Agapanthus: growth, care & varieties
African lilies have magnificent flowers. We will tell you what is important when planting the lilies of the Nile and what you have to consider when caring for 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 an agapanthus. We will discuss the origin of the plant, recommend varieties for your garden and explain how to propagate the lily of the Nile.
Agapanthus: origin and characteristics
The agapanthus is part of the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae). It is native to southern Africa, where it can be found from the coastal area as far as into the mountain regions. 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.
The African lily grows as a perennial, which is either evergreen or deciduous, depending on the original species. It 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.
In total there are several hundred different varieties cultivated from different species, 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:
- ‘Angela’: violet-blue, funnel-shaped flower; evergreen
- ‘Blue Giant’: vibrant blue flowers; evergreen ‘Northern Star’: intense, midnight-blue flowers; deciduous
- ‘Sunfield’: small growth, funnel-shaped, light blue flowers; deciduous
- ‘Twister’: white flowers with blue base; deciduous
- ‘Black Buddhist’: large, purple-blue flowers; deciduous
- ‘Silver Baby’: white flowers with light blue petal tips, small variety only 60 cm tall
- ‘Wendy’: white flowers with blue tips, small variety of 60cm
- ‘Albus’: funnel-shaped, white flowers; deciduous
Where and 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, 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. Agapanthus do not tolerate frost. In moderate climates they are always cultivated in pots. That way the flowers can sit outside in summer and be brought inside for winter.
Tip: Agapanthus are sensitive to repotting. They will lose their flowers if you are not careful. Therefore, treat your agapanthus with diligence to postpone repotting for as long as possible.
Summary: Where to grow agapanthus
- Plant in a pot or other container, protect from frost in winter
- As sunny and warm as possible
- Sheltered from the wind
- Substrate: normal potting soil
- Nutrient rich and permeable soil
- Slightly alkaline pH value
Because these large perennials require a lot of space it usually is only one plant per pot. However, if you are using large tubs of one square metre on the surface, you can also place two plants inside. Keep a distance of 70 cm between plants.
The best time for planting is March or April, i.e. just before the agapanthus can be moved to a sunny place in the garden or on the balcony. Evergreen species are planted with foliage, while deciduous species just start sprouting at the time of planting. If you plant leafless bulbs in winter, you should make sure that they sit quite deep: They can be placed as deep as 20 cm below the surface.
Agapanthus require a high amount of nutrients. They grow best in soil that keeps the moisture. Also, they should be replanted very seldomly. Therefore, we recommend using compost soil instead of peat soil. This helps provide air circulation for the roots. To maintain the structure of the soil over a longer period you can mix in up to 30% of expanded clay pebbles. Enriching with clay powder also allows to delay repotting.
In order to ensure the long-term supply of nutrients and to disturb the lily as seldom as possible by replanting, apply a slow-release fertilizer when planting. For a large container you can use 250 to 300 grams of our Plantura Flower Food.
The plant container should have a drainage hole so that water can easily drain off. Ideally, there’s a 3 cm layer of expanded clay pebbles, gravel or pottery shards at the bottom of the pot covered with cloth or fleece to prevent the drainage layer from mixing with the planting soil.
Step-by-step: How to plant agapanthus
- Planting time: March/ April
- One or maximum two plants can fit into a container with 1m² surface
- Create a drainage layer (with gravel or similar material), cover with fabric or fleece
- Use soil that will store moisture and nutrients, you can also mix in up to 30% of expanded clay pebbles
- Enrich the soil with a slow-release fertiliser, such as our Plantura Flower Food
- Place the agapanthus bulb no deeper than 20cm into the ground, the leaves should be above the soil
- Water the plant well
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. As a rule, try repotting agapanthus as rarely as possible and only when the roots do not have enough space inside the pot. As snails and caterpillars are not interested in the leaves of this exotic beauty pests are usually no problem with African lilies. 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 aware of, especially in winter. Here, you can find some detailed instructions on how to overwinter African lilies.
Here again, agapanthus prove 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. Our Plantura Flower Food is a great choice for African lilies, as it is a long-term fertiliser that supplies the plant with all the necessary nutrients for up to three months. For a strong and abundant flowering phase, the African lily should be fertilised from April until it begins to bloom. When using Plantura Flower Food, one application in spring and one additional application in summer before flowering should be completely sufficient for the entire year.
- Perfect for flowering plants in the garden & on the balcony
- For healthier plants with beautiful & long-lasting blossoms
- Long-lasting fertiliser that is free from animal products - child & pet friendly
Watering African lilies
Agapanthus react much more sensitive to too much water than to too little. From April onwards, they 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 survives without water for several weeks. During the winter months from November to March it needs little to no watering.
Summary: Agapanthus care
- Do not change location during flowering
- Pests and diseases are rare with agapanthus
- Fertilise the agapanthus properly (when planting best use a fertiliser with long-term organic effect)
- First fertilisation in April
- Second fertilisation in summer before flowering
- Better water too little than too much
- Avoid waterlogging
- Water agapanthus very moderately in winter
The ornamental lily can easily be propagated 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 into 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 fully grows and starts blooming.
Are agapanthus poisonous?
In short, agapanthus are not poisonous. Intensive contact with the plant sap can cause irritation of the skin. However, the rhizome of the plant is poisonous to humans and animals when consumed. Therefore, gloves should be worn when propagating the agapanthus plant.