May Flower Maintenance

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Spring's bounty is in full bloom, but some of her best show-stoppers last only a moment, and then it is up to those of us that love her to clean up after the parade of colors in preparation for next year's exhibition.

I have always loved irises, their beauty made an impression on me at a very young age.

This is my second spring up in Pine, and the profusion of irises in gardens, along fence lines and in open fields warms my soul, just as the sun, finally this month, has begun to warm our high country. Like most residents of Arizona, irises love the sun, so keep in mind placement when preparing for next year's plantings.

As the iris bloom doesn't last more than a couple of weeks, it is important to remove (or dead head) the spent blossoms as they fade. This will help your plants focus their energy on this year's series of blooms on each stalk, and also preserve nutrients and energy for rhizome (what I used to call bulb) proliferation and reproduction rather than seed production.

For this same reason, be sure to leave the greenery alone all summer until it naturally fades, then dead leaves should be removed. These leaves are essential to the photosynthesis (energy production) for the future health of the rhizomes and next year's flowers.

If your patch of irises is becoming thick and overgrown, it is probably time to thin them out, and either plant another area of your yard, or share your beauties with neighbors and friends. Thinning your Iris patch shouldn't be overwhelming or intimidating and should be done as needed every three to four years.

With a nice, sharp shovel, simply dig underneath the rhizome grouping and gently rock the shovel, loosening the roots from the dirt, the patch should then come up easily. Brush off all of the loose soil, and with a sharp knife, divide the rhizomes into individual sections. (Each section should have a shoot of foliage on top and root clumps on the bottom, and is usually the size of a medium-sized potato.

These foliage offshoots can be cropped with a clean pair of scissors like a fan, keeping about six inches of foliage above the rhizome. Be sure to throw away any rhizomes that appear rotted (they are usually much lighter in weight than the good rhizomes and may appear much darker, or have fuzz or mold growing on their surface).

The remaining rhizomes can be planted immediately in a sunny well- draining area of your yard, or stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated corner of your garage or tool shed. Iris rhizomes may be planted up until late November in Arizona.

Be sure to plant shallowly (the top of the rhizome and leaf fan should be above ground), in nicely mulched soil. Irises love bone meal, however, so do many of the Rim Country's critters, so talk with the local nursery for advice on the best alternatives for feeding your irises if they are out in the open. Showy bearded irises and the standard field irises love water, but hate wet feet, so make sure that the area drains well to avoid rotting your rhizomes.

If you are a lucky owner of these beauties they might just reward you with a second blooming in the early fall (never guaranteed, but always a pleasure when it happens).

Now the lilac flowers seemed to come and go in even less time this year, but their fragrant burst of lavender and white colors filled my mom's cabin with amazing ambiance and sweetness while they lasted.

The lilac bush does well with a nice pruning, but the pruning should be done with some basic knowledge under your belt. The spent blooms should be removed immediately after fading, and lilac bushes love good circulation, so cut back any overlapping branches deep inside the bush toward the bottom.

New growth can take up to three years to produce blossoms, so be sure to leave some older established branches for next year's bounty. Also beware that the shrub begins to form next year's blossoms now, so do not cut off the small nubs of beautiful blossom potential haphazardly.

If all the branches are lopped off in this manner, next year's flower display can be severely minimized. In my personal opinion, think natural while pruning your shrub, the inherent beauty of a lilac bush is its wildness and organic form.

With just a few moments well spent out in our gorgeous spring sunshine this month, you will be ensuring the delightful prolonged display of blooms this year, and the happy return of healthy blooms next year.

Sarah McAnerny is a designer and a partner in Tre Sorelle Home Designs, Pine. www.tresorellehomedesigns.com

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