Last Updated on February 25, 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Iris Reticulata packs a visual punch far above what its diminutive stature would lead you to imagine. The small perfectly formed miniature iris head has a jewel-like quality, some of the vibrant colours not being dissimilar to those found in a magnificent piece of stained glass. This dwarf iris puts in a dazzling appearance just as you think that winter will never end and is a very welcome harbringer of Spring.
« The more fragile and improbable-looking,the better. Such a flower is Iris reticulata. It seems extraordinary that anything so gay, delicate and brilliant should prefer the rigours of winter to the amenities of spring…. »
Vita Sackville-West (Lady Nicholson) – 1892-1962
All about Iris reticulata/Netted Iris/Dwarf Iris
Iris reticulata (or dwarf iris) is the smallest member of the Iridaceae family growing to a height of just 10cm/4 inches – 15cm/6 inches. It’s not only its diminutive size that sets it apart from the more well-known summer flowering bearded Irises. This tough little flower grows from a bulb rather than a rhizome, similar to the Dutch Iris but at a fraction of the height.
It’s native to the Caucasus, a vast mountainous area located between the Black and Caspian Seas where the temperature is often sub-zero. This makes the Iris reticulata a pretty hardy small bulb, but only if it’s planted on a well-drained site. (The bulbs will rot with excessive water.)
It can be a little tricky to get it to reflower year on year as it requires enough moisture in the spring but likes to bake during the summer months. With our temperate climate that’s not always easy!
Reticulata comes from the adjective reticulated which means marked like a net and indeed, each small bulb looks like it’s wearing a very fine fibrous net corset.
This hardy flowering bulb, which often starts to make an appearance in January, flowers anytime between mid-February to mid-March depending on both the climate and the variety planted. Many of the varieties flower at the same time as snowdrops and aconites
The flower heads at up to 6.5 cm (2 1/2 inches) in spread seem impossibly large for the slender stem and grass-like foliage.
How to grow Dwarf Iris
These small iris are suitable for planting at the front of the border, in containers and are particularly well suited to rock gardens. They can even be naturalised in the grass if they’re happy with the drainage and aspect.
– Plant the bulbs throughout the Autumn – anytime from late September through to the end of November.
– Plant approximately 8-10 cm (3-4 inches) deep. A rule of thumb is to plant them twice their own depth.
– Space the bulbs 5-10cm (2 – 4 inches) apart with the pointed side facing upwards.
– It’s imperative that these small bulbs are planted in a free draining environment otherwise they will just rot away.
– This delightful little flower is happiest in a south facing or western position where it receives full sun, but will tolerate partial shade.
– Once planted all you need to do is step back, admire your handiwork and let Nature do the rest! Keep your fingers crossed that they’re happy where you’ve planted them and if so these plucky little irises will, hopefully, reward you with making an annual appearance during those dreary late winter months.