• Plant Care

How to Transplant Iris

  • By LeAnn R. Ralph
One spring many years ago, an older friend of mine dug up an iris bed at her home. They were bearded irises -- a lovely shade of lilac purple -- and she moved some of them to a different location.

The irises had already started to grow and were about four inches high. She didn't know what to do with the remaining irises, so she put them in a box, intending to give them away.

As it turned out, the irises remained in the box for more than two weeks. By now, she didn't feel she could give them away because she didn't think they would grow. I offered to take the irises and plant them, just to see what would happen.

The irises were not one bit bothered about being in a box for more than two weeks with no water and no dirt around their roots. I planted them, they started growing, and they're still going strong more than 25 years later.

purple bearded iris

In the past two decades, I have thinned out the irises and planted them in other locations. I have also found irises growing by old homesteads where no buildings remain (I live in rural Wisconsin) and have dug them up and transplanted them in my yard. Each year in early June, the irises bloom in a variety of colors: white, blue, yellow and purple.

Here's how to transplant iris:
  • Prepare the new flower bed where you intend to plant the irises

  • Use a shovel to dig up the roots that you want to transplant. Irises have very tough root systems. If the irises are exceptionally thick, a trowel probably won't do the trick. Stick the shovel into the dirt among the irises and start digging. And don't worry about cutting the roots with the shovel. You won't be able to avoid it. Irises spread by their roots, so many of the plants will be connected. Even a short section of root stands an excellent chance of transplanting.

  • Dig holes with a trowel about four inches deep and eight to ten inches apart. Put the iris roots into the holes and cover with soil.

  • Water the transplanted irises thoroughly. For the remainder of the season, water the irises a couple of times each week, especially when rain is in short supply.

watering plants

Observations about iris

From what I have seen of the irises growing in my flower beds, they are tough plants that are quite drought resistant. Like any plant, they will do better when they receive plenty of water, but during years when it has been dry, they have still survived extremely well. And of course, the irises that I dug up from old homesteads didn't have any help at all during drought years, and they made it just fine.

iris siberica

The irises in my yard seem to do equally well in full sun or in partial shade.

Trimming the iris leaves after the plants are done blooming to give more room and more light to other plants nearby doesn't seem to bother the irises. For the past couple of years, I have trimmed irises growing next to my rose bush, and the following year, the irises have come back as strong as ever.

LeAnn R. Ralph is the author of the farm books "Christmas in Dairyland (True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm" and "Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam" (trade paperback 2004); rurualroute2.com