Last weekend, I was ambling down a woody path at Brookside Gardens when I glanced to my left, and then glanced again. What I saw was a small patch of irises, blooms long gone, but with seed pods at the end of the stalks. And one of the pods had split open, revealing bright orange seeds.
Those of you who grow lots of irises may be very familiar with iris seeds, but I had never seen them before. After going home and doing a little research, I now know why: I only have two Japanese irises in my garden; one rarely flowers and the other produces just a couple blooms each year. So it isn’t surprising I haven’t seen any seed pods–my irises aren’t making it easy for bees to pollinate them, and there can’t be any seed pods without successful pollination.
There also can’t be any if each spent iris bloom is carefully removed, which is fairly common practice. Why would a gardener do this? To allow the plant to conserve all its energy for next year rather than spending some of it creating seed pods, which could lead to fewer future blooms on the parent plant. But those seeds could eventually lead to other blooms, and for me, part of the fun in gardening is encountering the occasional nice surprise.
So, assuming a miracle occurs and I do spot an iris seed pod in my garden one year, I would have two options (after letting the pod turn brown and split, harvesting the mature seeds, and drying them out):
- plant the seeds in the ground later in the fall (so they can chill throughout winter and so the rain and melting snow can help remove the seeds’ germination inhibitor), or
- soak the seeds in daily changes of water for up to two weeks (to get rid of the inhibitor), store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator (with damp peat moss or potting mix to keep them moist), start them in pots in early spring, and then plant the seedlings. This moist/cold process is known as stratification.
All things considered, I’ll go straight for Option 1. Either way, it may be a year or two before the irises bloom since it takes a while for them to form mature rhizomes. The resulting irises may not look like the parent plant at all, and they may not be quite as fine specimens as other irises–or they might. I like a good mystery.