Japanese Irises are Better than Bearded Irises

March 26th, 2009

There can be no discussion, the Japanese iris is superior, in fact, I think I hate bearded irises now, and they used to be my favorite flower.

Bearded Irises, Falling Down on the Job

So, seriously, what kind of slob falls down on the job? The bearded iris, thats who! These beautiful flowers used to be my favorite flower when I was a novice gardener, they were big, interesting, flowers, and I liked big, interesting, flowers. But when I became more experienced and discriminating I realized all the shortcomings these plants have.

The tall bearded irises that are so popular cannot stand up to wind or rain, their scapes cannot support their flowers and any outward pressure will permanently damage the plant to the point where the flowers will adorn the ground.

They also don’t have the longest bloom time, big flowers are nice, but they could stick around longer. They also are finicky bloomers, sometimes they can just quit blooming until you divide them.

They also have ugly as sin foliage. Seriously, tall bearded irises have some of the most ugly foliage of any garden perennial. They look find when young, but as they age (where most plants improve) they get ugly. Big bald spots in the middle of a clump, so ugly. Yes, you dig and divide and try to give away the extras to family and friends who run in horror from yet-another-iris. This doesn’t excuse the fact that an iris put in the ground merely 3 years ago is going to be ugly this year.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the foliage is a nice bluish color, but it is just too sparse.

Japanese Irises, Fixin’ Whats Broken

Now lets compare with the Japanese irises. They have very tall (3-4 foot) clumping foliage that stays in a clump, looking like gladiolus, a bigger siberian iris, or a daylily on steroids. The foliage is attractive, and works really well at the back of a border. Additionally, there are variegated varieties.

The flowers of a Japanese iris are big, perhaps bigger than a tall bearded iris, they don’t really have much in the way of standards, but they have huge falls, they also in my experience last a little longer. Finally, they bloom later, around the same time as lilies, which is great. Lilies lack a strong purple color, and irises have that in loads. They’re of a height with lilies as well. So you can plant some purple Japanese irises next to some red lilies and have a really nice combination.

Did I mention they’re sturdy? Perhaps it is the clumping action that adds stability, but I’ve never had one fall over.

There isn’t as much variety available in the Japanese iris, but perhaps that is because they’re not as common, as people request them more, which they should, more varieties may be introduced.

In anycase, I can’t see a situation in the future where I would put a new bearded iris in my garden, and in fact will probably tear out more of the ones that are there currently. In contrast, I fully intend to plant more Japanese irises.

4 Responses to “Japanese Irises are Better than Bearded Irises”

  1. Karen's Garden Tips  Says:

    I agree completely. I have just spent two days tending to my German Iris and will have to spend more time on them with spraying for leaf spot. My Japanese iris are spectacular but I sometimes have a problem giving them as much water as they need when blooming. My favorite are the Siberian iris which form dramatic clumps in my garden than make me wonder how I can be so lucky!

  2. jane  Says:

    I really enjoy the bearded iris. However, I am DEFINITELY a novice gardener, just having picked up the habit last spring, so I guess my fondness for the flowers is excusable?

    Perhaps the bearded iris is just flawed in it’s structure like our modern day supermodels? At times, I expect those tall women to snap at their thin waste and fall over just as the top heavy bearded irises.


    Love your blog.

  3. Samantha  Says:

    Great post! I love your descriptions of the two and your writing style gave me a great laugh (and I agree with everything you said)!

  4. IndianaGardener  Says:

    I really like the looks of ensata as compared to the bearded irises, but I just can’t get them to live here in northern Indiana. I have tried a few in what should have been areas with ideal conditions and they don’t even live out the year for me. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong. I’ve resorted to the few varieties of ‘flat’ bearded irises that are available now. While the flowers have the flat ensata form that I prefer, that does nothing for the other shortcomings they share with every other bearded iris; the falling over and sparse foliage.

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