Agapanthus is a genus that contains about 6 to 10 species of herbaceous flowering plants. In cultivation, the common names of these flowers are African lily, Lily of the Nile, or blue African lily. They are pretty popular ornamentals, prized mostly for their mesmerizing overall appearance and low-maintenance nature.
Agapanthus plants are native to several regions of Southern Africa, such as Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, and Lesotho. However, they have also become naturalized in many other areas worldwide including Mexico, Jamaica, Australia, or Great Britain.
African lilies are exotic-looking and versatile, so they can complement any garden! They are excellent additions to most garden settings and mixed borders, especially in coastal areas. These plants will also look gorgeous indoors in pots or simply in a vase as cut flowers.
Now that we have your attention, keep reading to find out more interesting facts about African lilies. By the end of this article, you will be amazed by how easy to grow, care for, and even propagate these plants are!
- Their genus name comes from the words “agapē” and “anthos” which are the Greek for “love” and “flower”. Because of this, many associate Agapanthus plants with the term “the flower of love”.
- Numerous Agapanthus cultivars have gained the prestigious Award of Garden Merit. Some of these plants are ‘Blue Magic’, ‘Johnny’s White’, ‘Megan’s Mauve’, ‘Purple Delight’, ‘Sky’, and ‘Summer Days’.
- In some cultures, people consider African lilies to be both magical and medicinal plants of pregnancy and fertility. Xhosa women use their roots to make a necklace worn very often as a charm to bring healthy, strong children.
- In traditional Zulu medicine, these plants serve as a herbal remedy for several health problems including colds, coughs, heart disease, chest pains, or paralysis.
- Their slender, strap-like leaves make for great bandages to hold a poultice or dressing in place. Some folks believe that Agapanthus leaves also work fine around the wrists to help reduce fever.
- African lilies are wonderful companions to other beautiful species of plants, such as Butterfly Weed, Coneflower, Montbretia, Red Hot Poker, Russian Sage, or Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.
- Agapanthus plants can cause itches to both humans’ and animals’ skin. For safety purposes, grow these flowers in a location where your beloved ones cannot touch them.
Agapanthus Features: An Overview
- Agapanthus plants belong to the large Amaryllidaceae family. They share this family with other popular flowering plants like Amaryllis, Daffodil, Crinum, or Snowdrop.
- They are herbaceous perennials. Depending on the species and variety, these plants can reach from 20 inches to 6 feet (50 cm to 1.8 m) in height.
- African lilies contain many stems (rhizomes) that grow mostly underground. They have white, thick, and fleshy roots that emerge from these stems. The rhizomes can store high amounts of water and nutrients.
- Their dense and clump-forming foliage consists of basal, linear, somewhat curved, leathery, and bright to dark green leaves. They can measure up to 24 inches (60 cm) in length and grow arranged in two opposite rows.
- In general, African lilies bloom from late spring through late summer. During this period, they produce round-shaped clusters of numerous blossoms that show up on stiff, upright stalks.
- Their tiny, tubular or funnel-shaped flowers resemble those of Hyacinthus. Their typical colour is light to dark blue but they can also come in various shades and mixes of white, purple, lavender, and pink.
Agapanthus plants are one of the most easy-going and friendly companions to have around. If you are a beginner gardener, you have absolutely no reason to worry about the particular demands of these flowers. They can grow at their best with little to no effort on your part and will forgive you right away if you are making some mistakes from time to time.
In general, African lilies will thrive if you provide them with lots of full sunlight. Outdoors, plant them in a spot where they can receive plenty of bright and direct light daily. In regions with hot climates, however, you should grow them in partially shaded locations. Indoors, place these plants in the brightest area from your home, such as south, north, or west-facing windows.
Most Agapanthus species are usually hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11. Still, their tolerance to frost and cold can vary from one variety to another. Because of this, it is very important to choose the most suitable variety for you depending on the average temperatures and also the region you live in. Once you do this, you can overwinter your plants with no problems in the future.
Although African lilies are resistant to most pests and diseases, sometimes things will not go according to plan. The most common disturbers of these plants include powdery mildew, anthracnose, grey mould, and leaf spot. They are fungal diseases that appear mostly in shady, cool, or humid environments and can affect either the foliage or roots of your plants.
If you notice some suspect changes in these areas, remove the unhealthy parts of your African lilies using sterilized pruning shears. In case of severe infections, you may need to apply a suitable fungicide to prevent any possible spread and also the death of your plants.
For optimal growth, plant your young Agapanthus species in spring once the last danger of frost has passed. If you want to grow them in the garden, make sure the soil temperature is at least 50 °F (10 °C). Moreover, you should plant these flowers 12 to 18 inches (30-45 cm) apart to promote good air circulation and avoid over-crowding.
When it comes to the growing medium, African lilies do well in peat-based soil that is rich in nutrients and organic matter. These plants are susceptible to root rot, so you should look for a substrate that has great drainage. For indoor settings, we recommend you plant them in containers that have drainage holes at the bottom to avoid waterlogging.
Your Agapanthus plants will grow nicely with regular fertilizing and will also produce more flowers along the way. Feed these buddies with a balanced liquid fertilizer during their active growing season, the first time in early spring and again two months later. Avoid fertilizers that are high in nitrogen and provide your plants with products that are higher in phosphorus.
Deadheading your Agapanthus plants is mandatory for continuous and profuse blooming. When you notice faded flowers, remove them to make room for new, healthy ones to flourish. This process will also prevent your ornamentals from wasting too much energy on seed production.
African lilies grow at a pretty fast pace, so they need regular repotting if you grow them in containers. In general, you should repot these plants once every 4 years in pots that are slightly larger than the current ones. Yet, if your flowers seem crowded, you can divide them in spring and transplant the babies into other pots without stressing the mother plants.
The only period when you will have to pay some attention to Agapanthus plants is during their active growing season. In spring, water these flowers regularly to maintain their soil damp. Make sure you always check the soil in-between waterings and provide with water only when the top 2 inches (5 cm) of soil feels dry to the touch.
Once their blooming period has ended, you can water them less often or skip their watering routine for good. African lilies typically go dormant from late autumn through late winter. During this period, their foliage turns yellow, withers, and dies back. This is a common sign that you should postpone watering until their next growing season, usually in early spring.
If you want to fill your garden with more Agapanthus plants or just gift some of them to your family or friends, propagation is a great option! No matter how much experience you have in the gardening world, you will find it easy to successfully make more of these buddies in only a few steps. The easiest and most efficient way to propagate your plants is using division.
This particular method is also a nice choice if you grow your African lilies indoors in containers. And why is that? Well, as mentioned above, these plants require regular repotting because they grow and spread like crazy. But, if you divide your flowers once every 4 years or so, you can forget about repotting for a long time and have even more African lilies around!
First things first, you must dig out one or more clumps of Agapanthus plants in early or mid-spring. Once you have the clumps out of the soil, divide their roots with a sharp garden knife. Make sure that each divided part has at least one stem attached to ensure proper future growth.
Once you’ve completed these steps, you can plant your Agapanthus divisions in their permanent locations. Provide the baby plants with a nice and deep soaking to help them settle in their new environment. If you want to grow them indoors, keep the containers in a well-lit and warm spot.
Your garden is incomplete without at least one Agapanthus species in it. Whether you already have one lovely specimen or you think about giving one a chance, there is always room for more plants. And when they are so stunning and easy-going, you cannot stop but simply falling in love with their charming nature!