All About Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile)

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Agapanthus, aka Lily of the Nile, are iconic perennials. With their huge colorful bloom clusters, you know ’em when you see ’em.

There’s a lot to know about them, though. So I’ve done my best to compile almost everything you need to know about Agapanthus in this post!

If you’re looking for a care guide, check out my post on Lily of the Nile care.

What Is An Agapanthus?

Lily of the Nile plants are from the family Liliaceae. This family consists of around 4075 different species of plants. However, of this 4075, only 7 species are considered to be Agapanthus. But there are scores of different cultivars on the market today from just these 7 species.

They’re characterized by:

  • Large colorful bloom clusters
  • Thick strap-like leaves that are similar to grass in nature, but overall much thicker.
  • Most varieties are summer-bloomers. Although, some breeds bloom early (around late spring).
  • An underground stem called a rhizome that sends out thick white roots. They spread underground using these rhizomes. You can read more about this in my post, Do Agapanthus Multiply?

Symbolism

Their name comes from the Greek words “Agape” and “Anthos.” Agape means love and Anthos means flower. Put them together and you have “Love Flower” or “Flower of Love.” So they’re considered a symbol of love and affection when given as a gift, either as a live plant or in a cut-flower arrangement.

Are They Evergreen or Deciduous?

Some are evergreen and some are deciduous. Evergreen varieties provide reliable, year-round foliage in your landscape, and many are rebloomers. However, they’re not known for being cold-hardy. Traditionally, they only survive down to USDA Zone 8a. Therefore, if you’re located anywhere below that, you’ll be looking at deciduous varieties.

Deciduous Agapanthus will die back to the ground after the first freeze of the fall or winter. This makes them more cold-hardy than their evergreen cousins. Some even go as low as USDA Zone 5a. They won’t provide any foliage-interest over the winter, but they’ll come back bigger and better the next spring.

A Brief History

Lily of the Nile plants are originally from South Africa, both the deciduous and evergreen varieties. Evergreen varieties hail from areas that experience rain year-round. Meanwhile, deciduous species come from areas with dry winters and rainy summers. They’re also commonly found in mountainous areas where they can grow quite large.

The infamous East Indian Trading Company brought the first shipment of Agapanthus plants to Europe in the late 17th century. This shipment consisted of evergreen types from the Cape of Good Hope. Growers kept them in greenhouses originally, uncertain of where they would grow successfully.

Deciduous varieties didn’t make it to Europe until the early 18th century. They opened up new landscaping opportunities for European gardeners of the period.

Flower Colors

Agapanthus flowers are renowned for their long-lasting, dynamic color. They’re most commonly in shades of violet-blue and white and just about everywhere in between. Here are a few examples:

  • Sky blue
sky blue agapanthus
  • Violet-purple
violet purple flowers
  • Lilac
lilac lily of the nile
  • White
white agapanthus
  • Bicolor
bicolor lily of the nile

Some claim that there are pink varieties, but I haven’t ever seen them. And the pictures of them that I’ve seen on the internet are either:

  1. Suspicious and possibly photoshopped. There are online sellers that base their entire business around selling seeds of photoshopped plants that don’t exist (such as Blue Pampas Grass).
  2. Not really pink, more of a light purple to lilac.

But, if anyone knows that they do exist, leave a comment below and let me know.

Where is the Best Place to Plant Agapanthus?

Lily of the Nile plants need a good bit of sunlight to grow and flower properly. So make sure you pick a nice and sunny location for them. Between 5 and 8 hours of direct sunlight is generally ideal for most varieties.

If they don’t get enough sun, they won’t bloom. So don’t try to shortchange them! If your plants get plenty of sun but they’re still not blooming, check out my post, “When Do Agapanthus Flower?” I cover other reasons why your plants might not be producing blooms.

Their ideal soil will be rich in organic matter and have good drainage. They’re quite prone to root rot, so you don’t want them to be sitting in standing water for long. Avoid planting them anywhere in your yard that water naturally pools up.

To increase the amount of organic matter in your soil, mix in a bag of compost with the native soil when you’re planting. Then, add a few inches of compost around the base of the plant each spring to keep the soil rich and healthy.

I have an entire post on where to plant Agapanthus, so if you’d like to learn more, I recommend starting there.

How To Use Them In Your Landscape

Here are a few ideas for using these perennials in your garden.

  • Add them into mixed garden beds. They have unique foliage texture and shape, so they contrast beautifully with many different plants. Try them with other perennial bloomers, such as Salvia or Canna Lillies.
  • Plant a bunch of them together as a mass planting. This will create quite a display during the bloom season. Mix and match different colors and/or bloom times to create additional interest.
A mass planting with mixed varieties
  • Plant them in containers. They actually like to have their roots confined, so they work perfectly well in planters. You will need to divide them every 2 to 3 years though.
  • Plant them around structures in your yard, such as birdbaths, trees, or buildings. They’ll create a softer transition from the structure to the ground and make it easier to mow around it.
agapanthus in the landscape
Agapanthus planted around a Palm tree

How To Plant Agapanthus

Planting your Lily of the Nile the correct way is important for setting them up for success. Here is how you do it.

