By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
Also known as African lily or lily of the Nile, agapanthus is a summer-blooming perennial that produces big, showy flowers in shades of familiar sky blue, as well as numerous shades of purple, pink and white. If you haven’t yet tried your hand at growing this hardy, drought-tolerant plant, the many different types of agapanthus on the market are bound to pique your curiosity. Read on to learn more about species and varieties of agapanthus.
Varieties of Agapanthus
Here are the most common types of agapanthus plants:
Agapanthus orientalis (syn. Agapanthus praecox) is the most common type of agapanthus. This evergreen plant produces wide, arching leaves and stems that reach heights of 4 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 m.). Varieties include white flowering types such as ‘Albus,’ blue varieties like ‘Blue Ice,’ and double forms such as ‘Flore Pleno.’
Agapanthus campanulatus is a deciduous plant that produces strappy leaves and drooping flowers in shades of dark blue. This variety is also available in ‘Albidus,’ which displays big umbels of white blooms in summer and early fall.
Agapanthus africanus is an evergreen variety that displays narrow leaves, deep blue flowers with distinctive bluish anthers, and stalks reach heights of no more than 18 inches (46 cm.). Cultivars include ‘Double Diamond,’ a dwarf variety with double white blooms; and ‘Peter Pan,’ a tall plant with big, sky blue blooms.
Agapanthus caulescens is a beautiful deciduous agapanthus species that you probably won’t find in your local garden center. Depending on the sub-species (there are at least three), colors range from light to deep blue.
Agapanthus inapertus ssp. pendulus ‘Graskop,’ also known as grassland agapanthus, produces violet-blue flowers that rise above tidy clumps of pale green leaves.
Agapanthus sp. ‘Cold Hardy White’ is one of the most attractive hardy agapanthus varieties. This deciduous plant produces big clusters of showy white blooms in mid-summer.
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Agapanthus: Noteworthy Varieties & Plant Care Info
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.
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.
Mid-summer to early autumn
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.
Most gardeners report that their agapanthus plants are rarely eaten.
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.
Provide supplementary moisture during the establishment period. Many also appreciate regular water during the growing season.
August and September are the best time to boost with a fertilizer to enhance blossoming (high P and K), since this is when flower buds begin to develop below ground. Additionally, a well-balanced N-P-K fertilizer should be applied as growth commences in spring.
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 the 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
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
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.
Uses in the Garden
- Agapanthus are incredibly striking if planted en masse in gardens, large landscapes and office parks and on pavements and traffic islands.
- The tall varieties can be used as backdrops in herbaceous borders with the lower growing and dwarf varieties planted along the front of the border and as edging or rockery plants.
- They are an essential element in woodland gardens.
- All Agapanthus can be grown successfully in large pots, which makes them suitable even for the smallest sunny balcony.
- They can be grown in windy, seaside gardens.
- They’re excellent planted along embankments to prevent soil erosion..
- Agapanthus offer very attractive cut flowers that will last long in the vase.
- Agapanthus will attract nectar-feeding birds and pollinating insects, like bees, to your garden.
The Agapanthus orientalis Blue Velvet has traditional tall stems, great for creating height.