Peonies & company

The best companion plants for a peony border

Is peony season too short for you and you are worried to dedicate a border to peonies only?

First, plan to buy peonies that are early to late season bloomers. And then carefully add bulbs, annuals and perennials to your design.

If you buy bare-root peonies in the Fall and small potted specimens from Spring to Fall, know it takes a few years to establish a peony plant and obtain the desired maturity effect, as recommended planting space is usually 2.5 to 4 feet.

Building a peony border is also a matter of time and investment to acquire each desired hybrid. It is better to go at one’s own pace, learning about your interests along the way and harmonizing the plantations. Having a ready-to-plant border in the Fall is however a must for an expanding peony collection.

I am selecting companion plants easy to find that will keep the look of the border happy all Spring and Summer long. The flowers of some of them may also be included in arrangements. Eventually, if needed for some peonies that will have outgrown their space limits, these plants may be displaced without any problems in other areas of your garden, or removed altogether at the end of the Summer.

Spring bulbs

Tulips and daffodils are the best early blooms, starting the Spring show. Plant the bulbs in the Fall as long as you don’t get too close to peonies roots. They will usually appear before the peonies start blooming. Favor the back or center of the border, as the peonies will hide the yellowing foliage in late Spring. After they are done flowering, leave at least the basal leaf (or leaves) because these will feed the bulb for next year’s flowers, even if tulips tend to have a shorter lifespan than daffodils. There are many varieties of tulips on the market, displaying interesting colors and shapes. The double late tulips, also called peony tulips, may even compete with the beauty of the real peonies!

There are other Spring bulbs appropriate to stand next to peonies, like ornamental alliums, but do not select ground cover or plants that have a tendency to invade the delicate and precious peony roots. I favor allium ‘Millenium’, a compact, late-blooming, perennial.

Planting time: Fall. Plant at least 6-15 bulbs closely, spacing only 3-6 inches for a fuller look.

Caution: Tulips may not bloom as well after a few years though late double tulips are reputed to be perennials. Tulips are often eaten by squirrels or other animals, but not daffodils.


Dwarf irises (Iris pumila) and bearded irises (Iris germanica) are colorful additions that may precede or coincide with the peonies’ blooming season. Choose colors in harmony with the peonies nearby. They tend to overstep their allocated space in a matter of years, though this is a signal they need to be divided and replanted every 3 to 4 years. Choose colors well-suited for the peonies in the borders.

Siberian and Japanese irises (Iris siberica and Iris ensata) will grow in clumps, their fans gracefully occupying space between peonies. I tend to prefer Siberian irises in my garden because they require less water, are hardier and taller than the Japanese ones (also called butterfly flowers) but I am pampering new spectacular dinner plate hybrids. Both divide easily in the Spring if needed.

Planting time: Spring to Fall. Divide mature plants in Spring for Siberian and Japanese irises and August or September for the larger leaves. Pick colors to create harmony with the peony flowers.

Caution: May need division every 3-4 years. Weed regularly.

Zinnias and annual friends

Zinnias are colorful annuals, inexpensive and easy to sow, and a very good choice to fill the empty spaces temporarily until the peonies mature. They can also be selected for a Summer border drawn for ready-to-plant bare-rooted specimens in the Fall. They bloom abundantly from July to frost, earlier if they have been sown earlier in greenhouses or indoor. Choose mid-high varieties not needing staking. Other similar easy-growing annuals with compact behavior include cosmos, pot marigolds (Calendula) and Chinese asters (Callistephus).

Planting time: Sow in plugs indoor with appropriate lighting in late February or outdoor directly in the garden after last frost. Plant young seedlings in the Spring after last frost. I sow outdoor in plugs in May and by early July have flowering plants. Pinch/prune for more compact and ramified plants.

Caution: Use parsimoniously in front or back of the border and pinch early. Zinnias and other annuals may shade and even choke the growth of the hidden peonies. Restricting air circulation and overwatering may also favor development of fungal diseases on peonies. The roots of tall varieties cosmos may spread into the peony roots.


Think lilies for a stunning perennial statement at the center or back of the borders. Asiatic lilies bloom in early summer (in May or June), at the same time or right after peonies. For this reason, they add texture, color and beauty to the border and often enough to peony arrangements. Asiatic lilies are shorter than other lilies and some varieties may be planted more in the front, as long as they will not hide the mid to late season peonies. Go for colors that will blend better with the peonies. Oriental lilies bloom in late summer to early fall and will contrast splendidly against the foliage of the peonies. Finally, Orienpet lilies, from a cross between oriental and trumpet lilies, offer huge blooms, outstanding height and a longer blooming period from mid to late summer. These hybrids are better reserved for large spaces and will surely draw the attention to the border long after the peonies will be done blooming.

Planting time: Bulbs in Spring.

Caution: Lilies tend to extend their spot. Reserve them a specific area of the border and be patient: it may take a summer or two before the full bloom. In some areas, the red lily beetles may cause a problem to control.

Learn more about lilies


Daylilies are among the best perennials to introduce in a peony border. They usually bloom after the peony season and for many weeks. Old and newer varieties come in an array of colors. They grow quite fast and are very resilient to diseases, hot summers, full sun, diverse growing conditions and drier soil. When they are fully mature, they can be divided or transplanted easily.

Planting time: Anytime when bought potted. Transplanted and divided in early Spring or late Fall.

Caution: Try planting daylilies at least 18 inches from peony roots as their tuberous roots may become invasive and shoot new stems far away from the mother plant (avoid the common orange Hemerocallis fulva for this reason). On some varieties, they may sprout if even one tuber is left in the soil. Reblooming varieties may need pruning to the ground. Most faded flowers are unattractive and some are mushy.

Learn more about daylilies

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