Ixias are charming additions for spring gardens

Ixia - Image by Beverly Buckley from PixabayIxia - Image by Beverly Buckley from PixabayAlthough Ixias thrive in the winter rainfall regions of SA, they also grow well inland, as long as the soil has perfect drainage. Be sure to add them to your list of spring flowering plants, you won’t be disappointed! Read more about growing them below.

The vibrantly coloured Ixia hybrids we love and grow in our gardens today have all been bred from about 50 species from the winter rainfall regions of South Africa. Ixia are a genus of cormous plants of the Iridaceae, or Iris family, which, although it has an almost worldwide distribution, just over half of them occur in southern Africa, where 38 genera are known. In the Cape Floral Region alone, 707 species and 27 genera are recorded.

Ixias are often called "Wand-flower", "African Corn Lilies", and in Afrikaans “Kalossie”, and are quite enchanting in the flower garden with their long sword-like leaves and wiry flowering stems up to 60cm tall. Ixias are widely planted and admired by gardeners all over the world, and in South Africa they are planted from mid-April through May and June, to flower in September and October. Their brilliant star-shaped blossoms come in vibrant colours ranging from purple, mauve, blue, red, orange, pink, yellow, cream and white, and even an unusual turquoise or green. The flowers have darker centres, and often dramatically contrasting spots and blotches.

In the Garden:

A mixture of corn flowers give a sort of wild meadow look when planted in large groups, and will certainly brighten up your borders. They will also attract attention if planted in patio pots, and make stunning cut flowers. Cutting flowers in the early mornings will generally prolong their vase life. When cutting, ensure there’s at least 10cm of stem left on the plant.

Ixia 'Mix' Picture courtesy HadecoIxia 'Mix' Picture courtesy HadecoCultivation/Propagation:

Ixias naturally grow best in the winter rainfall regions of the country and at the coast, but they also grow well inland if they can be watered regularly. They have quite a high frost tolerance, tolerating temperatures as low as -2°C. In subtropical regions they are planted out only in the coolest months, and treated more like annuals which are discarded after flowering.

The plants will flourish in full sun to semi-shade, and although Ixias love plenty of water, they also require soils with perfect drainage. When planting the corms, loosen the soil to a depth of 30cm, and if drainage is not perfect, work in some washed river sand (available at garden centres). Plant the corms at a depth of 2cm with 5cm spacing between them.

In the summer rainfall regions you should mulch after planting and you will need to water the plant regularly and deeply throughout winter and spring.  Feeding is not usually necessary, but an occasional feeding with bulb food will not harm the plants, and is recommended for potted plants.

After flowering, let your Ixia plants die down completely, as this is important for the growth of the corm, so allow the leaves go completely brown and dry before you remove them. If you live in the winter rainfall regions, you can leave the corms in the ground for next season, as long as they are in well-draining soil and in a part of the garden that will not receive much watering in summer. If not, you can allow the plants to die down naturally before lifting and storing them in late December or early January. In the summer rainfall regions it is often best to lift the bulbs.

When lifting, ensure that you lift every corm, even the smallest cormlets that developed during the winter season. Make sure that the corms and cormlets are completely dry and are stored at room temperature inside a paper bag or cardboard box until next season.

Ixias are propagated via cormlets which will flower in the following season, as well as from seeds which will flower after two years.

Problems, Pests & Diseases:

Ixias suffer from few pests or diseases if they are grown in well drained soils. Aphids and mealybugs may occasionally attack the plants, especially those grown under a roof on patios etc.

Warning:

We did not find Ixia hybrids listed specifically, however, common corm plants including: crocosmia (Crocosmia sp.), gladiolus (Gladiolus sp.), freesia (Freesia sp.) and crocus (Crocus sp.) are considered toxic. With ingestion of the above-ground parts of these plants, mild gastrointestinal upset can be seen. The corms are more irritating than the above-ground parts and can cause bloody vomiting and diarrhoea.