Lilac Companion Plants: 13 Plants to Grow With Lilacs

Are you looking for some plants to add next to the lilacs in your garden this season? There are actually a number of different plants that will pair quite well with lilacs! In this article, certified master gardener Liz Jaros looks at her favorite plants to stick next to your lilacs this season!

lilac companion plants

After a long, gray winter in colder parts of the globe, a full blooming lilac is considered the true harbinger of spring. Sure, the forsythia and magnolia have given you some early joy through the kitchen window, and maybe now the fruit trees are doing their thing up and down the block, but the weather has been fickle and nippy. And you’re ready to get outside.

When the lilacs take the stage, with their floppy, oversized blooms and sensory-triggering scents, you know it’s truly gardening season. The bees are starting to buzz, the perennials are waking up, and the sun is shining with a bit more intensity.

But after two or three weeks, when the lilac show is over, most will shed their purple-pink goodness and fade into the landscape with a whimper, leaving a sturdy, but basic green shrub behind for the remainder of the season. To mitigate this inevitable come-down, we look for ways to complement, overlap, and supplement the joy our lilacs give us each year. We do this with companion plants. So, where do you start? This guide breaks down some of our favorite lilac companions, with names and pictures of each!

About Lilac Companions

Since lilacs are not particularly prone to pests and disease (the impetus for traditional, crop companion planning), we’ll be focusing on ornamental compatibility. The process begins by zeroing in on plants that grow in similar conditions and complement the lilac’s defining characteristics.

For most lilac species, this means looking for plants that thrive in full sun and well-drained soil, with hardiness in zones 3 through 7. A different set of sun requirement rules will apply to planting beneath lilac trees, as their canopies will create conditions for shade-tolerant species. In the following sections, you’ll find some colorful, and reliable options for both situations.

Near Lilac Shrubs

Because there are many types of lilacs that grow in different forms, it’s important to match the ornamental value of the way these plants grow, with other plants that will compliment them without overshadowing them. In this section, we look at our favorite lilac shrub companions.

Clematis

Clematis L
Clematis is a moisture-loving vine that flowers in many different colors.
Scientific Name: Clematis L.
  • Plant Type: Perennial, climbing
  • Size: 2-30 feet spread
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 4-8

An old English gardening trick to keep lilacs from losing relevance after their flowers fade involves planting a clematis near the shrub’s roots. Completely harmless to a lilac’s stem and branch structure, clematis will ramble up their trunks and sprawl outward toward the sun.

From afar, it looks like the shrub itself is flowering, but the clematis is actually the star of the show. It’s kind of a neat thing to see. But if that sounds tricky (and possibly odd), a clematis planted in the vicinity of a lilac is also a natural companion and a beautiful sight.

The two require full sun and well drained soil, and both enjoy cool roots. Clematis comes in a variety of flower forms and colors, and they should be cut down to about 12 inches in height at the end of the growing season to encourage next year’s blooms. 

Creeping Phlox

Phlox stolonifera
Creeping Phlox is an evergreen plant with long creeping stems rooting at the nodes.
Scientific Name: Phlox stolonifera
  • Plant Type: Perennial, ground cover
  • Size: 4-8 inches high, 1-2 foot spread
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 9

If you’re looking for something soft and bright to carpet the ground beneath your lilac, consider planting creeping phlox. Blooming from mid to late spring at roughly the same time as most lilac varieties, this plant has a similar cottage vibe.

Dainty, pastel hued flower clusters will spread far and wide in well drained soil. Phlox tolerate some shade if they are in the shadows of large lilacs specimens.

Cut phlox back after flowering to encourage a denser, matt-form habit. Leave them alone if you’d prefer a looser, more natural foliage structure. Creeping phlox is also a great border perennial, if your lilac shrubs happen to be planted close to a garden border.

Daylily

Hemerocallis
Daylilies are hardy plants, and can spread aggressively if left growing unchecked.
Scientific Name: Hemerocallis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Size: 8 inches to 5 feet tall, 2 to 4 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 10

With strappy, grass-like foliage and spikes of cheerful flowers reaching skyward from spring to late summer, daylilies are often planted alongside lilac shrubs. Blooms range in color from traditional yellow to pink and red, which makes them a good complement to lilac’s pink, purple and white panicles.

