In terms of color, shape, and sheer variety, few plants can compete with true lilies. My own garden features several Asiatic and stargazer lilies that pop up in the summer months. But these varieties only scratch the surface of what the family has to offer.
Lilies are beautiful but can be a bit one-note on their own. The flowers last for several weeks but the plants otherwise offer little visual appeal. Plus, true lilies rarely have any scent.
To get the most from your lilies, I highly recommend interplanting them with other ornamental species. In this article, I’ve shared many of my favorite companion plants for lilies and described the best ways to combine them.
What Is Companion Planting?
Companion planting is a long-standing practice of growing multiple plants in a single bed. The goal is to benefit either the plants individually or the garden as a whole.
When we talk about companion planting, it’s usually in the context of edible crops like fruits, vegetables, and herbs. In this context, companion planting is a natural way to improve efficiency and harvest size.
The most famous example of companion planting is the Three Sisters method, which includes corn, beans, and squash. All three vegetables work together — e.g., the corn provides a structure for the beans to climb — to maximize the use of space and reduce the need for additional supplies.
In the ornamental garden, companion planting has more to do with creating the most visually appealing landscape possible. A purely ornamental example of companion planting could be allowing a clematis vine to climb an evergreen bush. But there are some other tangible benefits, which I’ll go into more detail about below.
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Benefits of Companion Planting
To the beginner gardener, companion planting can be overwhelming and — in some cases — seem too good to be true.
I’ll admit that companion planting will probably never produce the same results as using an industrial fertilizer or pesticide. However, when done right, it offers very real benefits with zero drawbacks (something that can’t be said for chemical treatments and other solutions).
Here are just a few of the most common benefits companion planting can produce:
Pest Control: Natural pest management is a hot topic among gardeners of all types. Not only are modern pesticides expensive and cumbersome but they can also have negative impacts on native ecosystems.
Many plant species deter pests via pungent aromas or chemical substances. For example, according to Science, lemon eucalyptus oil is up to 60% effective against mosquitoes. You can use this knowledge to your advantage by growing these natural deterrents near plants you’d rather insects leave alone.
Another way flowering plants control pests is by attracting beneficial predators. Ladybugs are a well-known example — they eat aphids — but there are many others worth welcoming to the garden as well.
Great Pollinator Diversity: Pollinating birds and insects bring life to a garden. If you’re growing fruit or vegetables, they may also be critical for crop production. One of the best ways to increase pollinator activity in your garden is to offer a large variety of flowers for them to feed on.
Weed Suppression: Empty garden space is often quickly taken over by weeds. While you can use wood chips to prevent this, many plant species work equally well as ‘living mulch’. Groundcover plants like creeping thyme and clover are a couple of good examples that crowd out invading weeds.
More Aesthetic Appeal: Planting more than one type of flower in your garden will instantly make it more attractive. Some plants make great companions solely because they look good together.
Using a strategy called ‘succession planting’ will ensure your garden has active blossoms for as much of the growing season as possible. For example, peonies typically only flower for about 2 weeks in the spring. Planting summer flowers in the same bed will prolong the garden’s seasonal life (and keep pollinators coming back for longer).
Best Companion Plants To Pair With Lilies
In order for a plant to be a good lily companion, it must grow in the same general conditions. True lilies prefer full sun but can survive partial shade in some climates. They also need relatively moist soil that drains well and isn’t soggy.
Any plant that fits the above requirements can be grown alongside lilies. But the best companion plants are those that bring something more to the garden. Here are some of my top recommendations:
Lavender: Planting lavender will more than make up for the lack of fragrance coming from your lilies. Lavender also enjoys full sun and well-draining soil — it actually prefers things to be on the dry side — and will grow very nicely alongside most true lilies.
Lavender tends to spread as it matures and can reach several feet across. Be sure to leave plenty of space between lavender and lilies to prevent overcrowding.
Sage: Culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) thrives in the same growing conditions as lavender and will make an equally good partner for nearby lilies. This herb stays relatively compact but should still be planted a foot or so away from any bulbs.
Annuals and Perennials
Peony: Lilies and peonies pair together extremely well for a number of reasons. For starters, they prefer very similar growing conditions. Peonies also have shallow root systems and grow from crowns, so are unlikely to compete with lily bulbs placed close by.
This combination is a great example of ornamental succession planting. Peonies usually only bloom for about a week in the spring while lilies don’t emerge until summertime.
