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Best Companion Plants for Bearded Iris

bearded iris companion plants

"Last August I planted some Bearded Iris in two very different spots on my property - one bed is very formal, and the other is more of a wild & natural look. I chose to plant shades of blue in the formal bed and multiple colors in the natural area and was delighted by how beautiful they looked when they flowered this spring. Now I would like to make them the focal point of these gardens, both of which are quite new. Can you recommend some perennial plants that may complement my Bearded Iris plantings?" - Stacey B., Vineland, New Jersey

Great question Stacey! Whenever a question of good companion plants arises, we find it helpful to learn more about your centerpiece plant, in this case, Bearded Iris. What are they exactly? Are they really Irises? What’s the beard about? Do they come in different sizes, colors and bloom times? What do they need to thrive? How much sun, water, fertilizer? If you understand where and why they’re happy, you’ll be able to find companions that will be a good match, keeping your garden beautiful and easy-care, like the Bearded Iris.

bearded iris anatomyBearded Iris (Iris germanica) is a member of the genus, Iris, named after the Greek goddess of the rainbow, Iris. When the gods wanted to communicate with humans, they sent Iris, who arrived with golden wings. As she stepped to earth, colorful flowers sprung forth. It’s almost hard to imagine a better name for this kaliedoscopic species, and Bearded Iris, with thousands of colorful combinations, is one of the most popular garden perennials. With almost infinite choices of color, texture, pattern, and form, Bearded Iris opens the doors for garden creativity.

To communicate clearly about Bearded Iris (aka “Beardies”), it’s helpful to know a little nomenclature.

  • There are six petals – the three upward reaching, are called “standards” and the three petals that drape downwards, are known as the “falls”.
  • The most distinguishing feature of bearded iris is their fuzzy, bushy ‘beard’ located at the upper base of the falls.
  • Bearded Iris grow from rhizomes - bulb-like, tuberous roots, with a fan of leaves.

Bearded Iris also have a great pollinator story. Their namesake “beards” are also the entry mat or landing pad for its pollinators, the bumblebee. The bee enters over the beards to the nectar at the flower’s base and picks up fresh pollen. The large flower size of these Iris is both to attract and support the bumblebees they depend upon. Many are sweetly fragrant too!

Bearded Iris comes in several size ranges with differing bloom times.

  • Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris are tiny, ranging in size from 5-15 inches tall, great for a rock garden or border.
  • Standard dwarf ranges from 8-16 inches and are great with later blooming tulips.
  • Intermediate and Border Bearded Iris grow from 16-27 inches.
  • Most stately, from 28-48 inches in height is the Tall Bearded Iris, blooming from late spring to early summer with large 4-7 inch flowers.

Actual bloom times will vary, depending on the weather. Each flowering stem will hold several buds that will come into bloom sequentially, usually lasting 3-5 days. Once it is finished, simply snap it off with your fingers to keep a clean look and to keep more flowers coming. After all the buds have bloomed, cut the stem back near ground level.

The best time to plant Bearded Iris is from July to September, or as many say, “Anytime you can get a shovel in the ground.”

What’s a Reblooming Bearded Iris?

Many new hybrid Bearded Iris are offered as rebloomers. This means the Iris will bloom at its usual bloom time in the spring and then come into bloom again at the end of the season, towards fall. The plant will grow new fans of leaves, putting up fresh flowering stems. It’s important to note that reblooming is not guaranteed and can be affected by location, sunlight and even the weather.

bearded iris tips

If you have Bearded Iris that are growing and blooming happily it’s probably because they have:

  • 5-7 hours of sun per day, or very light shade.
  • Rhizomes that are planted even with the soil level, leaving some exposed (unless you are in a very hot climate).
  • Fertile, well-drained soil.
  • Plenty of room to grow.
  • Regular fertilization. While Beardies are known for being easy-care, tough, long-lasting perennials, they will do their best when given regular doses of compost or a natural fertilizer.
  • Proper watering. Once established, Bearded Iris are water-thrifty plants, needing only occasional deep watering. Over watering can cause the rhizomes to rot.

Now that we know what’s making our Iris tick, we can begin to consider what plants it would do well with. If you 're using one Bearded Iris as a focal point, it will be important to know when it blooms and if it reblooms. Whether you're creating a formal garden or an informal garden, it’s often where you plant your flowers that create a structured or more natural effect.

We’ll be looking for plants that bloom along with your Bearded Iris and also plants that look good with the sword-like vertical foliage of the plant. Additionally, plants that overlap your bloom time and extend the bloom season will be a good choice.

Here are some considerations to think about:

  • What colors do I want to accompany my Bearded Iris? Harmonize with the same color group, or contrast?
  • How tall do I want my companion plants to be?

We recommend planting a selection of flowers that will bloom to accompany your Bearded Iris flowers and extend the flowering season even longer.

our top picks bearded iris

Our Top Picks for Tall Bearded Iris Companions

Oriental poppies

offer deep clear red flowers that are the one color Bearded Iris do not have. Tall and showy, with similar needs, they are great companions. Use white flowering Oriental poppies for a calming effect, red, to pop color, and a peachy salmon colored flower to harmonize. They will die back in summer, so plant other perennials in front of them to hide the dying foliage.

Lupine

will help create a lovely wildflower look to your Iris, with their tall, colorful stems of long lasting flowers.

Allium

is available in several heights from short to very tall. Easy to grow and long lasting pollinator favorites. For a formal look, choose Allium of medium height that will hold a formal structure and plant them in a linear or defined way. If it’s an informal setting, the tall, wavy Allium make great garden features.

Delphinium

The lovely tall wands of Larkspur (Delphinium) are excellent choices to grow with Bearded Iris. Shades of purples, blues, pinks, and white offer lovely accompaniment for a late spring display.

Baptisia

is a great choice in shades of yellows and blues. Try yellow Baptisia with white, gold or blue Iris. Blue flowering Baptisia is lovely with Beardies in blues and purples or other contrasting colors.

Peony

with its dark green foliage and round, almost spherical blossoms that open to a colorful long lasting flower is an excellent Bearded Iris companion.

Daylilies

are an easy, fun choice if chosen with a matching season of bloom. Some even rebloom along with the Bearded Iris.

Salvia

will add a colorful border to your Iris garden with its deep, colorful and long lasting flowers. In a formal setting, a nice border can be created, if informal, plant them in groups of 3’s or 5’s for a more natural look.

More Bearded Iris!

With their wide array of colors, sizes and bloom times, mixing more Bearded Iris into your existing bed can increase the season of blooms with a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns, and textures.

If you have a reblooming variety, remember to add in some late season bloomers like Agastache, Aster, and Salvia.

And, most importantly, have fun! Experiment – sometimes it’s important to break the rules. Pay attention to the foliage, too. Bearded Iris adds a beautiful vertical element to your garden with its upright foliage.

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