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 Southern Africa, hold a strange beauty.

The genus Agapanthus was established by L’Heritier in 1788. Formerly of Liliaceae (lily family), it now resides in the Amaryllidaceae family and the subfamily, Agapanthoideae.

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The Debut Of The African Lily

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

The bulbs have traveled the world become naturalized in the UK, United States, Jamacia, Mexico, and Australia.

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

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

  • African Lily
  • Blue African Lily of the Nile

Two Groups of Agapanthus – Evergreen, and Deciduous

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

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, grow Agapanthus plants as potted plants.

Agapanthus Blue Plant Care

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 ‘Blue Yonder’

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Agapanthus Blue Yonder | image Agri-Starts 3
  • Prolofic summer bloomer from July-September
  • Dense, showy clusters of intense cobaly blue star flower starting after the last spring frost
  • Cold hardy Zones 5-10
  • Full to partial sun
  • Perennial, deciduous
  • Great selection for borders and beds, makes an excellent container plant

Agapanthus plants like so many other excellent landscape flowering plants, when grown, used, and presented right… are a charmer. They make a fantastic accent plant.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Agapanthus plants, when grown, used and presented right… they are a charmer.”]

Size & Growth

One of Agapanthus finest assets is their flowering. Flower colors of deep blue, violet 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.

Clump of violet flowering Agapanthus, Seminole, Florida May 2021

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

  • Agapanthus campanulatus
  • Agapanthus caulescens
  • Agapanthus inapertus

… are generally consider hardier and should rest for the winter.

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.

White flowering AgapanthusPin
White blooms of Agapanthus plant – Disney World Magic Kingdom Orlando, Florida May 2021 | image: PlantCareToday

According to PlantzAfrica.com (South Africa National Biodiversity Institute) – “Many gardeners and even some authors of publications mistakenly call the agapanthus in cultivation Agapanthus africanus. This is almost certainly incorrect. Agapanthus 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.”

Eye Catching Blue Flower

In appearance, the foliage of Agapanthus looks much like amaryllis. The bloom stalk of tall stems sometimes three feet high, is topped with clumps (umbel) of 20 to 30 showy bright blue funnel-shaped blooms, eye-catching and long-lasting.

To keep these plants with their splendid flowers 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.

Blooming Agapanthus up close, Disney World, Epcot Resort area, Orlando Florida June, 2021

Light & Temperature

In areas where summer heat is intense, grow the plants in partial shade otherwise keep them in full sun.

 In USDA growing climate Zones 8 through 11, Agapanthus can stay in the ground all year. In Zone 8 and the warm areas of Zone 7 mulch is a smart idea.

When growing in northern zones move plants in containers back outside after the last threat of frost passes.

Watering and Feeding

Agapanthus loves water and should not be allowed to dry out in summer. Where it is colder these make nice house plants in large pots.

 When the growing season starts, fertilize with a balanced fertilizer, and keep the soil well-watered.

Soil Type & Transplanting

Plant Blue Lily-of-the-nile Agapanthus at a depth of 2″ – 3″ inches, in a rich soil well supplied with humus. 

When you plant in containers varieties like Agapanthus blue yonder likes a fertile, moist and well-drained soil rich in compost or organic matter.

Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’

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Agapanthus ‘Storm Cloud’
  • Huge heads of deep blue flowers
  • Flowers appear in June, July and August
  • Clumping perennial, use in containers, or mass bed.
  • Zones 7-10
  • Easily over-wintered in cooler climates
  • Likes fertilie., well-drained to sandy soil
  • Prefers partial sun to full sun

Grooming And Maintenance

Deadhead to encourage more flower buds and prevent plants from going to seed.

How To Propagate Agapanthus

Divide clumps every 3-5 years in spring, removing offsets, and replant them.

The deciduous Agapanthus varieties should be divided in March. The evergreen types should be divided after flowering.

Step for Dividing Agapanthus Plants

Agapanthus plants are easy to divide. Follow these steps:

  • Using a garden fork starting from the outside edges of the plant to remove the root ball.
  • Cut off old flower stems at the base 
  • Remove damaged or faded leaves
  • Using a sharp knife or hand pruners cut large clump into smaller clumps.
  • Prune back dead roots and foliage by 2/3 before replanting.
  • Plant new divisions in a well draining soil in a sunny location.
  • Keep new plants well watered.
  • NOTE: Smaller divisions or clumps take longer to bloom. 

Agapanthus Pests or Diseases

Slugs and snails chew leaves otherwise nothing major

Suggested Uses to Plant Agapanthus Flowers

Agapanthus makes a wonderful addition to a flower border. Check out some of the new dwarf varieties at your local nursery.

Dark violet blooms of Agapanthus plants in flower at Disney World, Contemporary Hotel, Orlando, Florida May 2021

Grow plants in containers or tubs for effective bold accents. Group them in front of hydrangea or pink Belladonna lily. Combine with Alstroemeria, white Crinum asiaticum, or Coreopsis.

Agapanthus attracts bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Dry the seed heads for use year-round in dried arrangements. 

Agapanthus “African Lily” Facts

  • Origin:South Africa
  • Family: Amaryllidaceae, subfamily 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 shiny leaves
  • 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 11
  • Exposure: Full sun, partial 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: Slugs and snails chew leaves

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

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