Agapanthus

Brian Barth
agapanthus up close

Agapanthus, also called lily-of-the-Nile, is a stunning perennial flower native to South Africa. Its huge balls of blue flowers and lush foliage give a decidedly exotic feel to the landscape, wherever it is planted.

A Grand Display

agapanthus ready to flower
Agapanthus buds

Agapanthus has lustrous, strap-shaped evergreen leaves that grow to over one foot in length. The flower stalks rise several feet above the tidy clumps of foliage, erupting with pom-poms of light blue blossoms in summer, though several other flower colors have been bred.

The individual flowers have a tubular or bell-like shape and are one to two inches in length. The flower buds themselves are quite attractive, even before they open.

Growth Habit and Garden Use

Short, fleshy rhizomes allow agapanthus to expand and slowly colonize the ground to form extensive patches in the landscape. For this reason, it is often used for a massed effect, like a groundcover of ornamental grass, but with a major flower display in summer.

Single agapanthus specimens work well as a focal point in container gardens and the dwarf varieties are useful as edging along pathways and beds of larger perennials.

Growing Agapanthus

landscaping with agapanthus

Agapanthus grows in USDA zones 7-11 though the foliage may die back in winter at the colder end of its range. In colder climates, grow it as a potted specimen and bring it indoors to a bright sunny window for the winter.

It likes full sun in mild climates though a bit of afternoon shade is helpful in really hot places. Agapanthus has average water and soil needs - definitely not a plant for dry places with poor soil, but it doesn't need the most fertile garden bed or extensive pampering to grow and thrive. It requires good drainage, however.

Note that all parts of agapanthus are toxic.

Planting

In mild winter climates, agapanthus can be put in the ground in fall, but in most places it's a safer bet to plant it in spring. Loosen the soil to a depth of six inches before planting agapanthus and mix in a two to three inch layer of compost.

It is a fairly common landscaping plant in Florida and California though gardeners in other areas can try ordering it from one of the following nurseries online:

Care

Give agapanthus plants a thorough soaking at least once per week in warm weather, but avoid watering when it is cool and moist out. As the plants begin to grow in spring, feed them with a balanced, all-purpose fertilizer and again in late summer after the blossoms have faded.

  • Cut foliage - Cut the flower stalks to the ground after flowering is complete and trim off any unsightly foliage throughout the growing season. If the plants go dormant in winter, cut the foliage completely to the ground.
  • Division - Every few years, patches of agapanthus can be divided to provide more growing space for the roots and create new plants to fill in other areas of the yard.
  • Pests and disease - As long as its basic growing conditions are met, agapanthus is rarely troubled by pests or disease.

Popular Cultivars

Agapanthus comes in a wide variety of forms to suit your gardening needs, all of which grow in USDA zones 7-11:

agapanthus cultivar
'Albus'
  • 'Albus' is a white-flowered form growing two feet tall.
  • 'Elaine has dark violet blossoms about four feet tall.
  • 'Loch Hope' blooms late in summer, with flower stalks up to five feet in height.
  • 'Tinkerbell' is a dwarf selection with variegated leaves growing only 12 inches high.

Absolutely Enchanting

Agapanthus is one of those plants that makes people swoon. Not only are the flowers enormous and intensely colored, the overall look of the plant is like something out a fairy tale.

Agapanthus