Louisiana Iris Garden

About Us

After some twenty-five years of gardening adventures, a random comment by a gardening buddy spurred a challenge that has become a passion in MJ Urist’s life. The suggestion, “you should try…” led to the discovery of a great native wildflower that grew virtually unnoticed by gardening enthusiasts for hundreds of years… the Louisiana Iris. MJ’s enthusiasm for the wild child of the Mississippi valley and Gulf coast and its more refined offspring, has evolved into a mission of encouraging others in the cultivation of this North American wildflower to the furthest range of its growth. Perhaps along the way, others will come to appreciate the impact of the loss of coastal wetlands along the Gulf and the need to protect the rich and varied ecosystem that produced this unique native plant.
With her two best friends, Trial and Error, the generosity, friendship and expertise of a network of growers and hybridizers in Louisiana and across the country, MJ was able to develop the knowledge and techniques to grow these beautiful flowers in the northern climates of Upstate New York, only 85 miles south of the Canadian border. From the first seven cultivars obtained in 2007, the gardens have grown to over 5000 square feet and over 200 cultivars, plus a large number of seedlings under evaluation. Along the way MJ found that with minimal accommodation, this beauty from the bayou easily adapts to the challenges and vagaries of northern growing and rests comfortably beneath the deep, white winter mulch. Rhizomes from Louisiana Iris Gardens irises are robust and vigorous, and adapted for fall planting throughout the country.

MJ enjoys the designation Master Gardener, serves on the Board of Directors for the Society for Louisiana Iris, is a member of the Greater New Orleans Iris Society, and is a member and Garden/Exhibition Judge of the American Iris Society.

Come see what makes Louisiana irises so special

Monday, June 24, 12-5pm
Tuesday, June 25, 12-5pm
Wednesday, June 26 CLOSED TO PUBLIC. AIS judge’s training
Thursday, June 27 10am-3pm
Friday, June 28, 2-7 pm
Saturday, June 29, 10 am-5pm

Louisiana Iris Gardens
877 Sky High Rd.
Tully, NY. 13159

Gardens are open for viewing only. No irises will be for sale at this time. Order forms will be available upon request.
No pets please. Children are welcome, but must be under direct supervision at all times. This is a working nursery, conseils entretien de jardin.

Louisiana iris bloom time runs approximately 3 to 4 weeks in our area. 50-75% of the irises should be in bloom during this week. There are over 150 different varieties in the nursery. All irises are field grown. This is possibly the largest collection found outside of Louisiana.

Please contact us via email: louisianairisgardens@gmail.com with any questions. Directions available upon request.

Meet Our Hybridizers

Joe Musacchia
Joe became interested in Louisiana irises after a series of failures growing plants that, while beautiful, just weren’t suited to his sultry, damp, south Louisiana location. It was a perfect match! Joe began his hybridizing efforts in the late 1990’s, but experienced a monumental disruption to his “pipeline” with back to back hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. In 2008, Joe began recovering seedlings from the mess left behind from the storms, and also began making new crosses for the future, some of which are just now reaching final evaluation before release.
Joe resides in Gray, La. with his wife, Sally. In the photo above, Joe is captured in the act of hybridizing under the watchful eye of his garden companion, Tootsie.

Patrick O’Connor
Patrick O’Connor has been growing Louisiana irises since the mid-1970s. His interest began when he discovered the native I. fulva growing in the yard of a new family home. He began hybridizing in the late 1970s and has registered over 70 cultivars. For about ten years, he operated a commercial iris nursery, Zydeco Louisiana Iris Garden. Patrick lives in Metairie, LA, a suburb of New Orleans, with his wife Juliette, and an ever-changing assortment of small rescued, and fostered dogs.Louisiana Iris Gardens is honored to be the introducing nursery for Patrick’s exceptional flowers.

