How to Separate Iris Bulbs

How to Separate Iris Bulbs
Gracie Owens
Gracie Owens she/her - Author at YardPrep October 01, 2023

Are you a gardening enthusiast looking to separate iris bulbs? Well, you're in luck! Separating iris bulbs is a simple and rewarding task that can help promote the health and growth of your plants. In this article, we will guide you through the step-by-step process of separating iris bulbs, from the tools and materials you'll need to the proper techniques for replanting. So put on your gardening gloves and let's get started!

How to Separate Iris Bulbs

To separate iris bulbs, start by digging up the clump of bulbs in late summer or early fall. Gently remove the soil and separate the bulbs by hand, making sure each bulb has roots attached. Trim the foliage and replant the bulbs, spacing them apart in a well-drained area with plenty of sunlight. Water thoroughly and continue to care for the bulbs to ensure healthy growth.

Tools and Materials Needed

Gardening Gloves

Before you begin, it's important to protect your hands from dirt and potential cuts. Invest in a good pair of gardening gloves to keep your hands safe and clean throughout the process.

Garden Spade

A garden spade will be your best friend when it comes to digging and lifting the iris bulbs. Look for a sturdy spade with a sharp edge to make the task easier.

Pruning Shears

To trim the foliage and roots of the iris bulbs, you'll need a pair of pruning shears. These will help you remove any excess growth and ensure that the bulbs are in optimal condition.

Bucket or Container

As you separate the iris bulbs, you'll need a temporary storage solution. A bucket or container will come in handy for keeping the bulbs organized and protected until you're ready to replant them.

Preparing the Iris Bulbs for Separation

Choosing the Right Time

Timing is crucial when it comes to separating iris bulbs. The best time to do this is in late summer or early fall, after the blooming season has ended. This allows the bulbs to recover and establish themselves before the next growing season.

Watering the Iris Bed

Before you begin the separation process, make sure to water the iris bed thoroughly. Moist soil will make it easier to dig up the bulbs and minimize any damage to the roots.

Clearing the Area

Remove any debris or weeds around the iris bed to create a clean and clear workspace. This will make it easier to access the bulbs and prevent any interference during the separation process.

Separating the Iris Bulbs

Identifying the Rhizomes

Before you start digging, it's important to familiarize yourself with the structure of the iris bulbs. The rhizomes, which are the bulb-like structures, are what you'll be separating. They usually have a fleshy appearance and are connected to the roots.

Digging Up the Iris Bulbs

Using your garden spade, carefully dig around the iris bulbs, making sure to give them enough space. Start digging a few inches away from the base of the plant and work your way around in a circular motion.

Gently Lifting the Bulbs

Once you've loosened the soil around the bulbs, gently lift them out of the ground. Be cautious not to damage the bulbs or their roots during this process. If the bulbs are stubborn, you can use the spade to carefully pry them out.

Inspecting and Cleaning the Bulbs

Take a close look at the bulbs to check for any signs of disease or damage. If you notice any soft spots, discoloration, or rot, it's best to discard those bulbs. Use your pruning shears to trim any excess foliage and remove any clinging soil.

Separating the Bulbs

Now it's time to separate the bulbs into individual rhizomes. Gently pull apart the rhizomes, ensuring that each division has healthy roots attached. If there are any dead or damaged roots, trim them off with your pruning shears.

Replanting the Iris Bulbs

Choosing a New Location

Before you replant the separated bulbs, choose a new location that meets the needs of the iris plants. Look for a spot with well-draining soil and adequate sunlight, as these are essential for their growth.

Preparing the Soil

Prepare the soil in the new location by amending it with compost or organic matter. This will help improve the fertility and drainage of the soil, providing a healthy environment for the bulbs to thrive.

Planting the Separated Bulbs

Place the iris bulbs in the ground, ensuring that the rhizomes are just below the soil surface. Space them out according to the recommended distance for the specific iris variety you're planting.

Watering and Mulching

After planting, water the newly separated bulbs thoroughly to help them establish their roots. Apply a layer of mulch around the bulbs to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth.


Separating iris bulbs is a straightforward process that requires the right tools, timing, and technique. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can successfully divide your iris bulbs and promote their healthy growth. So grab your gardening gloves and get ready to give your iris plants a fresh start!

Frequently Asked Questions

What time of year do you separate iris bulbs?

The best time to separate iris bulbs is in late summer or early fall, after the plants have finished blooming and the foliage has started to die back. This allows the bulbs to establish themselves before the winter months.

When and how to divide iris bulbs?

You should divide iris bulbs every 3 to 5 years to maintain their health and vigor. The ideal time to divide them is in late summer or early fall. To divide the bulbs, carefully dig them up and separate the individual rhizomes, making sure each division has healthy roots and a fan of leaves. Trim any damaged or dead roots before replanting them at the appropriate depth.

How do you separate overgrown irises?

If your irises have become overgrown and crowded, it's important to divide them to ensure their continued health and blooming. To separate overgrown irises, dig up the clump and carefully separate the rhizomes, discarding any old or weak ones. Trim the leaves to about one-third of their length and replant the divisions at the appropriate spacing, making sure to provide them with well-draining soil and adequate sunlight.

What is the best way to dig up iris bulbs?

To dig up iris bulbs, start by loosening the soil around the clump using a garden fork or shovel. Gently lift the clump out of the ground, taking care not to damage the bulbs or rhizomes. Shake off excess soil and inspect the bulbs for any signs of disease or damage. If necessary, trim the leaves to about one-third of their length before replanting or dividing the bulbs.

How deep should iris bulbs be planted?

Iris bulbs should be planted at a depth of about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm). This allows them to establish a strong root system while still being able to receive adequate sunlight. Planting them too deep can inhibit their growth and flowering, so it's important to follow the recommended planting depth.

Can you separate iris bulbs in the spring?

While it's possible to separate iris bulbs in the spring, it's generally not recommended. Spring is the time when irises are actively growing and preparing to bloom, so disturbing the bulbs at this time can disrupt their growth and flowering. It's best to wait until late summer or early fall, after the blooming season, to separate iris bulbs.

How often should you divide iris bulbs?

Iris bulbs should be divided every 3 to 5 years to maintain their health and vigor. This helps prevent overcrowding, promotes better blooming, and allows the bulbs to establish themselves properly. Dividing them regularly also gives you the opportunity to propagate new plants and share them with others.