Bearded Irises Explained

Bearded irises are the irises with large glamourous flowers that have a caterpillar of hairs on the falls (lower petals), and a large rhizome at the base of the leaves. All types of bearded irises have broad, sword-like, greyish green leaves. As there are so many varieties to choose from they are divided by height and flowering time into 6 different types.

Tall Bearded (TB)

This is the type of iris most gardeners will be familiar with. They produce tall, thick, branched stems that carry large flowers in an incredible range of colours from white to black with every colour inbetween and an unending range of patterns. Very often these are scented. They are the largest of the bearded irises and the last to bloom. Ideal for using as a focal point, they can be grown in their own bed, or used in a mixed border. 

Height: over 71cm (28in). Flowering times: Early - late May; Mid season- early June; Late - mid June. 

Border Bearded (BB)

An excellent alternative to TB irises for those with a windy garden, these produce flowers similar in size to TB irises, but on shorter stems. As they bloom at the same time they look very effective if planted in front of their taller sisters. Many of the varieties are scented.

Height: 38cm (15in) to 71cm (28in). Flowering times: Early - late May; Mid season- early June; Late - mid June. 

Miniature Tall Bearded (MTB)

A delightful group of irises which are prolific in their flower production. Each clump will produce many slender stems topped with small, delicately shaped flowers. Despite this they are vigorous, easy to grow and ideal for placing at the front of a border.

Height: 38cm (15in) to 71cm (28in)
Flowering times: Early - late May; Mid season- early June; Late - mid June. 

Intermediate Bearded (IB)

Probably the most useful type of all the bearded irises. These are quite short, but extremely prolific in the amount of blooms they produce. Because of the height they are less likely to blow over in windy gardens and because of the amount of colour, excellent in borders especially because they tend to be vigorous in growth.

Height: 38cm (15in) to 71cm (28in)
Flowering times: Early - mid May; Mid season - late May; Late - early June.

Standard Dwarf Bearded (SDB) 

The shortest of the bearded irises that are suitable for borders. These produce short stems topped with neat flowers. The colour range is,  in some ways, even wider than those found in TB irises. They are very useful for spring borders, and ideal for the front of a border. They rarely suffer from any diseases.

Height: 20cm (8in) to 38cm (15in)
Flowering times: Early - early May; Mid season - mid May; Late - late May.

Miniature Dwarf Bearded (MDB)

The smallest category of the bearded irises, these are only really useful as rockery or alpine plants. They can take a year or two to establish, that is all be the tallest of the MDB (which should be listed under SDB). 

Height: up to 20cm (8in)
Flowering times: Early - late April; Mid season - early May; Late - mid May.

Arilbred Irises

These bearded irises are the most exotic of all. They are crosses between the most commonly found bearded irises and the much less hardy, desert dwelling aril irises (aril refers to the shape of the seed pod). The resulting plants are both exotic and hardy (in most areas of the country), although the foliage is often not as lush as that of the normal bearded irises. They need to be grown in a VERY well-drained soil, in sun. We have no problems with them in very sandy soil, even in our cold midland climate.

Height ranges from 45cm (18in), these are known as Arilmeds up to 75cm (2.5ft) which are arilbreds
Flowering times: Smaller Arilmeds - May to early June. Taller Arilbreds - late May to June.