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Agapanthus Bulbs - How to grow African Blue Lily - Lily of the Nile

Agapanthus Bulbs

An increasingly popular bulbous perennial that will brighten up any garden during mid to late summer - and even into the autumn.

Agapanthus Bulbs are now to be seen in many gardens, as their hardiness is no longer the concern of a few years ago.

Mainly blue in colour, but also white and lilac, the large rounded umbels of flower can add height and interest to any bright spot - or even light dappled shade.

Agapanthus Midnight Blue is one of the best of the group, even though it has a less well formed globular flower head which is the hallmark of the Agapanthus. The deep blue flowers are held aloft on sturdy stems through mid summer until the autumn frosts.

One of the darkest blue of all the Agapanthus and seemingly well able to put up with heavy rainfall, with little affect on the flowers as is often the case with some perennials.

Agapanthus Bulbs and How to Grow Them

Agapanthus 'Charlotte'

Agapanthus are either deciduous (herbaceous) or evergreen perennials with either bulbous or fleshy roots. As such, they die down each winter, but with a little protection, will spring into growth the following year. The foliage can best be described as strap-like with narrow leaves sprouting from the base of the plant to around 18in (45cm).

The African Blue Lily

The African Blue Lily

The flowers are borne on generally sturdy stems to a height of 24in (60cm) maximum. There are also dwarf varieties. The plants form clumps, and are good for ground cover - being quite dense in the immediate area under the foliage.

Agapanthus were once listed as part of the Allium family - Alliaceae. It is easy to see why this was so when one compares foliage and flowers to the larger alliums. However, the Agapanthus is now rightly listed as being one of the huge and diverse Lily family - Liliacea.

South Africa is the original home of the Agapanthus, with dwarfer evergreen species originating in the coastal areas - often evergreen, whilst the Agapanthus that we normally grow in our beds, borders and containers, are from the moister mountainous regions. Obviously why they are at home in the UK climate. They will however be quite happy in dry areas.

Planting and Growing Agapanthus

Agapanthus are well suited to borders or beds in the garden, and can also be planted in patio pots - either as sole subjects or as part of an integrated scheme. The main problem with growing in a mixed container is the fact that the foliage will swamp or crowd out most other plants in the container over time. If planted in a container with other plants, then best as an annual planting rather than permanent. In the first year of planting the bulb, the foliage will not be as dense.

If grown in containers, then they will invariably need extra protection from frosting in the winter months.

Beds and Borders for Agapanthus

Agapanthus in beds and borders give a long lasting splash of colour and interest for several moths starting late July or Mid August. They are particularly suited to growing with shrubs, as the late summer is not the most colourful time for shrub borders. planted alongside perennials, Agapanthus either blend or contrast with the late summer colours of the herbaceous border, and are a splendid choice for planting with the warmer colours of the hardy salvias, Rudbeckia and rusty colours of the Helianthus and Gaillardias.

I have yet to see them mass planted with Kniphofias (Red hot pokers) and look forward to seeing any pictures you have of any such planting. In the meanwhile the vision persists!

Cultivation of Agapanthus

Agapanthus seem to do well in more or less any soil type, and I have certainly photographed them in more or less all situations. However, bear in mind their original locale. That of moist soil in sunny position - not easy to replicate in either UK or USA, but still we see Agapanthus grown with spectacular effect in places where they should not! Basically if you have a place, then plant an Agapanthus - or two. they are generally hardy in zones ranging from 9 to 11 in the USA. Agapanthus americanus more so.

The Agapanthus Seed Head

The Agapanthus Seed Head

Plant the bulbs or fleshy roots with around 3 - 4in of soil over the top, and allow space to develop into a good clump as time progresses. They require very little maintenance during the growing season and rarely need tying in once established.

Watering and Feeding

They respond well to watering in the dry summer, and application of bone meal or fish blood and bone in early spring. A non organic fertiliser such as the long lasting Osmocote keeps them happy for the entire growing season.

Agapanthus are generally hardy, but to be on the safe side apply a mulch around the base in the late autumn. Compost, leafmould or any other organic matter will do the trick. The mulch can be left during the next year - and then topped up again the following winter. Agapanthus make superb cut flowers for indoor use. Not good news for the gardener! The old seed heads are also either good floral arrangement material, but can also be left on the plant to either feed birds or create a bit of winter interest on a frosty morning.

Propagation of Agapanthus Bulbs

Agapanthus are one of the few bulbous plants that will give you reasonable quick return by way of flowering. You will simply need to grow on your young seedlings for 2, maybe 3 years before seeing flowers. The ripe seed can be harvested in late autumn and either sown right away in a cold greenhouse, or stored in an airtight container (cool conditions) and sown in the spring. The young seedlings will require winter protection in the first year, so are best kept in pots in order to move them into shelter for that period.

As with many other garden plants, saved seed will not give you an exact replica of the parent. Some maybe as good and have some similarity - others not so. rarely, you might find a seedling that will give you a plant that is superior to the parent plant.

The easiest way to propagate Agapanthus bulbs is by simple division of the fleshy bulbous roots of the established plants in the spring - just before growth starts in earnest. The divided sections can be planted in their flowering positions, and will (should) flower in the first summer. This should not be a regular operation for the Agapanthus are happier if allowed to grow into substantial clumps.

Pests and Diseases of Agapanthus

Agapanthus are relatively free of pests - other than the slugs and snails that are on the hunt for delicate spring goodies. Any damage they cause is likely to be confined to the foliage - unless you are really neglectful and ignore their presence!

Virus can be a problem - about which you can do nothing, other than digging up the plants and burning. Fortunately this is not a common problem. easily recognised in mis-shaped foliage and colour streaking. There is unlikely a different cause - other than virus.

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