Growing Tips

No Louisiana Iris sales website is complete without instructions on how to care for your new plants. Cruise the internet and information with the writer’s bias abounds. Definitive recommendations for bed preparation, soil pH, fertilizer types and schedules, watering, mulching, and specific plants that will ‘grow in your area.’ It’s all there.

The one sure thing I have learned about growing Louisiana Iris in Central New York is, snow (and lots of it) is your best friend; it’s why it works! Our snow cover blankets the plants through the coldest of the winter, protecting the delicate growing tips. The spring melt provides copious amount of water for plants in rapid growth as the soil warms in the lengthening days.

Culture information provided below is the result of trial and error and best guess practices derived from assimilating the mass of instructions geared toward Southern growing, and applying years of practical Northern gardening experience. If you are purchasing rhizomes for zone 7b ’ 9 gardens, I would refer you to publications found on the Society for Louisiana Irises website (click here) or from the LSU Ag center (click here).

If you’re looking for the executive summary, here are the basics.

  1. Give your new rhizomes a good overnight soak before you plant them. Get them in the ground as soon as possible.
  2. Sun, and lots of it. No’ more than that. Full sun.
  3. Water, not necessarily a pond, swamp or wetland, but good even moisture throughout the growing season.
  4. Fertile soil. Not too alkaline.
  5. Fertilize’ abundantly. Louisianas are heavy feeders. Apply a balanced N-P-K fertilizer about a 6 weeks before bloom (roughly early May), and a balanced N-P-K after bloom (roughly late July to mid-August).
  6. As late in the fall as you dare, cut the fans back to nubs (being careful not to injure the growing tips ’ about 2 inches is good). Cover with a lofty mulch. The dense mulch we tend to favor for our northern perennial borders is considerably less satisfactory than loose, airy pine straw mulch that will trap air beneath the snow and thus better insulate your rhizomes from temperature extremes.
  7. Leave the mulch in place as long as you can stand it. Late spring freezes are a bloom killer. My guideline is that the mid-season tulips must be well into bloom before I peek.

Expanded Cultivation Tips

When you receive your rhizomes, remove them from their packing and place them in a shallow container of water. They will have been packed with a small amount of a silica based material to hold moisture during shipment, but will benefit from a good soak, at least overnight, before planting. If you refer to the drawing above, you can see that the rhizome is actually an underground stem, with fibrous roots below and a fan of cut leaves at the growing tip. Don’t worry if the leaves appear a little yellow or soft on your rhizome. This is a result of the disinfection process employed before shipping. Any damaged leaves and roots will be sloughed off after planting, and new growth will be unaffected. You may notice white nubs or small leaves along the length of the rhizome. These are offsets, or ‘increase’ and will be the start of next year’s rhizomes. Try not to disturb them during handling and planting. Unlike bearded iris rhizomes, Louisiana’s should be planted just below the surface with the roots spread across a bed of loose soil. I like to add some well-composted manure to the hole before covering the rhizome and giving it a generous soaking of water. Over time, the rhizomes will move to the level they prefer, generally coming to surface level over time. Placing the rhizome beneath the surface initially however, will aid the plant in its first wintering-over.

When selecting a location for your new plants, look for the sun. In the semi-tropical swamps and wetlands of south Louisiana, the wild irises emerge from semi 'dormancy in late February, when the Tupelo and Bald Cypress are still leafless. They grow rapidly and send up tall flower stalks in the bright sun. After blooming and forming seed pods, the irises settle into summer dormancy beneath the thick canopy. Leaves die back and the plants retreat into the swamp until late August or early September, when the temperatures cool and fresh leaves begin to appear. What this translates into for the Northern garden is, the more sun, the better. Dormancy patterns are altered up here. Spring means the plants must get up quickly and full sun is the key. Irises in the south have been growing slowly throughout the winter and are one of the earliest flowers seen. In the north, latent cool spring temperatures keep growth slow well into May, finally erupting in early June and providing a early summer bloom (late June 'early July in Zone 5, early ’ mid June in Zone 6). Full sun is their friend.

