iris, especially the tall bearded."
Barbara Schmieder of Concord, Mass.: "I grow on a very wooded lot with woodsy soil that is very acid, but not very rich. My main problem with Louisianas seems to be a lack of full sun and problems with too many borers. An evaluation of some growing since 1980: CLYDE REDMOND bloomed the first year and then disappeared. LITTLE MISS SIMS is growing, but has not bloomed. LA PEROUSE has almost disappeared because of borers. MARY DUNN has not bloomed and has almost disappeared. BRYCE LEIGH, CHARLIE'S MICHELE, THIS I LOVE, COUNT PULASKI and ANN CHOWNING sometimes bloom. ANN CHOWNING groV!s the best of those I have tried." (Another report from this area lists ANN CHOWNING and BLACK GAMECOCK as being the best growers and LITTLE MISS SIMS as the poorest.)
Niki Riddler of El Paso, Texas: "Growing Louisiana irises in the desert area of West Texas requires determination above all else. The average rainfall of El Paso, TX is 7 inches, the soil is alkaline and the temperature extremes range from 20 degrees in the winter to 110 degrees in the summer with very little humidity. Needless to say, watering is a constant chore. About seven years ago in Dallas, I saw Louisianas blooming for the first time and that gave me the urge to try them.
Bed preparation is about the same as in any other area. I locate my beds in an open shaded area on the north side of my house, where they receive only a half day of sun or sometimes even less in winter. Sulfur, a general fertilizer like 5-10-5, superphosphate, composted manure and sphagnum peat moss are incorporated in the soil three or four weeks before planting. On established beds, fertilizer (5-10-5) and superphosphate are applied in February and again in the fall. I also broadcast granular sulfur once a year throughout the garden to sweeten the soil. Louisianas are transplanted or divided in late September to mid-October, leaving them in one spot no longer than three years. For a mulch, I use a mixture of composted manure, grass clippings (dried) and aspen-shavings. This is quite adequate; however, keeping the mulch in place is another problem. The winds which come sweeping down the side of the mountain blow the mulch away and rips the foliage from the clumps of iris! I try to water deep once a week as watering is my main problem. In summer, I will water about every four days.
Aphids are the only pests, and I can take care of them easily with one application of a systemic insecticide called Di-syston. This is applied in February or early March and remains effective throughout the growing season.
Peak bloom is usually late April through the first week in May. Although Louisianas seem fairly tolerant of the arid growing condition in El Paso, they do not attain the height or size of bloom which develop in more humid, moist areas. In my garden, they receive a bit more pampering and attention, so they are planted together in small irregular beds with other plants that enjoy the same culture. Larkspur, violas, columbine, matricaria and vinca all do extremely well in beds with the Louisianas and eagerly reseed themselves for the following season.
Daylilies also make a complimentary addition to the area. EOLIAN, and MRS. IRA NELSON are usually the first to bloom, with CREOLE FLAME and DENEB closely following. CHARLIE'S MICHELE and CHARLIE'S TRESS perform very well also. Since my garden space is limited, the number of varieties is small but satisfying. FREDDIE BOY, CAJUN CAPER, DOUBLE TALK, ILA NUNN, LIME STAR, ANN CHOWNING and SHRIMP CREOLE will always give me a good show in the spring."
Editor's Note: There are some other culture articles on hand, but these will have to be saved for a future issue. We hope other growers across the country will also send in information about how they grow Louisianas.