Shelley Pederson: Hang in there, spring is coming

Published 9:00 am Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Perennial Buzz by Shelley Pederson

Shelley Pederson


In my mind, clematis climbs,

And morning glories do entwine.

Woodland phlox and scarlet pinks,

Replace the frost, if I just blink.

My inner eye sees past the snow.

And in my mind, my garden grows.

  Cynthia Adams, “Winter Garden”

My newest addition to garden catalogs is “Schreiner’s Gardens 2020 Collector’s Catalog Edition.” I was introduced to “Schreiner’s Iris” by my pixie fairy friend, Holly. Holly grows bearded iris in every color and I’ve seen bouquets from her garden that could bring a queen to her knees.

Bearded irises are one of the easiest plants a perennial gardener can begin with. Hybridizing has created plants that will have 8 to 12 buds on a single stem. Immortality is a stunning white that will rebloom in the fall. The blooms are 4 to 5 inches across and delightfully fragrant. There are several rebloomers on the market. The key is having a long enough season to get the fall blooms.

Iris grow in most well-drained soils. The key is that the rhizomes – the bulb looking root – need to lay on the top of the soil. Keeping this in mind, if you mulch your beds, you will want to keep the mulch at least 2 inches from the rhizomes. Bearded iris do not like to be wet, so they are great for the xeriscape garden. Plant or divide plants in the spring before bloom or in the fall. The leaves are what feed the rhizomes. So please do not cut the leaves to the ground. This invites bacteria that can rot the rhizomes. If you find leaves that have spots or are dying, simply pull them from the crown and do not compost them. Be sure to wash your hands between plants to avoid spreading disease. Iris can get compacted after four to six years. Simply use a potato fork to gently lift the rhizomes and pull the “babies” off. Add some organic matter and bone meal back into the hole and replant the healthiest looking rhizomes.

If the rhizomes are soft or wrinkled up they may have rot and should be removed from the main plant and once again, not composted. I have had blights hit my iris and simply keeping the mulch away, keeping the dead or spotted leaves pulled out they have recovered quite well. I absolutely love my black superstition and blue and white batik. I expanded a bed last summer and planted a dozen new bearded iris. I am hoping for a stunning spring.

Another stunning B perennial is bergenia, commonly called pig’s squeak. Bergenia is a low growing dappled shade perennial. It blooms in the very early spring, with bright neon pink flower clusters. The leaves are large and trimmed in burgundy and will have that same burgundy fall color. I have noticed mine stay green under the snow. They are very hardy and will grow well in morning sun to part shade. They prefer well-drained, somewhat dry shade. They are deer and slug resistant. This is another plant that I keep the mulch pulled away from the crown center.

Since the focus is on spring, one cannot forget another deer resistant shade plant: bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis). Bleeding hearts are a must have in a cottage garden. The deeply lobed leaves with attention-getting heart shaped flowers on long arching stems. Bleeding hearts can come in white, pink and red. I have an old-fashioned pink that is on my rock wall. It blooms almost all summer long. It is in far more sun than recommended. But I have it well-mulched. They prefer part shade and will grow in almost full shade. I haven’t had much luck with the red. Every couple years it has babies pop up and they are easily transplanted into other parts of the garden. Wonderful in arrangements, and even the foliage is a great filler. Bleeding hearts tend to die back to the ground. Don’t panic, and don’t dig around them. Just mark the spot and, next spring they will be back.

As I write this, 46 days, 2 hours and 49 minutes until spring. Hang in there!

Shelley Pederson is a perennially busy master gardener, lover of nature and student of life.