Irises make excellent garden focal points with their vibrant spring blooms and striking hues blending or contrasting beautifully when thoughtfully paired with other plants. Use visually appealing companion plants to highlight and not hide prized irises while supporting pollinators too. Consider heights, bloom-times, preferred exposure and maintenance needs for successful designing.
Ground Covers to Foreground Irises
Low-growing ground covers make ideal iris partners covering bare spots while not competing for space, sunlight or nutrients. These accentuate the majestic floral stalks rising above delicately spreading front carpets.
Mossy phlox forms colorful April-May carpets with dense needle-like foliage and pretty five-petaled flowers in white, pink, purple, red and blue shades contrasting behind later blooming irises wonderfully. They grow 4-6 inches tall multiplying steadily in sun or light shade indifferently.
The dainty white fragrant Lobularia flowers blooming April-June on trailing 8 inch stems make sweet alyssum excellent iris associates. Give them full sun, average soil and good drainage for lush carpets. Shear back spent blooms to encourage further flowering.
Spicy clove-scented dianthus form fuzzy blue-green spreading cushions under a foot tall, studded with frilly flowers in red, white, pink or lilac. Easily grown in full sun and well-drained soil, these blooming before bearded irises act as pretty living mulch.
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Lovely herbaceous creeping thyme produces clouds of tiny pink or white flowers on 4-8 inch wiry stems over tiny aromatic leaves in April-May. Tolerating light foot traffic, they make fragrant durable ground covers for the iris front.
Mid-Height Companions to Balance Irises
Plant medium height perennials, ornamental grasses or bulbs behind irises to provide attractive backdrops and contrasting shapes or textures making themed vignettes.
Fuzzy silver-green aromatic foliage on wiry 18-24 inch stems displays dense upright spikes covered in lavender-blue flowers blooming weeks after bearded irises in late spring or early summer. Give catmint full sun and average soil with good drainage.
These long blooming hardy or tender sage varieties have dense spikes bearing tubular flowers in intense colors like blue, violet, red etc. on square stems with aromatic foliage, growing to 18-36 inches high depending on cultivar. Grow Salvia behind later irises.
Iconic daisy-like flowers with brown central cones blooming midsummer on 2-4 feet stems add bold contrast and height behind irises. Give them average soil and full sun. Leave some spent blooms for goldfinches to feed on seeds.
Feathery silvery fern-like aromatic leaves on upright 18-24 inch stems produce large creamy summer flower clusters contrasting with darker toned iris blooms when planted behind them. Yarrows handle most soils and full sun exposure very well.
Tall Background Plant Partners
Create impressive layered landscape backdrops using following plants towering over foreground irises.
Old-fashioned hollyhocks launch colorful spiraling single or double blooms on tall spires rising 5-8 feet from basal clumps, blooming June to September. Give them rich soil, full sun and sheltered spots. Biennials but often reseeding.
Graceful vase-shaped switch grass clumps 4-5 feet tall bear airy pinkish flower panicles in summer that shine when backlit, lasting into winter for multi-season drama with irises. Tolerates most soils but prefers evenly moist spots.
Tall Meadow Rudebeckia species have yellow black-eyed susan blooms with brown central cones on upright 5 feet stems. Maximilian sunflowers display bright yellow 3-inch blooms with dark centers blooming August-frost upto 5-7 feet high. Leave some for birds.
Think about bloom sequence, color contrasts, foliage texture combinations, ultimate heights and site conditions when choosing plant partners to showcase irises aesthetically without competing with them.