How to Divide Iris – Transplanting Iris

Dividing Iris is easy and is a great way to get loads more to share. Dividing and transplanting Iris keeps your plants healthy and beautiful! Here is an incredibly easy way to divide and transplant Iris in the garden step by step with video.

In this post, I share how to divide Iris rhizomes and how to transplant in the garden with an easy step-by-step photo demonstration. There is a video at the end of this post where I take you through it too.

In this post you will learn…

  • When to divide Iris and transplant
  • Why dividing and transplanting Iris is needed
  • How to dig overcrowded Iris
  • How to divide Iris rhizomes
  • Best tools for splitting Iris
  • Replanting Iris

Iris is such a fun plant and so rewarding.  Have you planted some in your garden and now they have failed to produce as many blooms as in past years?  Iris usually needs to be divided once every 3 years or so.  That is not a hard and fast rule but a generalized observation for most.

You can start in August and continue through September. Since I have so many Iris rhizomes that need dividing and transplanting, spacing out the actual work makes it less of an arduous chore. 

Iris with wording, How to Divide Iris step by step

I live in the Sierra Nevada mountains of N. California at the 4500 foot level.
We get plenty of winter snow and cold, then some mighty fine summer weather averaging in the 80’s to low 90’s.

We are considered a Zone 7 (we have now been upgraded to Zone 8).
I have gardened with Iris for 35 years now.
Here and in the San Joaquin valley, zone 9 to 10. I am telling you this to show the diverse areas that Iris grows and thrives in.

When to divide and transplant Iris bulbs (aka rhizomes)

The best time to divide Iris is 6 to 8 weeks after bloom, it gives them time to store up some energy.

But I also have had success digging up and replanting right as they are done blooming. I do better in remembering what color is where, I always say I am going to mark them while blooming and somehow never get around to it.

I have started to video during the blooming season so I can refer to the video to see what color is where.  It works wonderfully!

iris stems after bloom

This clump of Iris is done for the season. Some varieties will bloom again if you deadhead, they are called reblooming Iris and it will be noted with the rhizome when you order or buy them. They really do rebloom and it is usually in September in my neck of the woods. 

If you want to know what deadheading is then see this post, Dead heading for more blooms

Some people tidy the plant just after blooming by shearing off the leaves, but I don’t. And here’s why….

The rhizomes are fed by the leaves and it is better to let the leaves remain to soak up the summer sunshine and let the bulb or rhizome build up a food store for next year’s blooms. When the leaves are yellow or look otherwise damaged you can shear those off but leave the healthy-looking leaves to provide the food for the rhizome to store until late Summer to early Fall. 

You will have bigger and healthier flowers next year. 

basket of straw prepared for Iris bulbs to cure in

Cure & Store Iris Rhizomes

Not going to plant your Iris in your garden?

If I am going to store or cure the rhizomes to give away I prepare a container with a bit of straw to lay them in. The straw allows air to circulate around the rhizomes which discourages rot. I also just lay them out on the ground or on our deck to dry.  We live in a low humidity area so this is sufficient.

Some dust the rhizomes with sulfur or a powdered anti-fungal. I have not had to do that but you may need to consider it if fungus is an issue in your area. 

garden fork poised to dig up overgrown Iris clump

Dig up Iris Rhizomes

Start a good 5 to 6 inches back from the base of the Iris clump and dig in your shovel or garden fork.  Loosen around the clump as best you can.  It is easier on your back. 

clump of Iris to divide and plant

Iris are not planted deep, they should be very near the surface but their roots can be long. In the video attached, you will see I really have to put some muscle into digging around the clump I am dividing.

digging an Iris up to transplant

Again, work around the entire clump to loosen it from the dirt. Once you have it well loosened it should pull up very easily. 

Iris rhizomes after digging up

You can merely shake off the dirt or hose off the excess dirt to inspect the rhizomes for rot or insect damage.

The roots can by quite long and you trim them back for easier replanting. I grab the roots at the base of the rhizome and cut what hangs below my fist. Then I trim back the leaves to about 4 to 6 inches long.

Sometimes rhizomes will separate themselves from the clumps voluntarily but usually, I need to cut them apart.

how I separate my iris, how to divide iris rhizomes
splitting Iris bulbs before transplanting

Splitting Iris Rhizomes

To separate and/or cut out diseased and old gnarly bits, use a clean sharp garden knife and cut it off at the joint.

iris joint with text overlay

It is easy to see where the joint is on this one, the rhizome narrows. (see example above)

divided iris blub

It is highly recommended to thoroughly sanitize your cutting tools between cuts so you do not spread disease. Wiping them well with rubbing alcohol works fine for me. Just make sure it is dry before cutting more.

