Using Irises in Your Garden

TB Iris 'Orange Juice' with Rosa 'Lady Emma Hamilton'

TB Iris 'Daughter of Stars' with Acer palmatum 'Fireglow'

TB Iris 'Arctic Express' along a garden path, with Iberis in the background

There are many ways to use irises in the garden. One popular method among iris lovers is to plant the irises in their own beds.

What to do, however, if you don't have room for a separate, dedicated iris bed, or if you don't like the monoculture look, or if you only have a few irises to plant, or if your garden has a lot of shade, or if you have a wet area, or if you only have hardscape?

No problem! With a little thought for meeting their particular needs, and with a little care in selection of colors, irises can be integrated into almost any garden setting.


Bearded irises with roses and other shrubs

Tall bearded irises can be a natural companion for roses, as the spring bloom time of the TB irises can occur when many roses are having their first flush of bloom. Choose irises whose bloom colors will coordinate with those of the roses. For example, in the left title image, the pink center of the standards of the TB iris 'Orange Juice' matches the bloom on the rose.

Roses are not the only shrubs that may be used to good effect with irises. Any spring flowering shrub can be paired with irises whose bloom colors coordinate or are complimentary. Such shrubs include the yellow flowered Euryops and the lilac and purple French or Spanish lavenders.

Foliage on some shrubs can also enhance the beauty of some irises; for example, the bronze colors in Nandina play well with red irises. Even solid green foliage, such as with boxwood, can provide a pleasing background for irises.


The white beard on TB 'Navajo Jewel' is echoed by the near-white bloom of Rosa "Climbing White Eden" xxxxTB 'Lest We Forget' pairs well with the bronzy foliage of a Nandina


Bearded irises with annuals and perennials

The ideal companion annuals and perennials are those which are drought tolerant, low growing and not invasive, and which bloom at the same time that the irises do.

Among perennials, white flowering Iberis (Candytuft) and the smaller pink Cyclamens can be good companions, as their bloom times are compatible and the plants grow in tidy mounds.

Some perennials, while drought tolerant, are not ideal companions for irises, but they can still be used with some care. Stachys can be an aggressive grower and can swamp the irises if it is not kept strictly in check, and it may not yet have begun to recover from winter when the irises are in bloom. It can pair well, however, with later blooming irises in the white, pink, and lavender shades.

Osteospermum is an annual that comes in a variety of colors, and may be in bloom with the TB irises. Some care may be needed in choosing the right color to go with your irises. Some of the newer Osteospermum which are open all day (they don't close up on cloudy days) such as '4 D Silver' can be excellent companions.

Chrysanthemum palodosum is an annual that pairs well with most irises, and has the additional benefit of being a snail warning system; you may see damage to its small white daisies before the snails attack your irises!

Although not in bloom when the irises are, annual vinca can tolerate some degree of drought, and can be used to provide summer color around an iris planting.


Bearded irises in pairs

Sometimes it is nice to co-plant a pair of irises. This can take a little work to get it just right, as not only do you need to coordinate the bloom colors, but you also need to coordinate the bloom times, and even the bloom heights. (It is a lot easier to coordinate only a pair of irises, however, than to try to do so with three or more!)

When pairing the irises with respect to the bloom colors, you can either use lighter and darker shades of the same color, a white (or partly white) iris with another color, or two irises of completely different but complementary colors. Another possibility is to pair one solid colored iris with a second multi-colored one; in this case, you want the solid color to pick up one of the colors of the multi-colored iris. (For example, the dark purple 'Darkside' picks up the lavender in 'Afternoon Delight'.)

One helpful trick when planting in iris pairs is to choose one iris with purple based foliage, and one without. Over time, the two irises will grow together, and having the differernt base colors of the foliage will help you identify the irises when they are out of bloom (and you need to divide them).


Irises under trees

- small deciduous trees, at the edge

- PCIs


Irises for shady places

- PCIs

- confusa, japonica


Irises for wet places

- Louisiana irises


Irises for containers

- SDB, IB, CC, short TB

- plastic containers inside of ceramic containers; 1 gal, 2 gal; beware of snails; wind considerations

- coordinating containers

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Yamagami Nursery carries a small selection of pre-potted PCI irises

Iris confusa and Iris japonica sources (Greenwood Garden, Plant Delights)

Louisiana iris sources (Plant Delights)


Last updated 7-17-17

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