Agapanthus: The Easy-to-Grow African Lily
Agapanthus is a fun flower name to say, and also an exceptionally easy plant to grow in your garden. It looks like a delicate specialty lily and is often called "African lily." But this evergreen plant is as far from a prima donna as it gets. In warmer zones, it grows like a weed, is drought-resistant and not a bit demanding. Sounds good? Here's all the information you need to get a blaze of agapanthus blue in your backyard.
Agapanthus, the African Lily
If you live along the California coast, you may think of the showy indigo globes as native to the state, given how prolific the plant is in gardens and parks. But agapanthus (Agapanthus africanus) hails from South Africa. This evergreen thrives as a perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10 or 11. In chillier areas, grow it in a container or as an annual.
The agapanthus plant is beautiful. First come the dense mounds of narrow, grass-like leaves that are extremely attractive, even without flowers. The stiff flower stalks (called scapes) appear in spring. They shoot up to 24 inches tall, high above the foliage mound. If that's too tall for your space, consider a dwarf variety like Agapanthus 'Peter Pan' that tops out at 18 inches.
Most agapanthus plants bear dark blue globes of funnel-shaped, lily-like flowers. The clusters can get to 6 inches across. White, purple and pink cultivars are also available in commerce. All attract butterflies to your garden.
Growing Agapanthus Plants
Agapanthus are called bulb plants, but they actually grow from fleshy-rooted rhizomes. Pick as sunny a spot as your garden offers in order to maximize the blooms. Agapanthus plants require well-draining soil to keep the roots from rotting, and the species variety prefers acidic soil.
Plan your planting for spring or fall. Cultivate the soil first, loosening it to at least 8 inches. Then, insert the rhizomes about 2 inches below the soil surface and irrigate regularly. Fertilizer is optional, but some gardeners swear by it. If that's you, go ahead and broadcast a granular-type of balanced fertilizer in spring and again in early summer. Deadhead (by clipping off spent flowers) to keep the garden looking its best and encourage new blooms.
Container Growing Tips
Agapanthus are happy planted in containers, and if you live in a cooler zone, this might be the way to go. The plants bloom best when root-bound so think small, not big. Use a shallower planting depth for container agapanthus plants than those in the beds, only dropping the rhizome 1/2" below soil surface.
During spring and summer, place the containers where they get afternoon sunshine to keep those flowers coming. But before the first frost, move the container inside to a heated location with bright light. You'll need to irrigate consistently all growing season, but offer only occasional water in winter, enough to keep the leaves from wilting.
Agapanthus seem to thrive when many are grown in a bed together, and they certainly make a dramatic and impressive display that way. But in time, the plants may require more elbow room. When you begin to see dead leaves in the center of a foliage mound, it may be time to divide.
You divide agapanthus by digging up the plant and separating the rhizomes into divisions every four years or so. Do this in spring before flowering or in early autumn, after plants are finished flowering. When you divide the roots, be sure to include a few growing points in each division. Replant extra divisions in a sunny location.