Agapanthus, the Lily of the Nile

Here in North Central Florida they're ubiquitous in hell strips, parking lot medians and drive throughs, but the strappy leaves are yellowed and stressed in those inhospitable urban deserts, and the blue flowerheads are stunted remnants of how they would look with some TLC. Don't let these neglected plantings fool you!  With the right care, you'll be treated to hundreds of flowers atop tall and leaning stalks as well as strappy and arching leaves that look as if they were polished to perfection.

Don't get me wrong; agapanthus are real survivors and they're great choices for those impossible spots in your garden. I use them in the sandiest, driest and sunniest patch of hades that my garden has to offer, and they do just fine. I just want to show you how beautifully these amaryllis relatives perform with the right treatment, and show you just what the right treatment is in the first place!


While many references describe lily of the Nile's cultural requirements as something along the lines of "well drained soil with regular moisture in full sun to part shade" let me take it a step further and elaborate a bit.

Well drained soil is the tofu of cultural requirements. I once found an entire book with every single plant requiring this elusive "Well Drained Soil" and personally think that sometimes it's just an assumption on the author's part. My most impressive clump of agapanthus lives on a little mound at the edge of a seasonally flooded swamp, and at times the little mound becomes a little island, particularly during tropical storms.

What has killed or damaged agapanthus in my experience is the kind of water that inundates the plant above the crown or overwhelms young and unestablished plantings. The big killer is winter moisture though. If your garden is hit with an unexpected deluge during what would normally be a dry season, you can always cover the plants or dig them up outright to rescue them from the cold and damp soil that would be their demise.

Agapanthus looking unhappy in a parking lot median.

Regular moisture is also relative. Lily of the Nile can lose its top growth during a drought and flourish once regular rainfall resumes! As far as sunlight goes, the more sun the plant gets, the more water you have to provide. My healthiest looking clump is in a shady spot with some dappled sunlight, so shade isn't a problem either. In sunlight the mounds of leaves become tighter and more upright, and might become a little yellowed. In shade however the clumps are loose and elegant, with a fountainlike form and a glossy deep green color. The inflorescences are also taller and fuller in my experience. You can probably guess how I like my agapanthus.

Division can be carried out by division or seeds. Since these plants don't like to have their roots disturbed and don't mind a little crowding, it's best to only divide every 3-5 years. It takes about a year for newly divided plants to re-establish themselves... so my vote goes to the easier (though longer) method of collecting and sowing seeds.

Usage in the Landscape

Lilies of the Nile are usually enjoyed as perennials or groundcovers. A dense bed of blue agapanthus blooms dangling delicately in a breeze is a true sight to behold, especially when they're set off against a dark and shady backdrop. Combine the apple green strappy leaves with contrasting foliage or along with other perennials with a fountainlike form such as spider lilies, liriope, bromeliads or grasses. Perennials with harmoniously colored flowers include salvias, ("Black and Blue" is a good one) society garlic, plumbago, tibouchina, passionflowers and ruellia. Ruellia would look really nice behind a planting of agapanthus too, come to think of it!

Cultivars like "Queen Anne" can be large and formidable, while dwarf forms like "Peter Pan" are small enough to be used as an edger or like you would use mondo grass. Most of the plants seen at nurseries are either Agapanthus orientalis or hybrids of it, but adventurous gardeners will find more unusual species if they look hard enough. The one I'd love to get for myself is A. inapertus, a deciduous species with deep blue to purple drooping blossoms.

Flowering Stages


  1. Great post, Steve!

    I love your dissection of the "well-drained soil" line. The equivalent for indoor plants is "bright indirect." Every plant!

    Agapanthus is one of those plants I know from childhood. It might even be the first Latin plant name I ever knew! I used to help my dad by picking snails off them.

    They're pretty indestructible. I like that in a plant.

  2. I do love Agapanthus! While they will grow in my climate they certainly aren't ubiquitous. Great commentary on the "well drained soil"...

  3. Hi, I have the rare hard to find purple-blue agapanthus. It's a beautiful plant. We just split it recently. I now have two large clay pots full. I also have a large root ball (it was extremely pot bound) that I have put in another pot with good soil to see if I will get it to grow. Do you think it will work, with just the roots? If so, how long do you expect for see green sprouting up from the soil?

  4. I planted it earlier this year, and it looks a lot like the picture above labeled "Agapanthus looking unhappy in a parking lot median." It is planted in full, hot afternoon sun (morning shade until about noon). Originally, I started seeing the orange/yellow-ing tips, and read somewhere that was a symptom of over-watering, so I cut back the watering. Then it got worse, and I read somewhere that said the leaves can scorch/burn if in too much sun, and it's easier for them to scorch if under-watered, so I turned the water back up. I'm trying to correct the problem, but not sure if I need to water more or less. Hopefully I do not have to move it; I read that it is supposed to LOVE the hot sun and do fine in it! Hopefully it doesn't need more shade.... :-/ Please help!

  5. Don't worry! They just need more water to get established. Do you have sandy soil? If so, some compost or topsoil with a layer of mulch should help. Once they fill in enough to shade the roots and they get established they'll be a lot more durable. You could even plant something like a trailing lantana between them to act as a living mulch to shade the ground from the beating sun. Good luck!

  6. Is there such a plant as the yellow agapanthus.


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