I have never had an issue with disease so you don’t see me cleaning between cuts.

trimmed and divided Iris rhizomes in basket

I started to use the basket with straw but had way too many rhizomes so I laid most of them out on the shady porch to dry.

Transplant Iris Rhizomes

If you are not giving the extra Iris rhizomes away you can replant immediately, click here to see how I replant.

I will print a photo of the Iris in bloom and place it with the rhizomes I am giving away so whomever I gift it to will know what color it is.

If I am replanting in my garden I keep a hand-drawn garden map of where I have put things. This past summer I kept a video garden journal and that has been excellent and helping me see what is where at any particular time of the growing season.

mass of Iris in the garden

I wish you great success with your Iris, they are one of my favorites and they are so easy!

link to video, divide and transplant iris, plant iris in a pot
Iris Garden Visit 2018

Happy Gardening!

More You Will Enjoy!

Visit to an Iris Farm
How to Divide Iris in Spring
Growing Iris for Loads of Blooms

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58 Comments

  1. You have a lovely garden. Irises are on my future list. My Mother has a couple of Irises that were passed along to her from my aunt . Mom has not divided hers yet and I’m happy to have come across your post so that I can pass on how she can do this and perhaps pass me along some of hers in the future…. Thanks for sharing.

    P.S… Her irises bloom once in the spring, are there re-blooming irises?

    1. There are some that re-bloom in late Summer or Fall but it depends on many factors in your garden so they are not guaranteed to re-bloom. Schreiner’s Gardens has a collection of 9 re-bloomers in their online catalog right now. I am going to post how I replant my iris’ so stayed tuned.

    2. Thank you so much for this, my mother has a bed full and always shared. She now has dementia so can not do this now . I want continue sharing her Iris’ with others but wasn’t sure how until now. Looking forward to “how to plant”.

  2. The Iris is probably my favorite flower. I am not a “gardener”, except of the few things I like. Unable to do much due to health issues, but so happy to find this information regarding the Iris. I have few kinds but would like to enlarge my collection and have begun to make arrangements with some friends to exchange with each other. This information you provided will prove priceless to us since we are not experienced. Thank you. I will be following you and your instructions hereafter.

    1. Welcome and check back in, I am going to show how I plant them too. Not that it is hard but sometimes pictures along with the words help.

  3. Thanks for the tip. Will be heading out to the garden to work on my iris!

    1. I am glad you found this helpful. Many have pointed out to me that the ideal time to transplant iris is late Aug. early Sept, but I have found doing it now works just fine. I just wanted to let you know that in case you wished to wait. I prefer this time of year for various reasons and have asked other master gardeners and they concur that is it just fine to do it soon after the blooms have faded.

      1. Pamela,
        Your post helped me so much! I have Iris and Lily over-load! I have been told that I can dig them up any time, but I was not certain. I would love to replant some by my yardbarn, but I was always afraid to hurt them. Do I have to use a fork-like tool?

        I can’t wait to see your post on how to plant them! I just wish I knew now, so I could go ahead and start digging them up! (I don’t want to have them out too long, so I will probably wait until your next post is up!)

        1. Your in luck I posted my how to plant post yesterday, I hope you already read it in case it makes it easier for you. No, you can use a shovel, I use both the fork and a shovel interchangeably. It depends on which one I can find at the moment. 🙂

  4. Hi Pamela – thank you for your nice, clear instructions. Gardening is something I’ve longed to do for many years, and now I finally have some time to get out there. We got some irises about 18 years ago(!) from Dominion Seed House as it was closing its nursery operation here in Georgetown, Ontario. Those irises are still blooming! No thanks to me. I finally divided some last year, and a few are still blooming just now. But this year, thanks to your instructions, I will divide them properly. Until I saw your pictures, I never knew their were so many kinds of irises. Thanks again!

