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Plant the Low-maintenance but show-stopping Lily-of-the-Nile for a burst of summer color

Plant the Low-maintenance but show-stopping Lily-of-the-Nile for a burst of summer color
May 2021

Find the ideal variety for your garden bed

The perennial forms handsome evergreen mounds and sends up onion-like pods that open from May to July, depending on the variety. 

In May, the agapanthus blossoms begin to rise above the garden—each formed from as many as 100 florets that look like fireworks bursting from a tall and slender stalk. Add in the hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies drawn to this pollen and nectar picnic, and you have quite the warm-season show.

The perennial also known as lily-of-the-Nile earns its place in the garden 10 times over, says Ashley Collins of Brownswood Nursery on John’s Island. “It’s showy, but it’s also a real trooper—super low-maintenance and capable of withstanding our summer sun,” she explains.

Picking the Right Variety

Several similar species make up the Agapanthus genus, generally blooming from late spring into mid summer. While some are deciduous, you’re most likely to encounter the large evergreen varieties, which mature into mounds a couple feet wide. Their flower stalks can reach twice as high, bearing blooms in the plant’s signature blue, as well as in white, violet, and bicolor combinations. For example, says Collins, “A favorite hybrid is ‘Queen Mum’, with white flowers colored blueish-purple on the inside.”

Newer dwarf and midsize cultivars have more narrow leaves and grow one to three feet tall. “There’s really an agapanthus for any space,” Collins notes, explaining that Brownswood rotates different options in throughout the season.

An agapanthus, or lily-of-the-Nile, flower in shades of violet.

Designing with Lily-of-the-Nile

While easy-going agapanthus thrives in full sun, it will settle for about four hours of direct rays in well-draining, sandy loam.

Use the large varieties for height at the back of a perennial border, or dot the dwarf hybrids along the front of a bed. “They’d look beautiful with panicle hydrangeas, or against a backdrop of red or pink shrub roses,” suggests Collins. With their attractive evergreen foliage, lily-of-the-Nile plants are also lovely when grouped in a drift. Just keep in mind that most kinds will lean toward the sun.

Don’t have much room to spare? “Use them as accents,” says Collins. “They do great in containers.” One large agapanthus requires a 12-inch pot, as its root system will become sizable.

Tending the Blooms

Water lily-of-the-Nile regularly, particularly until the plants are well-established, and top the soil with mulch to retain moisture.

“You can feed them every spring with an all-purpose fertilizer like Espoma Plant-tone, but they’re really very vigorous,” says Collins. Otherwise, just clip off dead leaves, remove spent flower stalks, and watch out for slugs.

About every six years, divide agapanthus after it has bloomed, replanting the segments for an even bigger fireworks display.