Agapanthus: growth, care & varieties

Agapanthus: growth, care & varieties

African lilies have magnificent flowers. We will tell you what is important when planting lilies of the Nile and what you have to consider when caring for the agapanthus in terms of fertilising and watering.

The African lily (Agapanthus), also referred to as lily of the Nile or simply agapanthus, is a perfect fit for every garden that has room for a large flower pot. This plant forms enormous and impressive flowers, and yet is easy to care for. If this gorgeous plant is watered, fertilised and overwintered properly, it can live for many years and its gigantic flowers will decorate your terrace, balcony and garden for a long time. In this article, we will tell you everything you need to know about how to properly care for agapanthus. We discuss the origin of this plant, recommend varieties to plant and explain how to propagate the lily of the Nile.

Agapanthus: origin & characteristics

Agapanthus belongs to the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae). They occur naturally only in southern Africa, where their range extends from the coastal area to the mountains. Since the southern African climate differs in many respects from that of Europe and North America, the African lily is usually cultivated as a potted plant in milder climate zones.

The African lily grows as a perennial, which is either evergreen or deciduous, depending on the original species. This plant forms rhizomes as its organs of survival. The simple, parallel-veined leaves are basal, unstalked and grow in clusters. The rounded flower umbels are composed of mostly blue, purple or white coloured individual flowers. Depending on the variety, the blossom of the agapanthus can differ not only in colour but also in shape. Some African lilies bear flowers that are bell-shaped.

Agapanthus varieties

In total there are several hundred different varieties cultivated from different species of agapanthus, such as Agapanthus africanus or Agapanthus campanulatus (bell-shaped African lily). Depending on the species of origin, the flowers are differently shaped and coloured.

Here is a small selection of the most beautiful agapanthus varieties:

  • ‘Albus’: funnel-shaped, white flowers; deciduous
  • ‘Angela’: violet-blue, funnel-shaped flower; evergreen
  • ‘Black Buddhist’: large, purple-blue flowers; deciduous
  • ‘Blue Giant’: vibrant blue flowers; evergreen
  • ‘Northern Star’: intense, midnight-blue flowers; deciduous
  • ‘Silver Baby’: white flowers with light blue petal tips, small variety only 60 cm tall
  • ‘Sunfield’: small growth, funnel-shaped, light blue flowers; deciduous
  • ‘Twister’: white flowers with blue base; deciduous

Where & how to plant agapanthus

The best location for the African lily is as sunny as possible. As mentioned before, this plant has its origins in southern Africa and, therefore, it thrives best in light and warmth. Bright, semi-shady places can also do, but there should be at least a few hours of sunshine a day. We recommend choosing a spot that is sheltered from the wind.

The best agapanthus growing conditions in summary:

  • As sunny and warm as possible
  • Sheltered from the wind
  • Substrate: normal potting soil
  • Nutrient rich and permeable soil
  • Slightly alkaline pH value

Since agapanthus cannot overwinter outdoors in moderate climate zones, it should be planted in a pot or a container. As a planting substrate you can use normal potting soil available in your local gardening centre, mixed with some clay or sand if necessary. The substrate should also be permeable and rich in nutrients. Before planting, add some organic fertiliser with a long-term effect to the substrate to ensure a sustainable supply of nutrients to your African lily.

potted lily of the nile
Lilies of the Nile can be grown just as well in pots [Shutterstock.com/ingehogenbijl]

The pH value should be in the slightly alkaline range. It is important to always choose a plant container where excess water can run off. In addition, a drainage layer, for example a layer of gravel, can prevent waterlogging of the roots. Waterlogging can become a serious concern to the well-being of the agapanthus and can severely damage (if not kill) your plant.

How to plant agapanthus: a step-by-step guide:

  • Create a drainage layer with some gravel or similar
  • Enrich the substrate with a slow-release fertiliser
  • Fill the flower pot with substrate (up to one third of the pot)
  • Place the agapanthus plant in the middle of the pot
  • Fill the planter with more substrate
  • Water the plant well

Agapanthus care

All in all, the African lily is a very low-maintenance plant that grows quickly and vigorously without much effort. During flowering, however, it reacts sensitively to changes and should not be moved – especially not to a location with less light. Otherwise, a change of location is no problem. The plant should also be repotted as rarely as possible and only when the roots have no more room in the pot. Pests are usually no problem with African lilies in the home garden, as snails and caterpillars are not interested in the leaves of this exotic beauty. Luckily, fungal and bacterial infestation occur just as rarely as pests.

Depending on whether you have an evergreen or a deciduous agapanthus variety at home, there are some things you should be mindful of, especially over winter.

Fertilising agapanthus

Here again, agapanthus proves to be a perfectly low-maintenance plant, that does not have any unique demands on its fertilisation. The best fertilisers for agapanthus are those with a balanced NPK ratio and a sufficient mineral supply. For a strong and abundant flowering, the African lily should be fertilised from April until it begins to bloom.

Watering agapanthus

Agapanthus reacts much more sensitively to too much water than to too little. From April onwards, it should be watered regularly and sufficiently. The substrate in the pot should be moist, but never wet. It is only necessary to water the agapanthus again when the upper third in the pot feels completely dry. However, since the lily of the Nile can store water in its fleshy rhizome, it can survive several weeks without water. During the winter months from November to March it needs little or no watering.

Agapanthus care in summary:

  • Do not change location during flowering
  • Pests and diseases are rare with the agapanthus
  • Fertilise the agapanthus properly (best with a fertiliser with long-term organic effect during planting)
  • First fertilisation in April
  • Second fertilisation in summer before flowering
  • Better to water too little than too much
  • Avoid waterlogging
  • Water agapanthus very moderately in winter

Propagating agapanthus

The ornamental lily can be propagated relatively easily via offshoots. This is useful, for example, if the plant has become too large for its previous pot and needs to be repotted. The root ball can then be cut into several pieces with a sharp garden tool (depending on the size, a spade may also be necessary). The individual root pieces are then each planted in their own new pot. Another way to propagate agapanthus is to let the fruits ripen and harvest the seeds. In both cases, however, it takes some time before the African lily grows fully and flowers.

lily of the nile
Lilies of the Nile can also be propagated but it will take some time before the new plant blooms [Shutterstock.com/katacarix]

Is agapanthus poisonous?

In short, agapanthus is not poisonous. But: intensive contact with the plant sap can cause irritation of the skin. Moreover, the rhizome of the plant is poisonous to humans and animals if consumed. Therefore, gloves should be worn when propagating the agapanthus plant.



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