Northern grown plants, given a reasonable amount of water during high summer will continue to grow well into the fall. In fact, the cut back fans will often protrude a foot or more through the first snows of winter, only going to ground when they are finally covered over and the ground is frozen.

There is a common misconception that Louisiana Irises are a water plant. While they will grow happily in a backyard pond or water feature, they are equally adaptable to a range of garden soils. There are just a few things to keep in mind. Traditional wisdom stated that optimal soil pH for Louisianas is 6.5 or a bit lower. There has recently been much debate about this amongst growers. There are a number of growers that find their plants are doing just fine in a slightly alkaline soil. Anecdotal evidence notwithstanding, if your soil does tend to be very alkaline, I’d encourage you to amend your soil to at least a neutral range. Work in plenty of compost or other organic rich materials to encourage a healthy soil structure.

Louisiana irises are very heavy feeders. If you consider that their natural environment are the fecund swamps of the Gulf coast, immersed in the rich organic run-off of the Mississippi River, it’s not hard to understand that generous fertilizing will promote the same lush growth in your garden. In our garden, a 10-10-10 (or 12-12-12, depending on what is available) granular fertilizer is applied at the recommended rate following bloom season (somewhere between mid July and mid August). This will give the plant plenty to work with before the snow falls. Water the fertilizer in well. Approximately four to six weeks before expected bloom (early to mid May in our zone 5b location), apply a balanced N-P-K fertilizer. Unlike Louisianas growing in the Southern zones that enter a semi-dormancy during the scorching heat of June through August, Northern grown irises will continue a robust growth habit throughout the summer. During this time it will help if you monitor the soil for adequate moisture, but it is generally unnecessary to water unless you are experiencing extended dry periods. Remember’ it is almost impossible to over-fertilize a Louisiana iris.


Q: Will Louisiana irises grow where I live?
A: Hope so! Generally speaking, Louisiana irises are hardy in zones 5-9, and anecdotally into zone 4. We are in hardiness zone 5a, with good winter snow cover (white mulch), excellent soil, and abundant moisture. You can be in zone 7, with less optimal conditions (e.g. sandy soil), and have to work harder to keep them happy.

Q: How many rhizomes do I get for an order.
A: The quoted price is for one rhizome, but depending on the variety and growth habit of the particular variety, there may be increase (next year’s plants) present.

Q: Quantity discounts? How’s that work?
A: Quantity discounts are offered on selected varieties. You can tell them by the asterisk at the end of their name. Discounted varieties may be combined; you need not order all the same variety to receive the discount. Discounts are calculated at checkout, but apply as follows:
3-5 rhizomes receive a 10% discount
6-9 rhizomes receive a 15% discount
10-25 rhizomes receive a 20% discount

Q: Can I use a different payment method than PayPal
A: PayPal has been very reliable for us over the last five years. Please note, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE A PAYPAL ACCOUNT TO PAY BY CREDIT CARD. Although you will be prompted to register an account if you don’t have one, it is possible to complete the payment without it. When you submit your order, you are directed to the PayPal site to complete payment.
We choose to absorb the charges associated with this payment method to provide an extra layer of security for your information. We cannot process credit payments directly.
If you prefer to pay by check, please Contact us directly for our mailing address, shipping costs, and applicable tax if ordering from NY state. You will place your order through the website, but it will not be processed until payment is received.
*Just so you know, we DID try to switch to direct credit card payment through our web host. Because there is such a length of time between order receipt and order shipping, the underwriters didn’t like it. This is also why you get your irises so quickly if you order from a seller on Ebay. Ebay requires sellers to ship within five days. Guess what? If you live in New Jersey and order/receive irises in February… they’re probably going to die! We ship your iris rhizomes at the best time plant.

Q: Is Louisiana Iris Gardens a certified nursery?
A: Yes, we are registered and certified as a plant grower by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, and are inspected yearly to maintain that certification.

