Skip to main content

How to Grow Lily of the Nile (Aggies)

Maria is a master gardener and master of public health. She & her husband, known online as The Gardener & The Cook, live in coastal Alabama.

A bird’s eye view of the cluster of tiny flowers of Agapanthus

A bird’s eye view of the cluster of tiny flowers of Agapanthus

This lily has several common names. Among them are Lily of the Nile, Blue Lily, and African Blue Lily, but to those of us who love them, they are affectionately called "Aggies" due to their botanical name Agapanthus africanus.

The flowers typically last two or three months, but the lovely dark green strap-like foliage, shown in the next photo, will stay all summer, fall, until and even through the winter, unless there is damaging cold weather.

Last winter (2021-22) my Aggies suffered from freezing temperatures. As soon, as normal temperatures returned, they began to recover. In spring they sent up new growth, and then those gorgeous globes of tiny flowers. With summer-like temperatures in spring, they may bloom earlier than usual. Sometimes, they also seem to last — what a pleasant surprise. I always hate to see them go.

Some Aggies are a darker bluish-purple than others. They are also available in a very dark purple called Indigo Princess.

Some Aggies are a darker bluish-purple than others. They are also available in a very dark purple called Indigo Princess.

Their Botanical Name and Where They Will Grow Best

These beauties live up to their name which comes from the Greek words "agape," meaning unconditional, sacrificial love (such as that between parent and child) and "anthus," meaning flower. They bloom in clusters of small blue, violet-blue, or white flowers that look like tiny lilies — and occasionally, you may see pink Aggies.

Those clusters are completely round, globe-like shapes, called "umbels", that can a have anywhere from 30–100 tiny flowers. Mine typically have about 80–100. These plants perform best in Zones 8 through 11. However, I grew them successfully in Huntersville, NC, USA, which is in Zone 7. Although they did not multiply as rapidly there as they did when we lived in Zone 9a, and here in 8b, they did multiply and thrived, coming back each spring, year after year.

Just one small grouping of Aggies

Just one small grouping of Aggies

Their Needs

Light

Aggies need plenty of direct sunlight. Plant in partial shade or filtered light only if you live in an area with intense summer heat. I have seen them growing in full-sun in commercially planted areas, and they appear to be thriving. We have summer temps in the mid- and high-nineties, so mine are planted where they get direct sunlight most of the day. An ornamental tree shades them from the worst of the harsh afternoon sun.

Soil

They prefer rich, well-drained slightly acidic soil with a pH of about 6.5–7.5. Plant them no deeper than they were planted in the container they came in when you bought them, and plant them about 8–10 inches apart. I began with two plants. They multiplied like crazy, and I soon had enough to move some to other parts of our yard, and to take with me when we relocated.

Beautiful Evergreen Foliage

As they begin to die down for the season, the tips of the deep green strap-like leaves will begin to turn brown. In a month or so, new green leaves will emerge, and, in mild climates, will stay green all winter. In North Carolina, mine died down in winter but emerged in very early spring.

The beautiful dark green foliage of my Aggies

The beautiful dark green foliage of my Aggies

New Aggie Just Beginning to Open

If I could sing, I would sing "Anti-ci-pa-a-tion."

If I could sing, I would sing "Anti-ci-pa-a-tion."

The white Aggies are truly elegant.

The white Aggies are truly elegant.

The Seeds Are Easy to Collect

The upside of their finishing their bloom cycle last year was that I got a lot of seed from them to spread around in our flower beds. The next two photos show seed pods that are still green, and some that have ripened. When they are ripe, will split open along the folds to reveal small elongated black seeds. I have never grown Aggies from seed, but I’m told it can be done.

Although the seeds are small, the individual seeds are quite large compared to some seeds such as those little specks produced by petunias and lettuces. As can be seen here, the pods will split open and drop their seed on the ground around the existing plants. With all plants, I prefer to harvest the unopened pods so that I don't lose any of the seeds. Be sure to keep all seeds in a cool, dark place until you are ready to use them.

Mature seed pods of spent Aggie blossoms

Mature seed pods of spent Aggie blossoms

Sprouting Aggie Seeds in Water

I have started some aggie seeds in a bowl of shallow water. The began sprouting within less than a week (see photo below). When they get larger, I will move them to small pots where they will stay until they are large enough to plant in the ground. I’m doing this as an experiment. I’ll let you know how it goes.

If you try this, start with water that has been sitting out for about 24 hours. That will allow the chlorine to evaporate. Change the water at least once per week, always using stale, room temperature water.

Here you see the seeds just beginning to sprout. See the tiny white roots?

Here you see the seeds just beginning to sprout. See the tiny white roots?

Are Aggies Poisonous?

In my research, I found conflicting information about whether or not Agapanthus is poisonous. One report said they are not; another said they are. With all lilies, even their sap can cause problems if ingested.

Regarding Pets

Here’s what I learned: Lilies can cause kidney failure in cats. I’m told that few cats will survive this. In dogs, lilies will cause vomiting and diarrhea, but not kidney damage. Whether you have a cat or a dog, it is best to keep pets away from lilies.

The white Aggies are gorgeous, and I’ve learned they are now also available in pink, but I have never seen a pink one.

The white Aggies are gorgeous, and I’ve learned they are now also available in pink, but I have never seen a pink one.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 MariaMontgomery