Agapanthus Plant: How To Care For The Blue African Lily of the Nile

Who doesn’t love the blue flowers of the Agapanthus plant? Agapanthus is the name of the genus for the exotic blue African Lily of the Nile. These showy perennials, native to South Africa, hold a strange beauty.

Agapanthus “African Lily” Facts

  • Origin: South Africa
  • Family: Agapanthaceae (agapanthus family)
  • Common Name: Blue African Lily of the Nile, African lily
  • Plant Type: herbaceous perennial
  • Height: Depending on variety – 18 inches to 5 feet
  • Leaves: Lance or strap-shaped, narrow to broad, gray green to medium green
  • Flowers: Fragrant, Dark blue through white, Upright, bell-shaped, tubular and pendulous. Make excellent cut flowers
  • Bloom Time: Mid-summer through October
  • Hardiness: Outdoor USDA Hardiness Zones 8 through 10
  • Exposure: Full sun, part shade in hot summer areas
  • Soil: Rich, well-drained, lots of organic material
  • Water: During active growth, moderately heavy
  • Fertilizing: Fertilize in spring with a balanced fertilizer
  • Propagate: In spring propagate by division – growing agapanthus from seed is possible but rarely by homeowners
  • Pests & Problems: Nothing major

The Debut Of The African Lily

The beginning of agapanthus care started in Europe during the late 1600’s with Agapanthus africanus (“ag-ah-PAN-thus af-ri-KAY-nus”) a native of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

Agapanthus africanus was the first of the Agapanthus genus to reach the U.S. where it made a striking debut.

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Africanus may be the least hardy of the evergreen species, with its lavender-blue flowers rising above basal strap-like leaves.

Two Groups – Evergreen and Deciduous

The Agapanthus blue can be divided into two groups: Four plant species which are evergreen and six deciduous species.

The genus Agapanthus was established by L’Heritier in 1788. Formerly of Liliaceae (lily family), it now resides in its own family Agapanthaceae.

South Africa is the only place Agapanthus occurs naturally.

The name Agapanthus comes from the Greek agapé, love, and anthos, flower, translating to “flower of love.”

Generally, most people think of Agapanthus bulbs. In fact, they may be listed in catalogs under bulbs.

However, these perennials are not bulbs they just have thick, fleshy roots.

Most of these blue perennials known by the common name of “Lily of the Nile” would be considered hardy for planting in the ground, in USDA Zones 7 to 10 – new Agapanthus varieties are extending that range.

In locations colder than USDA Hardiness Zone 7, Agapanthus plants in general, will need to be grown as potted plants.

Easy Growing Options – Colors and Heights

All too often if a plant is hardy and easy to grow it can find itself overused or not considered for use since it could be so “common.”

Many homeowners search for something new – get bored or lack excitement for a bloomer possibly found “next door.”

Agapanthus plants like so many other excellent landscape flowering plants, when grown, used and presented right… they are a charmer.

Agapanthus plants, when grown, used and presented right... they are a charmer. Click to Tweet

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One of their finest assets is their flowering. Flower colors of deep blue to white flowers, show themselves from these summer bulbs in mid to late summer and in some areas all the way into October.

Plants also can be deciduous or evergreen, short or tall, variegated or solid green leaves, along with open flowers or dense tight heads.

No matter the size, the agapanthus flower stalks always appear to be weighted down from the “heavy” flower clusters sitting atop. The deciduous species:

  • Agapanthus campanulatus
  • Agapanthus caulescens
  • Agapanthus inapertus

… are generally consider hardier.

More Blue Flowering Plants

Growing The Agapanthus Plant in Pots

Some gardeners go to great pains for their plants to experience the flowers they will be rewarded with during the season.

For those growing Agapanthus in areas where the temperatures fall below freezing, they cheerfully haul their pots of Agapanthus africanus in and out every year to enjoy their blue blooming beauty.

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A. africanus make excellent potted plants. The African lily flowers and grows even when their pot containers become crowded.

They also give you lots of flexibility in garden uses for borders, patio or deck to mix and match with other plants.

Keep in mind when growing the bigger evergreen hybrids, they may require a container as big as half a whiskey barrel. This can make moving them for winter a difficult task.

On the other hand. The smaller dwarf hybrids are easily movable and will do fine in 8″ – 10″ inch terra cotta pots.

Just as Lily of the Nile plant grown in the ground during the growing season, potted blue lily flower need to be well watered and fed.

In the colder areas – USDA Zone 6 and lower overwinter Agapanthus is a greenhouse or above freezing garage.

Water wise… barely water just enough to keep the soil from being dry. In USDA Zones 7 and 8 moving pots up against the house under the eaves should be fine for overwintering. However, keep the pots on the dry side.

Tips On Growing Agapanthus

Agapanthus blue yonder likes a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. When the growing season starts, fertilize with a balanced fertilizer, and keep the soil well watered.

In areas where summer heat is intense, grow the plants in partial sun shade. In USDA growing Zones 8 through 10, Agapanthus can stay in the ground all year. In Zone 8 and the warm areas of Zone 7 mulch is a smart idea.

To keep plants blooming freely, divide the evergreen varieties every 3 to 4 years.

Deciduous varieties, should just be left alone, even in pots where they grow well when crowded.

Divide in spring, removing offsets and replant them.

Related Reading:

The true wild species evergreen agapanthus is known as a difficult plant to grow.

However, one of the cultivars is the well-known dwarf Agapanthus ‘Peter Pan’, 18″ inch stems with medium blue flowers.

Many of the agapanthus varieties today contain the word “Blue,” which is more of a color range of dark lavender to light blue.

Some of the darkest hybrids can be almost navy blue resulting from crosses with Agapanthus inapertus.

There are several white agapanthus cultivars available.

According to PlantzAfrica.com (South Africa National Biodiversity Institute) – “Many gardeners and even some authors of publications mistakenly call the agapanthus in cultivation A. africanus. This is almost certainly incorrect. A. africanus is a winter rainfall plant and is difficult in cultivation, needing very well-drained soil, hot, dry summers and wet winters. Practically all the evergreen agapanthus in cultivation in the world, are hybrids or cultivars of Agapanthus praecox.”

Images:Tanaka Juuyoh | Blue Yonder – AG 3 | Storm Cloud – AG 3