Blooms only last for 24-36 hours (thus, the name daylily), but they are prolific if deadheaded regularly. These perennials spread through clumps and need division every few years, so only plant them if you’re available for a little TLC here and there.

Lady’s Mantle

Alchemilla mollis
Lady’s Mantle is an attractive, hardy low growing perennial.
Scientific Name: Alchemilla mollis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Size: 12-24 inches tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 8

With a classic, cottage profile and a sunny personality, lady’s mantle makes a perfect footbed for most lilac species. A mounding base with chartreuse colored, scallop-shaped leaves provides the foundation for a spray of dainty yellow flowers from mid summer to early fall.

Known to spread and take over an area quickly, lady’s mantle will smother weeds and grass (a lilac root foe), while contrasting nicely with darker lilac leaf colors. This lilac friend is suggested only for those who are willing to divide it every few years and maintain it seasonally.

Peonies

Paeonia officinalis
For abundant peony blooms, regular watering is needed, especially during prolonged dry weather.
Scientific Name: Paeonia officinalis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Size: 3-4 feet tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Like lilacs, peonies are a perennial garden classic and a cold climate favorite. They are hardy to -50 degrees and require winter temps below 40 degrees for adequate dormancy. Shrub-like in habit, but technically a perennial, peonies come in 33 different species and thousands of different cultivars.

With oversized, double blooms in families of pink, red, and white, peonies are a nice offset to lilac florets. Peonies are in full bloom just after lilacs are finished flowering, so the timing is perfect, but they are heavy and sometimes need staking. If that’s too much work for you, move on, but you’ll be missing a great show!

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’

Hylotelephium
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ requires the brightest sunlight.
Scientific Name: Hylotelephium
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Size: 24 inches tall, 18 inches wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-10

Drought tolerant and extremely sturdy, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ has the same well-drained soil requirement as lilacs and grows nicely in their vicinity.

Easily recognized by their fleshy, succulent-like foliage and dusty, rose-colored flower heads, Autumn Joy is a good choice to brighten up the area around lilacs in mid summer to late fall. Resistant to disease and insects, they are about as low maintenance as you can get, perennial-wise.

They do not need deadheading and faded blooms hold up well through the winter, providing food for birds and foragers. Cut last year’s flower stems down to the ground in spring when new growth begins to emerge from your sedum’s base.

Spirea

Spirea spp
Spirea needs watering after flowering in order to maximize their bloom time.
Scientific Name: Spirea spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial shrub
  • Size: 2-6 feet tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

Easy to grow and a very long bloomer, spirea varieties make a nice neighbor for most lilac shrubs. Available in sizes ranging from dwarf to standard, spirea start blooming when lilacs are done and repeat later in the season. Flowering is abundant, with clusters of pink, white, purple, and red blooms covering most exterior branches. 

Small leaf size and dense branch structure give them a round shape that works well in groups or rows. Shear back after flowering to encourage another bloom, and prune annually to thin out the inner structure, and spirea will deliver year after year.

Under Lilac Trees

Lilacs can also be shaped and grown into tree form. These taller lilac varieties will give you plenty of options when it comes to planting next to them, or underneath of them. This section covers some of our favorite companions for lilacs in tree form.

Astilbe

Astilbe spp
Astilbe prefers humus-rich, fertile, moisture-intensive soil and partial shade.
Scientific Name: Astilbe spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Size: 6 inches to 3 feet tall, 3 to 6 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Astilbe’s fern-like foliage sets the stage for upright, feathery blooms in shades of pink, red, purple and white. This perennial flowering plant thrives in the shade. When planted beneath a lilac tree, there will be plenty of dappled sunshine, and astilbe will thrive and spread vigorously. The effect creates a nice textural contrast with lilac’s smooth, dark green leaves.

Astilbe prefer moist soil and might need a little more water than your typical lilac tree, so take care to keep them irrigated without saturating your lilac’s roots.

Columbine

Aquilegia spp
Columbine has large lilac-violet or blue flowers. It’s also native to North America.
Scientific Name: Aquilegia spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Size: 1-3 feet tall, 1-2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Part shade to sun
  • Plant Zone: 3-8

Also known for being a woodland plant that thrives in filtered light, columbine can take a little more sun in cooler climates. When planted near the drip line of your lilac tree canopy, columbine will deliver a soft display of bell-shaped flowers in mid spring to early summer.

