For the Love of Iris

Articles, Tips and Notes from Schreiner's Iris Gardens

Ideal Companions for Your Bearded Iris Beds

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Schreiner's Iris Gardens

Companion plants among Iris add variety of height, shape and bloom time

The practice of “Companion Planting”, a centuries-old gardening tradition, follows the theory that different plant species, planted close together, assist each other with nutrient production and absorption, controlling pests, attracting pollinators, and other factors necessary for their full productivity. This practice is clearly beneficial in flower gardens as well. When planning your beds, consider water conservation as well as overall aesthetic design.

Ray Schreiner, quintessential plant-lover, has designed the Display Gardens at Schreiner’s Iris Gardens with these companion planting principles in mind. Some of his choices fix nitrogen in the soil, others attract butterflies and other pollinators, some work to control weeds, and some are chosen simply for aesthetic appeal.

Ray plants the Display Gardens with a wide range of sun-loving as well as shade-dwelling flowers. He chooses mainly perennials, but adds some annuals for a quick splash of color along the borders. These give the Iris gardens a balanced feel with their varied heights, colors and shapes, and lengthen the display of blooms from early Spring into late Fall. Some of the companion plants our guests can find in the garden during bloom season include Alliums, Peonies, Icelandic and Oriental Poppies, Delphiniums and, of course, the ubiquitous Lupine. Ray plants flowering trees and shrubs such as Dogwoods, Magnolias, Birch, Willow, Heather and Rhododendrons to round out the park-like setting. Shasta Daisies, Rudbeckia, Reblooming Iris, and Clematis brighten the summer gardens here. “I like to have color all year round,” says Ray. “Too bad there aren’t a few more seasons in the year.”

Some tips to keep in mind as you choose your companion plants:

Plant in zones: Group together plants with similar light and water requirements. Choose a variety of plants with different heights, colors and textures to create interest and beauty.

Choose drought-tolerant perennials, such as: Day Lily, Echinacea, Lavender, Sedum, Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, Phlox, to name only a few. To enhance your drought-tolerant Iris beds, choose perennials that require full sun and that bloom around the same time. Choose other perennials, with low-water needs, to continue the display of color throughout the year.

Author: Schreiner's Iris Gardens

Dedicated to growing and selling the finest Iris in the world.

32 thoughts on “Ideal Companions for Your Bearded Iris Beds

  1. I am interested in planting small bulbs such as muscari and crocus among the iris, would that work? What about other spring bulbs?

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    • Thank you for the question, Catherine. We would recommend planting the muscari and other bulbs a short distance from the Iris, as opposed to directly beneath. Leave enough distance between the rhizomes and bulbs to allow for the rhizomes to spread (a minimum of 12 inches). We plant tulips and daffodils in our display gardens behind our row of Dwarf Iris, for example. The the Dwarf Iris foliage, which is shorter than the tulips and daffodils, provides a nice front-scape to the spring blossoms. In some years (weather depending), the Dwarf Iris bloom simultaneously with the tulips and daffodils, which makes for a really wonderful spring show. Also, after the tulips and daffodils have bloomed out, the Iris blossoms become the main attraction in the “front” of the garden stage. Let us know if we can be of further assistance. Kind regards and happy fall planting!

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  2. I am planning a new iris bed behind a retaining wall on a slope. Being here in Virginia and dealing with clay, what soil should I mix into the back fill. There will be compost and soil back filled. Do I need gravel at the bottom to keep clay from packing and to aid drainage? Do I mulch iris?

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    • Hello and thank you for the message. Your plan for soil, compost and gravel are sound. That should provide the drainage that the Iris need. As for mulch, we do not recommend mulch on Iris, as it retains too much moisture on the rhizome. A winter protection of evergreen boughs or straw can be used in extremely harsh winters. Even mounding some extra soil over the rhizome can help prevent upheaval and dislodging of the rhizome due to winter freeze-thaw cycles. It is critical to remove any type of winter protection in the spring as soon as new foliage begins to form. Let us know if you have any questions. Happy summer! Good luck with your project.

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  3. Hi. Following your recommendions I have just split my over grown extra tall white bearded Irises and purple London Flags and made a new bed in full sun. I’m now looking at companion plants. I wonder if Agapanthus would be suitable as I have several pots that need splitting. I did have Day Lilies with the Flags (as you suggest) but I find them too invasive and difficult to control once they start coming up between the rhizomes and in my lawn!
    Thankyou for your hard work keeping up your lovely helpful site. Doxy. London UK.

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    • Thank you, Doxy, for your kind words. We’re glad you enjoy our site. Agapanthus is a companion plant we utilize here in our 10-acre Iris Display Gardens. It is a bit on the aggressive side and very leafy, but we enjoy it. Lupine, Delphinium and Alium (“ornamental garlic”) are also wonderful and less aggressive options. Thank you again for the comment.

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  4. My irises produce new growth on the same rhizome. What do you do with new growth?

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  5. Planted Iris rhizomes last fall. Clearly, I planted them too deep. They created lots of leaves, but no stalks/flowers. It’s now June. Can I dig them up & replant at correct (higher up/nearer soil surface) level? Should I cut down the leaves to 5″? And these are supposed to be rebloomers–will I get that 2nd bloom in the fall even though the first never occurred? Thanks!

