by Matt Gibson
Perfect for sunny spots in garden beds and ideal for containers, the agapanthus flower is a summer blooming perennial. The South African native agapanthus is typically seen with globes of trumpet-shaped blossoms in deeper shades of blue and purple, but there are some varieties with lighter shades, such as pink and white. The agapanthus, commonly referred to as the African Lily, Lily of the Nile, and Star of Bethlehem, is basically a tropical version of the common daylily. In regions with warm winters, this low-maintenance perennial is a powerful blossom producer, popping out round after round of beautiful blooms throughout the summer and fall.
There are many different varieties of agapanthus for gardeners to choose from. There are some varieties that grow four, five, even eight feet tall, while dwarf cultivars sprout from one to two feet in height at most. Agapanthus work well when planted directly in garden beds and borders with a dry mulch added to the soil during the winter months to help protect the root systems. The low-maintenance flower is a great fit for containers as well, especially in cold-winter climates, where it can be brought indoors or placed in a greenhouse during the freezes. Agapanthus is also an excellent cut flower with a long vase life.
Warning: Agapanthus is poisonous if ingested and can cause severe skin irritation from
merely touching it with bare hands. Gardeners who choose to grow this toxic beauty, especially those with sensitive skin, should always wear gloves and long-sleeved shirts when handling agapanthus plants. Plant in areas that are out of the reach of beloved pets and small children.
Varieties of Agapanthus
There are quite a few different varieties of agapanthus for gardeners to choose from. Which one is right for you? Well, that may take a bit of research, as the varieties vary greatly in hardiness, size, and color. There are both deciduous and evergreen cultivars, some with grass-like foliage, others with thicker, bolder leaves. The more tender evergreen varieties prefer lots of water all year long, while the deciduous varieties enjoy dry winters and moist summers. Here are a few of our favorites.
‘Peter Pan’ Agapanthus: Hardy in zones 8-11, this dwarf agapanthus grows 12 inches high and produces flowers that look white from a distance but are actually a very light shade of blue.
Agapanthus Africanus: The africanus cultivar is one of the more common varieties of agapanthus. The plant tops out at three feet tall and two feet wide, producing bright blue flowers during the summer and fall. It is hardy in zones 9-10. This cultivar is the only agapanthus variety with a specific soil pH preference, so be sure to use acidic soil when growing this variety.
‘Northern Star’ Agapanthus: The northern star variety is hardy in zones 6-9 and boasts showy clusters of dark blue, star-shaped blooms, growing two to three feet high and blossoming from mid to late summer.
‘Headbourne Hybrids’ Agapanthus: If the dwarf varieties of agapanthus are the supporting role version of the flower, the Headbourne Hybrids are the showstopper version. These eye-catching standouts grow at least four feet in height and produce mammoth clusters of vibrant violet-blue.
‘Blueberry Cream’ Agapanthus: Breeding new varieties has become an art form, and this species is a shining example of exciting new color breakthroughs in the breeding community. This stunning 60-centimeter plant is the first hardy bicolor agapanthus, and its blooms burst forth with multiple shades of stunning blue.
‘Arctic Star’ Agapanthus: The very hardy arctic star hybrid is considered to be the best of the white flower options of agapanthus for its large, pure white flowerheads.
Growing Conditions for Agapanthus Flowers
Agapanthus prefers full sun to partial shade and fertile, moist, well-drained, but water retentive soil. Most varieties (all except for A. africanus, which prefers acidic soil) are not particular about soil pH, so anywhere close to the neutral range should work. Also, as long as the soil is fertile and drains well, the agapanthus plant doesn’t seem to care about the type of soil much either, as it gets along fine in chalky, loamy, sandy, or clay-like soil conditions..
How to Plant Agapanthus
In warm climate areas, plant agapanthus in fall or early winter. Evergreen varieties can be planted directly in the garden beds. Deciduous plants should probably be planted in containers so that they can be brought indoors during the winter. Agapanthus actually prefers to have its roots restricted, so containers are a great place for agapanthus, and they will only outgrow them once every two years.
If planting seeds directly into garden beds, drop the seeds two inches deep, and space each plant out one to two feet apart. If growing from seed in containers, plant seeds two inches deep and water frequently. If planting cuttings in containers, use a container that’s about twice the size of the root bulb, and plant with the crown just below the soil.
Aside from growing from seed, the other way to propagate agapanthus is by dividing. Too much division, however, will slow down the plant’s ability to flower. Horticulturists recommend only dividing big clumps once every four to six years. If you are using containers, allow the plants to outgrow their containers a bit before moving to a larger container. After increasing container size two or three times, divide the clump into four parts, and start the process over again using the original size of containers.
Care for Agapanthus
Caring for the agapanthus flower, especially in warmer climate areas, is incredibly easy. Once established, the plant needs very little upkeep. The flower’s few needs are deadheading, feeding, and protecting the plant from harsh winter environments.
Deadhead the blooms as they start to fade or wilt to keep your flowers looking their best and to promote new growth. If the plants are not deadheaded, the blooming season shortens significantly, and the plant will go to seed instead of producing more blossoms.
In warmer climates, just before winter, use a dry mulch around the roots to protect them from the freezes. In cooler climates, bring container plants indoors for a few months and water only once per month.
Important: Agapanthus really benefits from a high-potash fertilizer every two to three weeks from March to mid-September. If given a high nitrogen fertilizer or if not properly fed, the agapanthus will not flower.
Pruning Tips for Agapanthus
To deadhead agapanthus, use pruners or simple garden shears to remove the wilted flower and the stalk at the base of the plant. For deciduous varieties, cut stems down to about four inches from the soil after blooming has ceased. Alternatively, if you want to keep the green foliage for the looks during the winter, postpone cutting back until early spring. There is no need to cut back evergreen varieties, but feel free to trim off dead or dying limbs or damaged areas as needed on either type.
Companion Planting with Agapanthus
The best companion plants are those that share the same temperature, soil, and sun preferences. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from when planting agapanthus. Some great companion choices for larger varieties of agapanthus include daylilies, irises, and alliums. Dwarf varieties make a lovely backdrop for birds of paradise flowers or kangaroo paws. Want to dedicate an entire garden bed mainly to agapanthus? Try bordering it with alyssum and dianthus.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Agapanthus
Agapanthus plants are generally free from pests and diseases. Slugs and snails may decide to take up residence in the leaves of the plant, but they don’t feed on it, so they aren’t really much of a problem. Deer and rabbits leave the plant alone as well. Older plants sometimes get infected with a virus that causes streaking across the foliage. However, the plants continue to bloom if fed correctly, so the streaks can usually be ignored.
Agapanthus for Indoor Bouquets
Agapanthus flowers make excellent centerpieces for indoor arrangements. Their long seven to 10-day vase life makes them a great choice for cutting. You can also dry the seed heads and use them in arrangements year-round.
This video is complete with grow and care instructions for agapanthus:
Check out this video to learn how to grow agapanthus in pots during the summer:
Watch this video for fertilizing tips for the agapanthus flower:
This video teaches you how to properly prune agapanthus:
Want to Learn More About Agapanthus?
Better Homes & Gardens covers Growing Agapanthus
Country Living covers 8 Ways to Help Your Agapanthus Last Longer
Gardenia covers Agapanthus
Gardening Know How covers Companion Planting With Agapanthus: Good Companion Plants For Agapanthus
Gardening Know How covers Agapanthus Pruning: Tips On Cutting Back Agapanthus
Gardening Know How covers Agapanthus Plant Care
The Royal Horticultural Society covers Agapanthus