African Lilies Are Beautiful Low Maintenance Plants
African lilies (Agapanthus) are a little unusual in that many exotic plants can be a handful to grow and care for. This particular plant is very low maintenance, can be grown in many parts of the United States, and can easily fit into the category of "stunning plants". It goes by several names, including the Blue Lily and Lily of the Nile, hybridizes easily with related species, and is easy to propagate. The scientific name, Agapanthus comes from the Greek words "agape" meaning love, and "anthos" meaning flower. It is an herbaceous perennial and native to southern Africa (which does not explain it's being called the Lily of the Nile). African lilies have some medicinal value, but are primarily grown for ornamental reasons.
Flowers And Foliage - African lilies produce bell shaped flowers on 2 to 3 foot stems. The flowers are typically bluish in color, but depending upon lighting conditions, can appear purplish to lavender. One variety of the plant has white blossoms. In tropical regions, the flowers tend to bloom over the entire growing season. In cooler, but frost free climates, the flowers bloom during the summer months only, sometimes into early autumn. When the bloom has finished, large attractive seed pods form, containing small winged black seeds. The foliage of the African lilies is quite striking as well, featuring dense tufts of deep green strap-like leaves, up to two feet in length, and one to two inches thick. Some varieties of the lily have leaves that are more of a grayish green color.
Culture - African lilies are excellent as border plants, have been planted in road dividers, and the dwarf varieties are an excellent choice to line a sidewalk. They can also be grown in containers, in fact seem to be at their best when somewhat root bound. The plant is hardy in USDA zones 7 - 11, and can also be grown out of doors in zone 6 if heavily mulched. In other zones, it is best planted in containers which can be moved into a warmer and protected location during subfreezing winter conditions. Temperatures below 28 degrees F will usually injure the plants. In colder weather zones, the rhizomes can be left in containers and kept slightly moist under cool conditions (high 30'S to low 40'S).
When planting African lilies, place them where they get either full sun or at least full sun during the morning hours. The lilies will grow in shady areas, but may not bloom profusely. Although the plants are not particularly fussy about the type of soil they are grown in, they will perform best when placed in a fertile, well-drained soil. The lilies will grow in soil that is either slightly acidic, neutral, or slightly alkaline. Whether you place them in beds or along borders, place the rhizomes about 8 inches apart, covered with an inch of soil. Lilies can be grown from seed; though will not bloom the first year.
Propagation - The most popular method of propagation is planting offsets from parent rhizomes, which should bloom the first year. Division of offsets is best done around April. The offsets are best removed using a sharp knife. The key to success is that each offset needs to have healthy roots in order to grow. A plant that has allowed to become root bound will usually provide a number of offsets, each with their own healthy root systems. Once established, the plants should not be moved during the growing and flowering season. Neither should the rhizomes be disturbed while overwintering.
There are enough hybrids of African lilies on the market to give any purchaser a good chance of finding a variety well suited to his or her growing area. With extreme cold weather being the prime inhibiting factor as far as success is concerned, most gardeners should be able to grow African lilies, even if only in containers.