Daylily: Despite the name and physical similarities, daylilies are not really lilies at all. According to American Meadows, these grassy shrubs belong to the genus Hemerocallis — true lilies belong to Lilium — and grow from fleshy roots instead of bulbs.
While largely unrelated, daylilies and true lilies are excellent companions. Most varieties flower at similar times but some daylilies are re-bloomers. The majority of daylilies also grow in clumps, so they won’t threaten the lily bulbs.
Try planting daylilies in front of your true lilies to disguise the stems and fill in empty space. The daylily foliage will help keep the soil cool and suppress weed growth as well.
Garden Phlox: This flowering perennial has a much different appearance than your typical lily but the two make surprisingly good garden bedmates. Garden phlox is a tall, clumping plant that I recommend placing behind varieties like Asiatic and stargazer lilies.
Since phlox is a favourite among pollinators, its presence will increase the number of bees, butterflies, and more that visit your landscape. Garden phlox sometimes has a pleasant scent as well.
Columbine: Growing well in full to partial sun, columbine is another woodsy perennial that works amazingly well alongside most true lilies. It has very shallow roots that won’t harm lily bulbs even when grown together.
Coneflowers: You can use these plants to fill the color void after your lilies have finished blooming. Coneflowers typically blossom toward the end of the growing season and provide visual interest through autumn. The flowers attract insect pollinators while the resultant seeds are beloved by many songbirds.
Stonecrop: Stonecrop, or sedum, is a succulent-like perennial with star-shaped flowers. It comes in many colors and normally reaches its peak later in the season. As long as your garden soil is well-draining, stonecrop is an interesting complement to true lilies.
Catmint: My Asiatic lilies and catmint plants grow very nicely next to each other. I have the catmint in a slightly better-draining position but I don’t think it makes a huge difference overall.
Catmint has small purple or blue flowers and a minty aroma. It’s a favorite late-season bloomer for a range of true lilies. Or you can enjoy it side-by-side with a patch of tiger lilies.
Chrysanthemum: Another of my favorite plants that will fill in a summer-blooming lily bed later in the year is the chrysanthemum. Often just called ‘mums’, these flowers are the perfect way to end the growing season.
Mums form dense clumps and are typically sold as annuals for easy planting. When given just a bit of space, you can easily add and remove these fall flowers without harming your lily bulbs.
Yarrow: While understated, yarrow is a versatile flowering plant that lasts from summer through fall. Its feathery foliage and soft flowers contrast beautifully against the average lily plant.
Yarrows also work well as edge plants because they readily hide the stalks of other spent flowers. And they are highly regarded for their use in butterfly gardens.
Hosta: Lilies growing in light shade will make quick friends of nearby hostas. Like many of the other perennials mentioned here, hostas are clump-forming and unlikely to impede on your lilies’ personal space.
For companion planting with lilies, I recommend bright green and yellow-tinted hosta varieties. These tend to be the most sun-tolerant.
Mexican Feather Grass: This grass is native to North and South America and is a low-maintenance way to add texture and movement to the garden. It typically forms clumps up to 2 feet wide and can be used as a neutral backdrop for lilies and other head-turning plants.
Flame Grass: Flame grass is a larger option that can grow up to 6 feet tall and produces showy flower plumes in late summer. Again, it’s best used as a backdrop for both daylilies and true lilies.
Rose: Many types of roses grow exceptionally well in areas also suited for lilies. Rose bushes work great for succession planting since there are so many varieties that bloom at different times (and some that flower all season).
I personally recommend choosing a highly fragrant rose plant to offset the lack of scent offered by your lilies.
Hydrangea: More sun-tolerant hydrangeas also pair nicely with a variety of lily species. Since the average hydrangea shrub gets so big, you’ll definitely want to use this companion as a distant backdrop rather than planting any hydrangeas right next to your lilies.
The hydrangea foliage will fill the space while the lilies sprout and blossom. Hydrangea flowers also offer fall and winter interest when left to dry on the stems.
Bad Companion Plants for Lilies
As I mentioned above, there are countless plants that can be grown with true lilies. All that’s required is that both plants enjoy the same growing environment and have similar care needs. But not all of these companions will benefit the lilies or even leave them unharmed.
For the best results, avoid any companion plant that has a spreading or vining growth habit. These plants may be manageable at first but can quickly take over the space set aside for your lilies.
Aggressive root systems also pose a problem. Lily bulbs are quite delicate and may be damaged by other plants’ roots.
Finally, I don’t recommend planting dense ground cover around true lilies. The lilies will not sprout properly if sunlight is completely blocked from reaching the soil.