  5. Is it ok to divide these in the heat of the summer, or is another time of the year better. Also, if you are dividing and putting the extras somewhere else in your yard, you can just go ahead and plant them rather than drying them, correct? Thanks for your post. So glad I found you. 🙂

    1. The traditional best time to separate is in late Aug and Sept and that is the hottest time and the reason is the leaves (if left whole, not trimmed) produce nutrients in the rhizome for the following bloom season. Here we can get snow in early Oct so if I wait till then they don’t get established well before the cold sets in. I am planning another post as we speak on planting, so check back in if you wish but the answer is yes you can plant them right away in another part of your yard, I only cure them a bit to discourage fungus or if I am giving them away. (or if I am lazy and don’t have time that day to replant) 🙂 I confess to being the laziest gardener!

  6. Pamela, I have a large patch of Iris’s that were here already when we bought this 100 year old farmhouse 15 years ago. They are not producing many flowers anymore and I know they need to be divided. My question is, now much “thinning” should I do to the patch to get them back to producing more blooms? I also didn’t know about the dead heading and letting the stems fall to the ground, that is good advise. Anyway, my patch is thick so your help would be greatly appreciated. God Bless.

    1. I would dig them all up. Then replant 3 healthy rhizomes in a circle with tips facing each other. That may be hard to comprehend. I am working on a ‘replanting’ post now and I will demonstrate. Pictures really are worth a thousand words. 🙂

  7. I plan on doing this next week. I wanted to do it today, but here on the East coast it has been pouring since last night. The digging should be really easy when I do it since the ground is so saturated!

    1. Wow, rain. We are having a HOT spell, it is to be nearly 100 today here on this mountain which is rarer than hens teeth. But it will cool down by Monday to more normal 80’s. We almost never get rain in Summer. I like Summer rains. Though technically it is still Spring. 🙂

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  9. I am completely new to gardening and have few questions. My mother recently dug up all the bulbs around my late grandmothers home because we are preparing to sell the place. These iris’, tulips, daffodils, and some others have been in our family for at least 70yrs. They were my great grandmothers and her gardens were absolutely beautiful (as I have seen in pictures) anyways, my mother gave them to me to plant at our new home here in st Simons island. She brought them to me completely submerged in a Rubbermaid container of water and I have since drained the water out. I am scared that she may have killed them and if not I need to know what things to look for, (such as if they are diseased and no longer salvageable, how to clean them up so that I can prepare them to plant and when and how to plant these. It is a lot to ask but I would love to see them in my yard since I know some of them are rare blooms and since they have been shared for generations. Thank you so much!

    1. Wow, sounds like you have your work cut out for you. With the Iris, it is fairly easy to spot rot or bugs and being submerged in water is not a death knell for them, in fact where there is Iris Borers it is recommended to soak them in water to drown the little varmints. Iris bad spots are soft and mushy or shriveled up bits. Just cut them out or off. Most bulbs are the same, dry them out and look them over and if they look and feel solid (not squishy) then they should be fine. I am not sure where St. Simons Island is or your climate but the sooner you get them in the ground the better this time of year.

    2. Oh, I forgot to say how tulips like to be planted, 6 inches deep is good for most and the same with daffodils, 4 to 6 inches deep and pray you don’t have rascally squirrels that dig them up and replant them elsewhere for you.

  10. Thank you, I am going to replant to a new area where weeds are growing now.

  11. I also have many Iris’ but what I am interested in are the Fox Gloves that I saw in with your Iris’. The only Fox Glove that I ever had must have been transported by a bird, because it just showed up in my driveway. I didn’t know what it was and assumed that it was a wild flower. I loved it so much that I did some research and found that it was a Fox Glove. It was the only one and I wonder if you planted the seeds for them or did you buy bulbs or did it just show up the way mine did. Either way, I would love to have some more and would like to know how and where you got them and how to care for them as well.
    Looking forward to your advise.
    Sincerely,
    Susan

    1. The foxgloves grow like weeds here and I started mine from seed. I have a few varieties like Pam’s Choice, Mountain King etc for different color choices. . Some garden centers do sell them in 6 packs if you want to start with plants. Foxgloves are biennials though new varieties now will bloom the very first year from seed. Biennials usually bloom on the second year from seeding. They like well drained soil so are good companions for Iris, though Foxgloves do like a good 2 inches or so of mulch(whereas the Iris do not) to retain soil moisture in extreme heat. You can let the main flower stalk go to seed for lots of babies the following season or cut it after bloom to get a few side shoots of flowers this season and it will still go to seed just maybe not get as many. Other than that they are pretty easy, oh, also they like full sun to light shade. Happy planting.

