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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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