Q: When will I get my order?
A: First shipments go out the first week in September, beginning with the lower USDA zones (4 & 5), and following up through to zone 9s. For the past several years, we have pretty much wrapped up everything up by the end of the month. We will not ship in spring or early summer.
For 2016 we are going to try something different. Since a lot of gardeners in zones 4 & 5 are getting started with Louisianas, we will offer the option of earlier shipping in August to those areas. You may Contact us directly if you think this would be beneficial with shorter growing seasons, and we will do our best to accommodate your request. If we have too much time on our hands, we may even contact you first!
You should anticipate an email, usually sent in mid-August, alerting you that we are beginning shipping preparations, and inquiring if there are any hindrances to your delivery schedule (planned vacations, for example). We would hate to have a box of rhizomes sitting on your front porch for a week!

Preparation for shipping
Many of you have asked how we prepare our rhizomes for shipment. The easiest way to explain the process is via the video below:

Q: What makes Louisiana Iris Gardens rhizomes look and perform differently than others out there?
A: This area of the country affords the irises excellent summer growing conditions, leading up to harvest and division. Once the irises break dormancy in mid-April, their growth is largely uninterrupted until the ground freezes, anywhere from November on, depending on the year. Summer average high temperatures average in the upper 70’s to low 80’s, with average lows in the upper 50’s to low 60’s. Summer rainfall averages 4-5 inches/month, which we augment with irrigation only during periods of prolonged dry spells. Add to this an extremely fortunate nursery placement on a glacial delta with 2-3 feet of teel-silt-loam, a good water table, and excellent soil fertility and you see some very happy iris rhizomes! Generally speaking, our rhizomes are more robust than those grown under hot, dry conditions where the plants often go through a semi-dormancy in deep summer. In fact, there are a number of varieties that are predisposed to a second bloom in late summer or early fall in our area. Some southern growers may find that their new rhizomes will bloom earlier in the season the first year after planting, due their condition at shipping time.

Q: How do I decide which iris to buy? What makes a “good” iris.
A: A “good” iris is largely a matter of personal preference, and partly the result of careful breeding and selection of irises for release by the hybridizers. A “good” iris is one that performs well in the home garden, exhibits pleasing color and form, and a host of other characteristics that determine garden performance. Hopefully, by the time you see an iris in a catalog, the iris will have had sufficient evaluation under a number of settings and conditions to guarantee that you’ll be pleased with how it grows for you.
Registered judges from the American Iris Society view many irises and rate them based on a number of factors. You may see the results of this judging in the catalog with the notation Honorable Mention, Award of Merit, or High Commendation (reserved for unreleased seedlings). Additionally, you may see an iris noted as a Mary Swords DeBaillon Medal winner (the highest award available, specific to Louisiana Irises). Theoretically, an iris that has earned this medal should be an outstanding garden performer.

All that being said, there are many, many wonderful irises that will perform well for you. Get that iris that you find most appealing. We would be happy to make some suggestions, if you ask!

Q: Can I grow Louisiana Irises in a mixed border?
A: Short answer, yes. The 3 most important requirements of Louisiana Iris culture are full sun, adequate moisture, and fertile, well-conditioned soil. The adequate moisture component will determine whether or not your mixed border setting is appropriate. In combination with moisture tolerant perennials, such as Monarda, Echinacea, Hemerocallis, etc. Louisiana Irises will provide a pleasing addition to the bloom succession. Plants that tend to be more finicky about ‘wet feet’ such as tea roses, will not appreciate the company.

