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Henry Clay, horticulturist
Lily of the Nile
A close-up of the umbel-shaped Agapanthus flower. - photo by Special
    Agapanthus, better known as Lily of the Nile, is truly a garden treasure.  This semi-tropical-like beauty is an asset to south Georgia gardeners for some very good reasons.  First, it provides blue flowers that bring a cooling effect to areas of the landscape. Second, Agapanthus comes into bloom in late May and early June to provide some early summer interest to landscape beds. The flower head is umbel shaped, similar to that of the onion. The stem and flowers rise above the strap-like foliage to create a show-stopping appearance.  Flowers last several weeks because all the flowers in the umber don’t open all at once. With age, plants form clumps of foliage with multiple flower stems.  As a rule, several plants are grouped together in a bed to create a mass display.      Providing ample moisture during flowering can extend the blooming period.  As might be expected, there are white flowering cultivates that add emphasis and a cooling effect to semi-shaded spots of the garden. 
    Botanically speaking, there are several species and subspecies of this unique plant that come to us from the Cape of South Africa.  Agapanthus praecox orientalis, A. Africanus and the Headbourne Hybrids are all listed in garden references.  The subspecies orientalis seems to be most available in garden outlets.  Named varieties (cultivars) such as “Peter Pan,” “Blue Storm,” “White Storm,” “Ella Mae,”and “Elaine” are commonly sold in our area.  These cultivars are often referred to as dwarf forms.  Foliage is short, ranging about 8-12 inches high with bloom stalks 1-1.5 feet in height.  Leaves are narrow .5-.75 inches wide.  The more robust forms have much wider foliage (around 2 inches in width and reach 2.5 feet in height).  Flower stems may be 4-6 feet tall.  Tall forms are naturally a bit more interesting, but diminutive forms hold their own in appeal.
    Lily of the Nile can be planted in light shade or full sun.  For full sun exposure, choose a location that is exposed only part of the day to intense heat.  Morning sun and late afternoon shade is ideal.  The addition of organic matter when planting is suggested for sandy soils.  This improves water holding capacity as well as nutrient holding capacity.  Peat moss, compost or finely ground pine bark is recommended as a source of organic matter for incorporation.  A light application of fertilizer and granulated lime is in order when mixing in organic matter.  The overall objective is to increase water and nutrient holding capacity of our less fertile sandy soil types.
    Because Agapanthus is most often sold in containers, they can be planted most any time.  Summer planting requires more detailed irrigation to get plants off to a good start.  Early spring is the recommended time to divide crowded clumps.  Most references advise dividing and transplanting clumps around the fifth year after planting.  Transplant sooner if flowering slows down or plants become over crowded.  Clumps are easily lifted with a bit of deep digging to protect the fleshy roots.  After digging, hose off excess soil and separate foliage and leek-like stems.  Replant at the original depth. 
    Patio gardeners will be glad to know that these plants are quite impressive when planted in containers.  Smaller plants are usually purchased and stepped-up to pots 12-14 inches in diameter.  Deeper pots may be more appropriate for the fleshy root system.  Plants can be left in containers for extended periods of time – usually until they become difficult to keep watered.
    Incidentally, the name Agapanthus comes from the Greek agape (love) and anthos (flower).  Grow this wonderful garden plant and you will come to love it too.
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