By: Liz Baessler
Agapanthus, also called African lily, is a gorgeous flowering plant from southern Africa. It produces beautiful, blue, trumpet-like flowers in the summer. It can be planted directly in the garden, but growing agapanthus in pots is very easy and worthwhile. Keep reading to learn more about planting agapanthus in containers and care for agapanthus in pots.
Agapanthus needs extremely well-draining, but somewhat water retentive, soil to survive. This may be hard to achieve in your garden, which is why growing agapanthus in pots is such a good idea.
Terra cotta pots look especially good with the blue flowers. Choose either a small container for one plant or a larger one for multiple plants, and cover the drainage hole with a piece of broken pottery.
Instead of regular potting soil, choose a soil-based compost mix. Fill your container part of the way up with the mix, then set the plants so that the foliage begins an inch (2.5 cm.) or so below the rim. Fill in the rest of the space around the plants with more compost mix.
Care for agapanthus in pots is easy. Place the pot in full sun and fertilize regularly. The plant should survive in the shade, but it won’t produce many flowers. Water regularly.
Agapanthus comes in both half hardy and full hardy varieties, but even the full hardy ones will likely need some help to get through the winter. The simplest thing to do is to bring your whole container indoors in the autumn – cut back spent flower stalks and faded foliage and keep it in a light, dry area. Don’t water as much as in the summer, but make sure the soil doesn’t get too dry.
Growing agapanthus plants in containers is a great way to enjoy these flowers both indoors and out.
This article was last updated on
Read more about Agapanthus
Agapanthus is a summer-flowering bulb for Southern gardens. Sometimes called African lily and lily of the Nile, it is originally from South Africa. Agapanthus makes an elegant addition to any landscape. Its strap-like leaves make an excellent ground cover and its conspicuous flowers bloom all summer long.
Agapanthus can bring fresh shape to your cut flower garden. It will liven up a Florida-Friendly landscape by attracting hummingbirds and other pollinators. The blooms are absolutely unique and make a wonderful display in mass plantings. There are so many good reasons to add agapanthus to your garden.
The plethora of varieties available for gardeners derives from a handful of species that are found in South Africa. Agapanthus campanulatus and its subspecies patens are from the cooler climate east of the Cape and the Drakensburg Mountains in north-eastern South Africa. They have pale to mid-blue flowers. These species are deciduous, and have been used to produce hardy and versatile garden plants.
Agapanthus campanulatus – Image source
The species from the warmer climate of the western Cape are part of the amazing diversity that forms the ‘fynbos’ shrubland that grows on sandy, well drained and fairly acidic soils. They keep their foliage in winter, and are generally not as hardy as the deciduous species. Agapanthus africanushas deep blue flowers, and is widely distributed from sea level at the southern Cape to a kilometre up the Langeberg Mountains, while the closely related Agapanthus africanus walshii grows more locally in the Palmiet valley.
Fortunately, species Agapanthus are now rarely collected from the wild for cultivation, as there are so many readily available and more reliable varieties for the garden.
Fully hardy cultivars derived from the deciduous species are recommended for year-round outdoor plantings. ‘Midnight Star’ and the dwarf ‘Lilliput’ are ideal amongst the blue varieties, and ‘Arctic Star’ is perhaps the best hardy white variety. In the early years of popularity, ‘Headbourne Hybrids’ was the most widely grown deciduous variety, with its reliable displays of lilac flowers from July through August. With the introduction of new cultivars and extensive independent horticultural trials, ‘Headbourne’ has been joined in the popularity league by other hardy varieties such as ‘Brilliant Blue’, ‘Midnight Dream’ (with dark purple flowers), ‘Margaret’ (a floriferous powder-blue variety) and, more recently, ‘Twister’, with its bicolour white and blue flowers. ‘Northern Star’ also performs well, even as a young plant, freely producing its attractive mid-blue flowers with their prominent dark violet stripe.
Agapanthus ‘Arctic Star’
The modern, compact varieties ‘Bluestorm’ and ‘Whitestorm’ are now increasingly available, and with a flowering period of up to 70 days, each mature plant producing as many as a hundred spikes of unusually large flowers, and some repeat flowering possible through a mild autumn and early winter, their popularity is understandable. More unusual hardy varieties include ‘Midnight Dream’, with its very dark purple, almost black flowers.
Agapanthus ‘Midnight Dream’ – Image source
For colder, less sheltered gardens, or for growing the more tender evergreen Agapanthus africanus cultivars anywhere other than in the mildest, generally frost-free areas, the plants can be grown in pots that can be moved indoors for the winter.
Good blue-flowered varieties for summer-only outdoor pots include ‘Purple Delight’, ‘Lapis Luzuli’ and the late-flowering ‘Hole Park Blue’. Specialist suppliers offer greater variety, and it’s worth looking out for ‘Hoyland Chelsea Blue’ and ‘Tornado’. To add variety and interest to the container, consider the ‘Little Dutch White’, or the similarly petite ‘Silver Baby’, with its unusual white flowers flushed with blue, the dwarf ‘Gold Strike’ or ‘Golden Drop’ with their golden variegated foliage, and the ‘Windsor Grey’, which offers subtle displays of greyish-white flowers. Continuing the royal theme, ‘Queen Mum’ is another of the new white and blue bicolour varieties.
Agapanthus ‘Queen Mum’ – Image source
If you want to grow tall, dazzling clusters of color why not plant agapanthus in your flower beds? These beauties are available in a diverse array of shades in blue, purple, and white. Some boast trumpet-shaped upright blossoms while others resemble pendulous bluebells. Discover 25 of the best agapanthus varieties now.