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    • Hello, and thank you for writing. We generally recommend transplanting in July, August or September. Moving the Iris now might interrupt their growth cycle, but most likely the plants will tolerate the disruption. Trimming the leaves prior to transplanting makes the process of moving a bit easier. Generally, though, we say keep the foliage on all summer (but trim the bloom stalks). As for the rebloom question, it’s hard to say. Rebloomers do not always put up a second bloom. The act of transplanting them might give them a bit of a burst, however. Be sure to apply a light application of low-nitrogen fertilizer when you transplant these Iris. If you have some time, take a look at our “How to Grow & Care for Iris” pageshttp://www.schreinersgardens.com/how-to-grow-and-care-for-iris Let us know if you have any further questions. Best regards!

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  6. Do Iris of different types bloom well when mixed? Should Bearded Iris be planted away form other types?

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    • Hello, thank you for the question. Iris do very well planted among other Iris and other plants with similar planting needs. Here in our Display Gardens on the farm we plant many Iris in the same bed with a wide variety of companion plants. The key is to plant the Iris 12 to 18 inches apart. When incorporating other plants with the Iris, choose plants that have similar water and sun needs for best success. Companion planting is an age-old practice which has proven beneficial for the garden. We invite you to read more about companion planting in our “How to Grow Iris” pages on our website: http://www.schreinersgardens.com/how-to-grow-care-for-bearded-iris (click the link labeled “What grows well with Iris?”)

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  7. Hello, I enjoy this thread as very informative. I am in Eugene and have bad luck with bearded Iris. Many seasons of sparse blooms. Dividing hasn’t helped….they get enough sun, but no fertilizer to he honest. My question is whether it’s best to dig all up, toss old rhizomes, replant with new stock or divide existing again replant, and hope for blooms next year?

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    • Hello, and thank you for writing. We are happy to learn that the blog has proven useful for you. But we’re sorry to hear that you’re not having luck with Iris in your garden. Based on the description of your situation, it would seem that lack of soil nutrition could be the culprit. While bearded iris are typically a very dependable and easy-to-grow perennial, they have a few basic needs, one of them being a nutritious soil in which to thrive. You might wish to have your soil tested by a local garden center or extension service to best determine which nutrients are lacking. Once armed with this information, you will be able to amend your soil as necessary. Before amending your soil in the Iris bed, remove all Iris, discard the spent rhizomes (keep the ones with foliage, and trim foliage to about 5 inches). Then amend your soil in the bed. Replant the Iris, water in well. Give them a good long drink once about every 10 days. Apply a light application of a low-nitrogen fertilizer when the tulips are blooming in your neighborhood next spring. Let us know if you see improvement in your Iris bloom next May! Happy Gardening!

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  8. IRIS Planted fall 2015 are slow to bloom in zone 5. The climate has been cool upper 40s to 60s. Will this change the repeat blooms.

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    • Hello and thank you for the question. Weather conditions certainly do have an impact on growth, and bloom, of all plants. In order to receive the best answer to your question, it would be best to direct you to the folks who dedicate their time to the science and culture of the reblooming Iris — the good people of The Reblooming Iris Society. Please visit their website in order to contact them: http://www.rebloomingiris.com/ Kind regards. Happy Spring!

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  9. Very interesting topic on this site. I recently had a discussion about this topic. Thanks!

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  10. Hi, Ray ~

    Are your flower beds flat all the way across or mounded in the middle? I am planting your suggested companion plants with the iris. Thank you!

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  11. Is it alright to use pine nuggets instead of fir bark for potting soil mix? I cannot find fir bark. Where and what brand do you use or recommend?

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    • Hello. Thank you for writing. Are you referring to potting soil for planting Bearded Iris in pots? We recommend a loamy soil that drains well and that is rich in organic nutrients. Soil which contains too much Nitrogen can result in fast foliage growth but hinder the development of blooms. We would not recommend mixing pine nuggets or fir bark into the soil, as either might retain moisture, which may lead to rhizome rot. Pine nuggets or fir bark can be useful as a winter protection as long as the rhizome is not smothered. Let us know if you have any further questions.

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  13. Need the names of iris that are good for zone 3. Thank you.

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  14. I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!!
    I definitely loved every bit of it. I have you saved as a favorite to look at new stuff you post…

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  15. Your lupines are amazing! Did they all start from plants or were some seed grown and if seed grown how did you do it. I have read lots on growing lupines from seed but they don’t work for me. Can you help?

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    • Thank you, Christine. Regarding the lupines in our Display Gardens, we started from seed some years ago and we always had good luck. We started the seeds in the greenhouse. Keep in mind that they are not a long-lived perennial. The lupines that are still blooming in May and June in the Gardens are from dropped seeds from the original seedlings we planted. We have not planted new seedlings for a couple of years. Lupines seem to like sun and good drainage. They do not do well in wet or shaded areas. Some suggestions for starting from seed: They are a very hard seed so you could try soaking over night then planting out. Try starting in a greenhouse or in a flat outside with potting soil. Make sure the young seedlings do not dry out. You could also work the ground and try it that way. You may also wish to try purchasing young plants, if you do not have luck with the seeds. After the blooms are gone, leave the old wilted blooms on and let the seeds form. Once the seed pods form, let them drop and you might be surprised. Lupines are like a weed once they get going. Best of luck to you!

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  17. I suggest the name of this Iris is Royal lace!

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