Agapanthus: Varieties & Plant Care InfoThe best types of agapanthus to grow, plus when to divide them and how to keep them looking great in containers
Agapanthus, a popular perennial that grows from a bulb-like rhizome, is a tough survivor in the face of chronic drought. Their strappy evergreen or semi-evergreen leaves provide winter presence while blue or white flowers add a charge of mid to late summer color.
The Agapanthus genus consists of seven species that go by the common name lily of the Nile (or sometimes African lily). Native to dry outcroppings or moist mountain meadows of South Africa, they prefer full sun and draining soils.
On this page:
Lily of the nile, African lily
Mid-summer to early autumn
Blue, purple, white
Evergreen, semi-evergreen, or deciduous. The evergreen types are tender in temperatures below 20°F, but the deciduous types are surprisingly hardy.
The flower stems of a standard Agapanthus can grow up to 6 feet tall, but dwarf types only grow up to 20 inches.
Are agapanthus plants deer resistant?
Most gardeners report that their agapanthus plants are rarely eaten.
Is agapanthus poisonous?
Agapanthus plants aren't true lilies, and don't share their high level of toxicity. However, ingestion of the rhizomes and roots can cause minor illness that can escalate depending on the amount ingested. The sap from the leaves can cause skin irritation.
When to plant:
Plant agapanthus bulbs once soil temps have warmed to 50 degrees F, and all danger of frost has passed.
Where to plant:
Plant in a site that receives full sun (6-8 hours a day). However, in hot climates, they may do better with some afternoon shade.
How to plant:
Place bulbs with the pointed end up, two inches deep, 12 to 18 inches apart, and cover with soil. Protect the root zone with mulch in colder climates.
Agapanthus ‘Blue Wave’, shown here, is best in full sun and draining soils. It requires minimal watering. Don’t mulch; do apply an organic fertilizer blend once yearly in late winter. Photo by: Dan Hinkley.
Provide supplementary moisture during the establishment period. Many also appreciate regular water during the growing season.
Apply a well-balanced fertilizer as growth starts in spring. Add a bloom-boosting fertilizer (higher P and K) in August or September when flower buds begin to develop below ground.
Cutting agapanthus back is a matter of personal preference. Some gardeners think the dried flower heads are attractive and provide much needed winter interest. Other gardeners prefer to cut the spent flowers off, a process called deadheading, as soon as they are past their prime. Doing so prevents plants from wasting energy on seed production and instead allows them to store up energy for next year’s bloom.
Regular division does not seem to be crucial to performance. However, if you wish to divide them for propagation purposes, because they’ve outgrown their bed or pot, or if they aren’t flowering well, here are some guidelines:
- Divide evergreen varieties every 4 to 5 years
- Divide deciduous varieties every 6 to 8 years
- Make the divisions in spring as new growth emerges or in fall after flowering
Evergreen varieties are more suited to Zones 8-11, but may still need some winter protection from freezing temperatures, which can strike occasionally even in Zone 9. If temps remain below 55 degrees F, insulate the root area with a 2- to 3- inch layer of mulch, or tent the plant with a mini greenhouse.
For Zones 6 or 7, plants can be dug up and overwintered in pots indoors near a sunny window or under grow lights. Transplant back into the garden once temperatures warm up in the spring.
Caring for Potted Agapanthus:
According to renowned plant hunter and gardener Dan Hinkley, “Agapanthus make superb, low-maintenance, and extremely long-lasting container plants.” Here are his tips:
- Provide a protected site during the winter months for potted agapanthus
- They don’t wish to be root-bound so repot frequently
- Protect container-grown plants from excessive wet, but also don’t let them dry out
POPULAR AGAPANTHUS VARIETIES
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This agapanthus has a much better cold tolerance, being hardy down to Zone 6. The short, compact habit of this selection make it perfect for containers or small gardens.
This dwarf agapanthus has small clumps of evergreen foliage with deep blue flower clusters that reach up to 18 inches in height. It is a tidy plant that can be used near swimming pools. ‘Tinkerbell’ is another dwarf option featuring variegated foliage.
Agapanthus 'Storm Cloud'
‘Storm Cloud’ is the darkest of the robust, semi-evergreen species. “It’s a vigorous and heavily flowering form, creating a roll of deep-blue thunder on sturdy stems to 3.5 feet,” explains Hinkley. ‘Storm Cloud’, however, possesses more substance in name and flower than it does in general hardiness. It should be avoided in gardens suffering harsh winter temperature; 20 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to spoil the following year’s floral display if it doesn’t kill it outright.
Renowned plant hunter Dan Hinkley describes ‘Graskop’ as “the most seductive Agapanthus I’ve brought to flower, looking from a distance to be nearly as black as Iris chrysographes.” It features sturdy scapes that may rise to an astounding 5 feet, capped by umbels of nodding tubular flowers in deep blue-violet tones. It is completely deciduous and hardier than most realize.
Agapanthus praecox ssp. orientalis
Queen Mum™ was bred in Australia, and for Hinkley, is the gold standard of the genus. “It is of exceptional form and the one to which all others should be measured,” he says. Enormous heads of large white flowers transition to deep blue at the base atop sturdy stems to 3 feet. Best planted in containers in Zone 7 and below.
Agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’
‘Blue Yonder’ sports striped cobalt-blue flowers on bloom spikes 3 feet tall. It is deciduous in nature and extremely cold hardy, although it does appreciate a heavy winter mulching to protect it from freezing temperatures. Attracts bees, butterflies and birds.
Agapanthus ‘Gold Strike’
‘Gold Strike’ is a variegated Agapanthus with frisky, broad yellow-margined foliage and a satisfying display of contrasting, mid-blue flowers. “I use it to good effect, I think, in a container, unwilling to sacrifice a division to my climate to test general hardiness,” says Hinkley.
Agapanthus praecox orientalis
Blue Storm™ is a small agapanthus that is excellent in containers and as edging. Its leaves are evergreen and it sports an abundance of sky-blue flowers for up to 10 weeks.
Agapanthus africanus ‘Albus’
The glossy, evergreen leaves of ‘Albus’ are attractive on their own, but the real show takes place when the flower stalks shoot up and the white, trumpet-shaped flowers open in succession like fireworks. A good option for seaside gardens as it tolerates coastal conditions well. Will reach a mature size of 2 to 3 feet high and wide.
Other cultivars to try:
- ‘Blue Leap’
- Midknight Blue
- ‘Queen Anne’
- ‘Summer Skies’
- Baby Pete
- ‘Black Pantha’
- ‘Mood Indigo’
Agapanthus is a versatile plant that can be used in many ways. Here are some suggestions from Hinkley:
- Incorporate Agapanthus into a meadow garden
- Plant them in large drifts of 30-plus plants
- Combine lily of the Nile with the blistering blast of red and orange Crocosmia
- Position them singularly in the mixed border
Don’t plant other bulbs too close to Agapanthus—they will be overtaken by the expanding roots.
Portions of this article were adapted from a piece originally written by Dan Hinkley for Garden Design magazine.