Q: Why aren’t my Louisiana Irises blooming?
A: There are multiple possibilities, but the first consideration is adequate sunlight. In the northern latitudes, FULL sun is the rule. The further south in the country you are, the more tolerant your plants will be of some shade, perhaps even performing better with some protection.
Adequate water during active growth (while they are putting up bloom stalks) is necessary. Keeping the plants evenly moist will enhance your likelihood of bloom.
The third factor, soil fertility is determined by your fertilizing schedule. Louisiana Irises are heavy feeders. A full discussion of fertilizing schedules can be found in the ‘Growing Tips’ section of this website. If you have looked that section over in the past, you may note that we have changed our recommendation to use of a balanced fertilizer in spring, rather than a high phosphate formulation. Recent information suggests that overuse of high phosphate fertilizer is probably unnecessary and contributes to overgrowth of algae in the waterways.
Finally, if your plantings become overcrowded, your irises may express their displeasure with poor (or no) bloom. Plan to divide your irises at least every 3 years.

Q: Why do some irises cost so much?
A: During the first three years after introduction, the hybridizer receives compensation for the work involved in producing a distinctive addition to the group. At this time, that equates to prices of $50 the first year of introduction, $35 the second year, and $20 the third year following. At the end of the three year introductory period, prices are reduced to reflect supply and demand.
From the initial hybridization and successful germination of seed, a number of years of care and observation hopefully results in a promising specimen being released into commerce, rather than composted. Only a small percentage of crosses will make the cut. There may be as many as 50 - 100 different plants resulting from a single cross, and of those, only one may possess the qualities that warrant introduction. Sometimes all will be discarded, but only after a minimum of two to three years of care and evaluation. New introductory prices were held at the same level for 25-30 years, during which time costs of propagation materials and soil amendments rose significantly. While some nurseries have maintained new intro prices at the lower levels, we want to fairly compensate our hybridizers for their time and expense.

New Releases

Algiers Point  Birdland
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Devyn Elyse Wolford  Estelle Egan
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Frank Carroll  Gorgeous George
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Katrina Rising  Little General
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Luminecence  Mamacita
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Mardi Gras Mambo  Mary Jo
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Mary Nelson  Maurepas
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Norah Jane  Percy Viosca
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Pete Fountain  Rougaroux
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Sisters of Charity  Sweet Angelina
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Toffee Kiss  Vivian Mae
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Acadian Sky
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Algiers Point*
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Almost Forgotten
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Annette Brown
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Aunt Rose
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Bayou Duplantier*
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Bayou Fountain
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Bayou Gambler
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Bayou Renegade
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Big Charity
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Birthday Suit*
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Bitty Boo
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Black Widow
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Brown Recluse
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Chief of Chiefs
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Chitimacha Run
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Chowning’s Glory
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Claire Fontenot
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Cochon de Lait
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Cocka The Walk
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Cone of Uncertainty*
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Count Pulaski
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David’s Symphony
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Deja Voodoo
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Devyn Elyse Wolford
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Duck Lady*
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Here are some links of interest or places we frequent that we’d like to share with you:

Society for Louisiana Irises

The mission of the Society is to promote the use of Louisiana irises as a gardening resource, including education, conservation of species and worthy hybrids, cooperation with other organizations of similar interests, and through hosting an annual convention.
Lots of useful information on the history and cultivation of Louisiana Iris.

American Iris Society

“Promotes the culture and improvement of the Iris. Includes events, regional chapters, classification, cultivar registration and photographs.”

Greater New Orleans Iris Society

The Greater Orleans Iris Society was formed to promote and encourage interest in the Louisiana iris. If you’re in the New Orleans area, check out this group and their activities! Also look for them on Face Book!

Zydeco Louisiana Iris Gardens

While Patrick O’Connor has closed down his retail sales, he plans to keep this wonderful source of information available to us. One of the best Louisiana Iris information sites on the internet, great pictures, wonderful stories from Patrick’s 30+ years as a hobbyist, grower, and hybridizer.

Dick Sloan’s Louisiana Iris Suite

A long time grower and hybridizer and past president of SLI, Dick has recorded his musings on some of the Louisiana irises he has known and loved.

Louisiana Travel

There’s a lot going on in Louisiana!

The Pinestraw.com

Our go to place for pine straw mulch. Good people, great product, prompt and friendly service!