Tuesday, October 04, 2011


THE ANSWER MAN: What’s Your Problem?

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/3/2011)

This time of the year, many people ask questions about planting bearded irises.

Q. Spent big bucks on iris bulbs. Missus told me to fix up the front yard. Told me I was gonna get cold sardines for breakfast if I didn’t get a move on. Said that old, rusty plow “just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore,” least ways not since some Master Gardener moved in next door. Kinda scowls at my yard. Anyways, all I got was green spikes, no flowers. Told me they didn’t need much care, and that’s just what they got.

A. Your sentences don’t have subjects, just verbs and objects, like imperatives and commands. You must’ve been traumatized by your drill sergeant. They never use subjects, either. Anyway, they aren’t bulbs, but rhizomes. “Little care” doesn’t mean “No care.” If those rhizomes were your children, you’d be charged with child neglect and tossed in the hoosegow. Here are some guidelines about parenting rhizomes.
You feed children. Irises are fed about 6-8 weeks before they bloom and after their blooms are gone. No lawn fertilizer. Too much nitrogen. Nitrogen for iris is like candy for children. It rots their rhizomes, instead of their teeth. Use bone meal or super-phosphate because phosphorous makes for root growth. All root, they need lots of phosphorous.
Next is potassium. You need potassium for your cardio-vascular system just like irises need it for their health and growth.
I’m sure you make your children clean their rooms and make their beds. Irises need clean beds and rooms. They need weeds picked, just like you don’t let your children hang around a bunch of delinquents.
Finally, you don’t want your children wasting their energies in frivolous pursuits, like video games. Children need discipline just like irises. After the irises have bloomed, cut the flower stocks close to the ground. This is allows their energy to go back into the rhizome instead of frittering it away.
Your wife is right. That rusty old plow is an eyesore. You aren’t a farmer anyhow. The proper plural for iris is irides. Iris is a Greek word meaning rainbow. Dress up your front yard with rainbows, and your wife won’t serve you cold sardines for breakfast. Maybe, even that Master Gardener with the creepy hat will give you a hand.

Q. My name is Abigail. My husband, Rusty, thinks that a front yard of gravel, weeds, and a rusty old plow is the cat’s pajamas. He says it celebrates the early days of Flagstaff when “men were men” whatever that means. I threatened him with cold sardines for breakfast, just like early cowboys ate, if he didn’t get off his big, fat behind watching “Ice Road Truckers” and fix the front yard. Our new neighbor just shakes his head. His wife is real nice and friendly and suggested that the easiest thing to grow were bearded irises. Said they were quite beautiful. She even said that they could be planted in groups right in the middle of that damned gravel. Rusty dug’em in, but they just kind of pooped out. What do you suggest?

A. I fear that Rusty didn’t plant them the right way. You don’t dig’em in but settle them in, just like you’re putting your children to bed with a light blanket over them and just their heads sticking out. First, prepare the bed, by digging in compost, phosphorus, and potassium, and then let it sit for a week or so. Then make a small mound and settle the rhizomes into the bed, covering them with a thin layer of soil while leaving the leaves above the soil. Then for the first few weeks water them so that the soil is damp, but not wet lest the rhizomes rot. This should be done toward the last of summer or the beginning of fall so that the rhizomes will have time to develop roots before winter sets in.
Cold sardines may be better for Rust’s health, but biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs are better motivators. Napoleon said, “An army marches on its stomach.” Don’t let the Master Gardener’s hat put you off.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Dana Prom Smith edits the column GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun and can be emailed at stpauls@npgcable.com..

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