  12. When is the best time to plant the rhisomes? We live in NV and it is pretty dry here. Thanks for your comments.

    1. Since Iris love dry feet for the most part you can plant right now, just keep them well watered until established and they should do great.

  13. I am lots of iris passed down from my mother. I have separated many of them but have a hard time deciding which ones to replant and which ones to toss out. Can you show pictures of healthy rizhomes as well as ones that are diseased? Many of mine have never bloomed. Thanks!

    1. Actually the one in the photo is healthy, I just cut off part that had aged and was rather spent looking. The two still connected (to the left in the photograph of the “old gnarly bit”) are in great condition and ready to replant. Since rhizomes can look different at different stages I will see if I can find another to photograph and show. I have another bed I need to dig up so that won’t be too difficult.

  14. I am wondering , or maybe it’s a question , you say that when you deadhead the Irises that you ” snip every inch or two. I do this with the majority of my plants,” ….”… I will keep snipping until I reach the juncture of the leave” . Is there a reason that you do it every couple of inches vs just cut it off at the base,?
    Thanks ! And thanks for the pictures with the explanation.

    1. I cut every couple of inches and let it fall to the ground so it will compost in place, it is a form of sheet composting, the smaller pieces is so it will break down quicker. You can certainly cut the entire stem off in one cut and do with it what you please.

  15. Thanks I was just wondering about moving some of my Iris. Thank you so very much, I have grown them for years but always asked my parents, however now they are both gone to the heavenly flower garden, so had no one to ask.

    1. I am sorry about your parents, I too have lost my father and I miss him and his wisdom daily.

  16. If I understand your tuitoral about Iris..you cut the bloom off after it has finished blooming, then you said something about snipping it every few inches and letting it lay on the ground to form compost..doesn’t that rot? How often do you snip till you get to the bottom of the stem? I hope I comprehended what you were relaying to us correctly. I have trouble understanding what I have read at times so bear with me.

    1. I snip the stem down to the apex of the leaves. By cutting it in short pieces it composts in place, the worms eat it and turn it under. This is loosely a form of “sheet composting”. No worries, I don’t mind questions. I realize I may not explain things perfectly clearly the first time around.

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  19. Hi, Good Morning on this day of Eclipse, Aug 21, 2017. I have a question that you may have answered previously, if you have, where is the post, please. I have various iris, shasta daisys, peonies bee balm, and others that I want to learn how to keep track of. Do you use a separate calendar, or a special list maker thing to keep track of where what is, when to divide, Year, Month, etc. I would love to be able to keep track of my smallish yard with lots of plants. Wondering if anyone has good ideas for this. Thanks.
    Thank you also for very informative posts, each time I get my Flowerpatchfarmhouse messages. I love it.

    1. Good question, and I hope someone has a better answer than me. But my photos and this blog is my garden diary. I can go back and see when I took photos of a particular plant. I store my photos in digital files by year, then broken down into month then day. Thank you, I love sharing all my garden and projects here.

  20. You present very clear instructions and photos. Much appreciated. I love irises but am intimidated about spoiling them, so your sites are very helpful.

  21. I will divide my iris groups this month. I have a niece in Nebraska which I would like to send a few rhizomes to her by mail. Is there a rule of thumb for packing and put in the mail to ship?

  22. I am so glad I came across your post!
    I inherited my Iris’s from the former homeowners. Your instructions will be
    very handy!

  23. I watched a video by Manitoba master gardener, and she said to throw away the rizome that just bloomed because it won’t bloom again. Thoughts? I replanted a bunch last year, and they look healthy but most did not bloom. –Ellen

    1. Yes, you can see the one that I throw away in the photos of this post, it is noticeably shriveled up.

  24. My iris have not been touched in 15 years. In the past I dug, separated and replanted but I was wondering: instead of digging them, since the clumps are 4 ft wide and tangled, can I go in there with a cutter and get rid of all the old rhizomes; or even get rid of new rhizomes so the remaining plants are well spaced? has anyone tried that?

  25. has anyone ever tried dividing irises without digging them up? I have several beds about 5 ft wide that I have not touched in years. They are beautiful, although maybe there would be even more blooms if they were not so crowded (some rhizomes on top of others).
    Could I take a cutter, just cut off 2 out of 3 irises and pull them off gently. seems easier than digging, lifting, separating and then planting.
    What do you think?

  26. I love all your tips and beautiful photo’s.

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