Defying winter’s last blast: It is worth kneeling in the snow for a close look at Iris reticulata—this 4-inch-tall species iris blooms as early as February.
Photo/Illustration: Susan Roth
Iris reticulata: Fragrant, purple flowers that precede spring
The iris season begins in late February in my garden here in central Virginia, when I. reticulata blooms. This species’ grasslike foliage usually tops, but never obscures, its purple, grape-scented blossoms. The flowers of this miniature iris are nearly 2 inches in diameter and rarely stand more than 4 inches high.
The inexpensive and easily propagated bulbs are hardy at least to USDA Hardiness Zone 4, although they often don’t persist where summers are hot and wet, as they are here in Virginia. To ensure flowering, I treat I. reticulata as an annual, planting new bulbs each year. After flowering, I allow the foliage to mature, and some survive to bloom again the following year.
Plant the bulbs in late fall. Select a sunny location with fairly light soil, and set the little bulbs, which are about 112 inches in circumference, 4 inches deep. Shallower planting would encourage the bulbs to break up into many bulblets, which makes them less persistent.
The vibrant purple flowers of I. reticulata stand out when interplanted with yellow-flowered crocuses.