Steve Hickman, of Hoyland Plant Centre in South Yorkshire, is a horticultural devotee whose garden is shaped by his love of one species of plant - his National Collection of agapanthus.
We asked Steve to share his tips on how we can keep our agapanthus thriving for as long as possible. But first, a little bit about how Steve become a gardener.
How did your hobby become a career?
'I've been in horticulture all my life. A school I spent every moment I could in the glasshouse and also began to develop an interest in hardier plants. After working in a nursery, I spent three years at Askham Bryan College doing the National Diploma in Horticulture before spending a year at Cambridge University Botanic Garden.
'Once I qualified, I went abroad for ten years working on plant propagation in Fiji, Saudi Arabia and finally Hong Kong. I met my wife Elaine there and we returned to Britain together and set up Hoyland Plant Centre over 30 years ago. We started as wholesale growers of conifers, shrubs and alpines.'
When did you develop an interest in agapanthus?
Twenty years ago my youngest daughter bought me my first agapanthus – it was actually two plants in the same pot: one blue, one white – and that sparked the interest. I found that there were dwarf varieties, started a collection and was soon spending more time growing agapanthus than anything else, so we made the decision to drop the general stuff and concentrate on them.
'In the beginning, we took the plants to the smaller, northern flower shows, but now we have a full programme, including the RHS Shows, and have the help of my son Colin [another trained horticulturist], who joined the company full time last year.'
What are the star qualities of agapanthus?
'It's bold and architectural with stunning flowers, especially with modern breeding, which has produced a wonderful range of colours from near black through the bicoloured to white.
'The flowers are long-lasting, blooming from early July until September, and are followed
by seed heads that look good late into autumn. The plant is a survivor, easy to grow, difficult to kill and the deciduous ones are very, very hardy.'
1. Where do they like to be grown?
'The more sun the better, though they'll tolerate partial or dappled shade. If you plant them
in a mixed border, don't put them too close to vigorous perennials as they can be overshadowed.'
2. Can you grow the deciduous varieties outside everywhere in the UK?
'Yes, pretty much, but we do advise that you mulch them with bark over winter. Agapanthus forms its flower bud for the following year in July, August and September, and a subsequent frost can kill it.'
3. Would you recommend growing the evergreen varieties in containers so they can be brought under cover in winter?
'Yes – except in the mildest areas, they need protection from winter weather.'
4. What potting mix do you recommend for container-grown agapanthus?
'The key is that it must be able to drain well it can be any type of compost - multi purpose, peat free, John Innes No 2 or 3 - mixed in ratio of 2:1 with horticultural grit, gravel or gritty sand. In thewild, agapanthus thrive in clifftop crevices, so they like a growing medium that is very free draining.'
5. Is it true they like their roots to be restricted?
'Yes, their roots are restricted in their natural habitats, so they are ideal for container growing. You can put two or three small plants, or one larger plant (15cm diameter rootball), in a 30cm container and they will be happy for two years without repotting.
'After that, move your plants into a slightly larger container every two years until the pot gets too big to handle – at which point, you can divide the rhizomes into four, in mid-March to mid-April, and start the process again by potting each plant into its own 30cm pot.'
6. Do agapanthus in borders need similar treatment?
'Dig them up every four to six years and split the clumps in spring. If you want to restrict them, you can put a small plant in a 15cm plastic pot that has had the base removed, dig a hole and plant the whole thing, or use a larger plastic pot to hold three plants in a gritty compost in a similar way.
'Grown like this, they should flower early and well, if they are fed with the same regularity as container-grown plants.'
7. Why do agapanthus sometimes fail to flower even though they grow healthy leaves?
'This is a common question. Sometimes it's because the flower bud has been frosted over winter, but the other reason is that agapanthus need a high-
potash feed every two to three weeks from mid-
March to mid-September. If the plants aren't fed, or are given a high-nitrogen feed, they won't flower.'
8. Are there any pest or disease problems?
'They are generally trouble free. Slugs and snails might live in the leaves but they don't eat them and neither do rabbits or deer. Foliage of old plants can be infected by a virus that causes streaking, but as long as the plants are well
fed, it doesn't generally affect flowering.'
1. 'Margaret' - Powder blue very free flowering extremely hardy deciduous 70-80cm
2. 'Hoyland Blue' - Mid blue with a dark stripe glows at dusk masses of flowers evergreen 60-80cm
3. 'Midnight Star' - Dark navy, mid-size flowers very hardy deciduous 60cm
4. 'Arctic Star' - Large pure-white flower heads best of the whites
very hardy 60-80cm
5. 'Blueberry Cream' - Stunning new colour break first true hardy bicolour multiple tones of blue
and white 60cm
This feature is from Country Living magazine. Subscribe here.
It may take two or three years for plants to establish before flowering really takes off, but after this they will grow in to long-flowering clumps.
Agapanthus can be reluctant to flower if subjected to drought conditions after flowering. To ensure a good display the following year, keep plants moist until autumn after flowers start to fade, which will encourage the development of new flower buds.
Cut down spent flower stems unless you are drying them to use for decoration.
Mulch in autumn or cover the crown of the plant with straw or fleece to protect from cold. If clumps become too big, they can be lifted and split every four to five years.
Cut the stems at a 45 degree angle with a sharp knife. Fill sterilised buckets with luke warm water and add flower food. Place the agapanthus in the buckets. Leave over night to condition before using. Place away from direct sun light, radiators and drafts. Keep the agapanthus in a cool place. Watch Sarah's video guide for A Simple Arrangement of Agapanthus.