Cultivated to include colors of red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, and white, columbine plants have a fragile presence in the garden and juxtapose nicely with lilac’s large, sturdy personality. Their leaves turn yellow and wilt a bit earlier than other perennials, so keep that in mind when considering this for your lilac’s underpinning.

Daffodils

Narcissus spp
Daffodils are early spring flowers that belong to the Amaryllis family.
Scientific Name: Narcissus spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial, bulb
  • Size: 6-30 inches tall, 6-30 inches wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-10

Extremely cheerful and easy to grow, daffodils are traditionally yellow but also come in white, orange, red, and pink. Their grass-like foliage is among the first pops of green you’ll see in the spring garden, and they look very natural beneath a lilac canopy that’s about to burst.

Daffodils will usher in lilac season with classic style and spread by clumps. They should be divided and replanted every few years to keep blooms bright and plentiful.

Grape Hyacinth

Muscari armeniacum
Grape hyacinth prefers loose, nutrient-rich, and well-permeable soil.
Scientific Name: Muscari armeniacum
  • Plant Type: Perennial, bulb
  • Size: 4-8 inches tall, 4 inches wide
  • Sun Exposure: Shade to part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

A fast-spreading filler plant, grape hyacinths emerge with thin, grass-like foliage in mid spring. Their dainty, grape-like blooms are subtle and strong smelling – a little taste of what’s to come when your lilacs open up in the coming weeks.

Grape hyacinths will often bloom again later in summer, after your lilac tree has quieted down, and they can grow in both sun and shade. This makes them well suited to the conditions beneath a lilac tree canopy.

Grape hyacinths will naturalize (form colonies and spread) in all directions, so only plant them if that’s the effect you are going for. They are perfect for a more informal lilac tree pairing.

Hosta

Hosta spp
The soil should be lightly damp at all times for hostas to thrive.
Scientific Name: Hosta spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Size: 6 to 48 inches tall, 1-6 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Shade to part shade
  • Plant Zone: 3-9

A shade garden standard for good reason, hosta will grow well beneath the wide canopies of many lilac trees. When planted under Japanese, Chinese or Korean lilacs, hostas will get the dappled sun they thrive on and pack a nice punch.

Known more for their diverse, bold foliage than their flower stalks, which are tall and feature dainty purple to white blooms, hostas come in more than 2,500 named varieties. They spread by clumping and fill in nicely around lilac trunks. Look for varieties that are variegated to give the illusion of light to your lilac’s understory all season.

Divide every few years and spread them around. They’ll keep the weeds down and your lilac’s roots cool!

Tulips

Tulippia spp
Tulip is a genus of perennial herbaceous bulbous plants of the Liliaceae family.
Scientific Name: Tulippia spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial, bulb
  • Size: 6-24 inches
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-10

If you’re looking for something to fill in and shine before your lilacs take over, tulips can do the trick. Available in a broad array of sizes and colors and easy to grow, tulips will flower in late spring and overlap slightly with your lilac tree’s floral display.

Because your lilac will not have leafed out when tulips are about to bloom, these perennial bulbs will get the light they need to do their dance.

Since tulips can not be cut down until their leaves are completely brown, consider planting them with a shade-tolerant perennial that gets tall and bushy in mid summer. This will hide the tulip’s unsightly foliage as it stores up nutrients for next season’s blooms.

Final Thoughts

Since most lilacs do not offer four-season interest in the landscape, you’ll want to choose companion plants that will fill in before and after they bloom. For tall, leggy lilac shrubs, this might mean selecting perennials that will offer interest around their stems.

For compact, dwarf lilacs, you might want to work plants or other small shrubs into the yard that will flower earlier or later in the year. For tree lilacs, you’ll probably want something that can be planted in filtered sunlight, yet won’t interfere with root systems.

Think about foliage color and texture as you make your choices. Consider grassy, fern-like or variegated leaves to offset large leaf, common lilac varieties. Plants with burgundy or chartreuse foliage will also do the trick.

Always choose companion plants that will grow in the same soil and light conditions as your lilac variety, and pay close attention to their maintenance requirements. Spend a little time considering and planning your lilac’s bedfellows, and you can keep the garden thrills coming all season long.

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