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Step 3 - Evaluation

Any unregistered iris is known as a seedling, regardless of its age. It's exciting when your first seedling opens. Waiting for the petals to unfurl seems to take forever! You may want to keep every one of your "babies" and if you have space, that's great! Many of us do not and have to think about what is worth keeping and what is not, to make space for the next lot of seedlings. This section is to give you the basics of what makes a good iris and the steps for when you think you have something special. The information here is taken from the Handbook for Judges (see below). It is intended as a starting point to understanding what makes a good iris. For more information on what makes a good iris, please refer to The Iris Society of Australia Handbook for Judges.




The flower colour is the first thing you will notice, but it is just one of the factors you need to consider when evaluating an iris. Colours should be clean and clear, with colour combinations and patterns being harmonious. Colours and patterns which are not already available are considered desirable. A good colour on an iris that lacks the other qualities is not a good iris.

Colour is just one consideration


Flowers should appear symmetrical, with no twisted or distorted flower parts. Standards must be held firmly in position and not flop. Flowers should appear well-proportioned. For a tall bearded iris, the falls should be wide. 

This is just a brief summary of form. Please refer to the Handbook for Judges for additional form criteria for each iris type.


This seedling has nice colour, substance and form. It will need more than this to be an iris worth registering. If it does not have all other qualities, it will be discarded.


This seedling has poor substance 

Substance, Texture and Durability

The durability of the flower, in all its aspects, is determined by the substance, or inner tissue structure. The substance is what maintains the flower form until it folds, and helps the colour to hold its saturation.
• Substance should be sufficient to enable the flower to hold its form and not flop.
• The flower’s texture e.g. velvety, smooth, leathery, laced, etc. may influence colour impact as it reflects or absorbs light. Any texture is acceptable, providing that the flower has good substance.

For more information, refer to the Handbook for Judges (link at top of page).

Branching, Strength and Proportion

The flower stem must be balanced and able to hold the flower without the need for staking (unless there are severe winds). A tall bearded iris stem should have at least two branches in addition to the terminal (top flower), arranged evenly on the upper two-thirds of the stem. An additional branch, or a secondary bloom stem from the rhizome is desirable if positioned so as to avoid crowding.
The single bud which is often seen just below the highest flowering position is known as a “spur” rather than a branch. A spur present in that position or which appears as a bonus on a lateral branch is considered desirable so long as the flowers are not crowded. For more detail on branching, please refer to the Handbook for Judges (link at top of page).


Tall bearded iris "Paul Black" demonstrating excellent branching


Bud count, floriferousness and bloom sequence
A variety should be able to remain in bloom for a minimum of two weeks. Each stem should produce a minimum of 7 buds, so most bloom points should have more than one bud. The timing of bloom opening is important, and only one flower should be open at each flowering point (socket) at a time.

This seedling has poor branching and poor bloom sequence

Health, growth and increase

The plant should give an overall appearance of vigour and good health.
• Foliage should be healthy and disease-resistant.
• The plant should increase well, as slow growth can lead to a risk of bloom out where new increases (baby) rhizomes are not formed.


The plant should look good even when it's not in flower


Showing your irises is fun and can give you useful feedback. 

Trial Gardens allow your iris to be judged as a whole. Multiple judges will evaluate your iris in a trial garden, and it will be eligible for awards.

Shows, Trial Gardens

Some of us are the harshest critics of our own irises. Others quite the opposite! The best way to know if your iris is worth doing anything with (other than enjoying in your garden) is to have knowledgeable iris people assess it. Suggestions for assessment -

  • Enter a stem of your iris in your region's iris show. If you are not sure how to go about this, just get in touch with your region, they will be happy to help you. 

  • Get a knowledgeable iris person to evaluate your iris. Ideally this would be an accredited judge. If you want an assessment from photos, please ensure that you have photos of more than just the flower. The branching is essential, and information on growth is important.

  • Grow your iris in a range of environments to test performance.

If you have thoroughly assessed your iris seedling (and ideally had it assessed by another knowledgeable person), your iris can be entered into a trial garden. This would make it eligible to win awards. Please note that entry into the trial garden is NOT a substitute for assessment.
Only irises that are under consideration for
registration based on meeting criteria for growth, colour, form, branching, bud count, floriferousness, and bloom sequence should be entered. An iris may be stronger in some areas than others, but if it is poor in any of these areas it is unlikely to be an iris that is worthy of registration.


Please contact your closest regional iris society for more information.

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