How to Grow African Lily
African lily definitely makes a statement in a garden. With its shiny, strappy leaves and luxurious globe-like flowers, it’s a bit like an ornamental allium on steroids – except this foliage won’t die back in spring. Instead, it will continue to make that statement long after the flowers are gone.
African Lily can be tricky, and must be overwintered inside in zones north of Zone 7, but with a little patience, a sunny site, and adequate water, you too can grow this azure beauty in your borders, containers and garden beds.
When & Where to Plant African Lily
Plant bare root divisions in the spring when the threat of a heavy freeze is past. The crown should be planted one inch below the soil surface in a loamy, moisture retaining soil that drains well.
Light: African lily benefits strongly from a full-sun position. It can tolerate part shade positions, but blooming is lessened and flowers may reach toward available light.
Soil: African lily does fine in average soil as long as it is well-draining, but amending your average soil is a better idea. Adding organic amendments such as compost or leaf mold will help keep soil moist but not wet, add nutrients, and allow the plant to thrive.
Dry soils during the growing season might be tolerated, but are not recommended and will affect flowering. Constantly wet soils will kill the plant.
Spacing: Space 18-24” apart.
In warmer climates, agapanthus clumps will spread and will need dividing in time. In cooler climates where agapanthus is overwintered indoors, growth happens much more slowly.
Planting: Plant in spring when danger of a hard freeze is past.
How to Grow African Lily Throughout the Season
Growith Habit: African lily is a clump-forming plant with long, glossy, strap-like leaves reaching a height of 2-3’, with a spread of 18-24”. Blue flowers appear in mid to late summer and are held above the foliage at the end of long, sturdy stems. These flowers are arranged in an open, globular pattern much like an ornamental allium, but without the density, allowing the gardener (and pollinators) to appreciate the trumpet shapes of individual flowers.
Staking: Staking is not necessary unless light levels are low and flowers are forced to reach.
Watering: During the growing season, African lilies are heavy drinkers and benefit from regular watering. During the winter months, it is best to keep them on the dry side if possible. If kept inside (zones colder than 7), water just to prevent desiccation.
Fertilizing: African lilies benefit from an early spring top dressing of well -rotted manure which naturally contains a high level of nitrogen for strong foliage during the growing season. Mid-season, a fertilizer with a higher potassium level (such as those used for tomatoes) can benefit flowering.
Trimming & Pruning: Foliage naturally dies back in the fall and can be cleared away. Deadheading will not promote further blooming, but cutting the dried flower heads is often done for inside arrangements.
Mulching: Mulch is an excellent idea to retain moisture during the season and to help with overwintering if you live in a borderline hardiness zone.
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African Lily: End of Season Care
Overwintering: In Zones 7 or 8, plants should be heavily mulched fairly late in the season. Remove all leaves first to discourage rot. Putting plants in a cold frame or unheated hoop house is also recommended, as this keeps soil warmer and keeps moisture levels low.
In cooler climates, plants should be dug and overwintered indoors, keeping them just above freezing. Don’t keep them too warm - agapanthus need a period of cold to flower well.
Dividing & Transplanting: If you live in a warmer climate, your African lilies will soon require division, as clumps will become congested and flowering will suffer. After flowering, dig the entire clump and wash the roots free of soil so you can make good cuts with a sharp knife, including some roots and foliage/new buds with each division. Immediately replant in the garden for large divisions, and in pots for smaller ones (where they can be closely monitored). Water well and keep moist.
Pests/ Disease: African lily is for the most part not bothered by garden pests, but can occasionally suffer from viral infection. Signs of viral infection become evident when flowering is lessened and light colored stripes appear on the leaves (of non-variegated cultivars). American Meadows ships virus-free plants, but if plants become infected after time in the garden, they should be dug up and discarded in a garbage pail, not in a compost pile.
African Lily: Extra Info
Companion Plants: As African Lily is a mid to late flowering plant, it pairs beautifully with tall sedums such as Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Joy' or with later flowering daylilies such as ‘Autumn Minaret,’ whose yellow-orange flowers provide strong contrast to its blue globes. Yellow perennials and hardy annuals are a terrific choice in general, such as the bright gold varieties of Marguerite daisy (Argyranthemum spp.) and Yarrow (Achillea spp.).
If you’re looking for a monochromatic scheme with incredible texture, consider pairing it with the frothy blue spires of Russian sage (Perovskia spp.); and for a bit of tropical foliage fun – how about a bit of variegated canna in the background, such as ‘Pretoria?’
Additional Uses: African Lily flowers are well-visited by pollinating insects and make a lovely addition to a sunny, warm-climate pollinator garden.
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