  1. Find a suitable location where your plant will be happy. Consider this variety’s recommended sun exposure and soil quality.
  2. Now, dig a hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the pot that your plant’s in. Digging a wider hole allows for your plant’s roots to spread easily because the soil will be looser. The hole should be as deep as the pot.
  3. If you’re going to mix in a soil additive (soil conditioner, bark, compost, etc.), now is the time to do it. You can mix the native soil with the additive in a wheelbarrow, bucket, or in the hole itself. Mix it around with a hoe or a spade until you seem to have a consistent mixture.
  4. Remove your plant from the pot. Use your fingers to tussle the sides and bottom of the roots until they’re nice and loose. Agapanthus have thick, fleshy roots that you should be able to loosen relatively easily. Try not to tear the roots, though. If you skip this step, your plant’s roots won’t spread out as well (or as quickly).
  5. Place the plant in the center of the hole.
  6. Fill in the hole with your soil mixture. Stop when the soil is level with your plant’s root ball. Don’t pile dirt on top of the root ball.
  7. Gently tamp down the loose soil with your hands. Don’t push down too hard, you want the soil to be uncompacted.
  8. Apply a layer of mulch around the base of your plant. Roughly 2-3 inches of mulch is appropriate.
  9. Water your new planting deeply to settle everything and get your plant hydrated.

Fertilizing New Plantings:

You can fertilize your Agapanthus when they’re freshly planted. You can use a standard granular inorganic fertilizer or a dry organic fertilizer. What you should not use is a liquid fertilizer.

Roots will be lightly to moderately damaged during the planting process, there’s really no way around it. Liquid fertilizer is absorbed rapidly by these damaged ends which will burn the roots.

Are Agapanthus Toxic?

Yes, Agapanthus (Lily of the Nile) plants are poisonous. Every part of the plant is toxic, although the roots, leaves, and sap are the most potent. If ingested, symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Seek medical attention. The sap can also cause skin irritation and/or rashes.

You can read some more specifics at Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service.

As a silver lining, children are unlikely to eat much of this plant. Kids are somewhat finely tuned to know what tastes good and what they should continue to eat. So in all likelihood, they’d try a bit, notice that this plant is not meant for eating, and back off. But they still might sustain some burns from the sap that would need attention.

Are They Toxic for Pets?

Yes, Lily of the Nile is toxic to pets too. With dogs, it isn’t likely to result in a fatality. Cats are more vulnerable to poisoning from Lilies, so take special care if they ingest some of a plant. Don’t waste any time in contacting your vet.

Gastrointestinal symptoms are common, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Otherwise, if the animal’s skin comes into contact with the sap, you may be looking at:

  • Rashes
  • Itching
  • Blisters
  • Swelling

Treatment

For skin exposure, wash the area with clean water to remove as much of the sap as possible. Remember, you don’t want it on your skin either, so wear gloves if possible.

For ingestion, try to rinse their mouth out if you can. Make sure that cool water is available to them.

Afterward, consult your vet and let them know that your pet came into contact with Agapanthus sap and/or ingested some of the plant. They may give you suggestions for treatment, prescribe something, or have you bring them in.

Generally, symptoms from skin exposure will go away over the next 24 hours. Vomiting should stop over the next few hours as well. If not, let your vet know and they’ll likely have you bring them in.

Common Pests for Lily of the Nile

As far as pest-resistance goes, you could do much worse.

Snails/Slugs

Agapanthus are sort of notorious for attracting snails and slugs. They can do considerable damage and they may also snack on your nearby plants. They hide under the leaves during the day and emerge to eat at night. One sign that you may have snails/slugs is if your plant has nibbles on the edges of the leaves.

There are several ways to get rid of them.

  • Make a beer trap. Bury a jar in your garden deep enough that the lip is flush with the ground. Fill it with a couple of inches of beer (any kind). Slugs and snails will fall in and they be able to get out.
  • Commercial or natural bug sprays should get the job done.
  • Put a birdbath or bird feeder in the garden. Birds like to eat slugs. The more birds you have around, the fewer slugs you’ll have.
  • You can pick the slugs off by hand.
  • You can try spreading crushed eggshells around beneath your plants. Snails and slugs don’t like their sharp and jagged edges.

Spider Mites

Spider mites can occasionally be a problem for Lily of the Nile plants as well. They hide under leaves in large colonies and suck out plant fluids. If you have Spider Mites, you might notice light discoloration spots on top of the leaves. Over time, affected leaves will yellow and wilt.

Here are some things you can try to get rid of them.

  • Traditional insecticides. However, these will also kill bugs that eat mites, so you may make your chances of reinfestation higher.
  • Remove infected leaves and throw them in the trash. Don’t put them elsewhere in your yard because that will just spread the mites around.
  • Spray them off the plant daily with a water hose.
  • Spray them with Neem Oil roughly every week until they’re gone. Don’t use Neem Oil if you have a pond that the runoff will go into. It can harm fish.
  • Encourage natural predators, such as Ladybugs or Assassin Bugs.

Are They Deer-Resistant?

This is where their toxicity works in your favor. Deer rarely eat Agapanthus. They might nibble them in passing, but that will generally be it.

All About Agapanthus: Wrapping Up

I hope this answered some of your questions regarding Lily of the Nile. If not, I’d be willing to bet that I might’ve answered your question in another post. Use the search bar at the top of this page to search keywords related to your question. After that, leave me a comment below if you still need answers!

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Thanks for reading and happy gardening!

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