Sunday, 1 September 2013

Propagating and Growing Agapanthus




Although agapanthus has a reputation for being ‘difficult’ in the North of England, here in York the deciduous types thrive. I have grown large clumps for the last thirty years. On different soils in Barnsley, Bolton Percy and York they have proved  completely hardy. I had a slight hiccough in the double winter of 2010 when in January we had 18 degrees centigrade of frost for many days in the worst winter for fifty years. The cold was later exceeded in the Winter that started in December of the same year! A few of my agapanthus in exposed positions did receive a setback but all but one survived.

Unfortunately this was not true of my agapanthus in pots. We all learnt a hard lesson in 2010 when a number of less-hardy plants in pots failed to survive in unheated greenhouses, yet in the open ground they came through. The problem was that in containers roots are more exposed to intense cold. The cold was so prolonged that inside unheated greenhouses it was just as cold as outside.That year I lost all of my potted agapanthus. Fortunately I had plenty of new stock in the ground.



Agapanthus propagation
My large drifts of agapanthus have come at very little cost. For some years my original stock, either from seed or divisions from gardening friends, were re-propagated each year. An existing clump would have a chunk chopped out with a sharp spade. Sometimes each chunk would be chopped in two. I would do this either in autumn when they started to die down or in spring when they started to sprout. I would even divide them in winter if I could find the dormant roots! After one year a single clump would become three. After another year I would have six plants. The next year nine! Eccentric or what? I write this with somewhat rose coloured spectacles, I would never quite achieve such a perfect mathematical progression, but you get the idea. I am very patient! Had I carried on much longer my cemetery gardens would now be completely blue! I do find that inexperienced gardeners are scared to treat their plants so brutally. They should not be.



It is even possible to propagate agapanthus in summer. These pictures show ‘proof of principle’ and are not a general recommendation unless you are moving house or want to urgently give some plants to a friend. I currently have a planting project in Cathi’s garden next door and now in mid August have transferred two very large clumps of agapanthus over the hedge.

clump with piece chopped out
Chopped up

Potted plants two weeks later


Agapanthus can easily be propagated from seed, last week I lifted and potted-up clusters of self sown seedlings.

Agapanthus care - cultural requirements

They are tolerant of a wide range of soils. I find they will grow almost anywhere if they have good light. Clumps need space to themselves and must not be crowded by other herbaceous plants or weeds and should not be heavily shaded by trees. I find that agapanthus are tolerant of poor drainage. I see pictures on the net of them growing in ditches in New Zealand. Tender plants are often more victim to winter cold if the soil is not well drained so I do not suggest in our climate you go so far as growing them in a bog! A soil that is water retentive yet well drained is ideal.



I do not stake my agapanthus, but should perhaps mention that I rarely support any herbaceous plants. If a few agapanthus infloresenses  spread out a little or even droop gently across the lawn it might even add to their attraction! I would rather cut away a few horizontal flowers and put them in a vase than stake. There are so many flowers I can spare a few, they are so prolific. Don’t let anyone tell you that they flower better in pots. They don’t.

Planted in spring 2011, 40 lovely white inflorescences

Growing Agapanthus in pots
For impressive displays use large pots, not fiddly small ones. My own tubs are about 40 cm in diameter. They were originally planted with strong plants from the open ground. They are in good soil fortified with fertilizer. I top-dress at least  three times a year with my NPK granular fertilizer. It is essential to use fertilizer for the long term culture of plants in tubs where leaching conditions invariably prevail. Many gardeners choose to provide these extra nutrients with a liquid feed.
Every gardener knows that letting agapanthus be crowded in their pots promotes flowering. Personally I don’t believe it and find that my strong plants potted up from the ground  usually flower even in their first season. Undoubtedly agapanthus are capable of flowering prolifically when crowded in their pots but I would argue that they also do so in open ground where there is no root restriction. 

Planted spring 2011 and rather crowded, 5 inflorescences.  
Of course these last two pictures prove nothing.
I think what makes them flower well in pots is good nutrition, a light open position and skilled watering. Give them plenty of water when they need it. Knowing when to water a plant is a hugely significant and rare gardening skill. In hot windy weather generous watering might be as often as every day. In dull wet weather it might be as little as once a week. Some gardeners make the mistake of thinking that because it has rained their tubs do not need watering at all!

Evergreen agapanthus



These are even more magnificent than the deciduous types. Other than being significantly less hardy than deciduous varieties the information above is relevant to their culture. They are not sufficiently hardy in my region for overwintering in the open ground. Grow them in tubs which from the end of December to late March can be shifted to a protected and almost frost free place. In a normal winter an unheated greenhouse gives sufficient protection. Since my unfortunate experience in 2010 I have overwintered mine in my almost frost free garage. It does have two large double glazed windows and my plants are not in the dark! Even the shelter outside of an adjacent building or under an evergreen tree might be sufficient winter protection.In such circumstances be very alert in an extremely cold spell to bring them inside! 

On our levada walk in Madeira in January this year loose white evergreen agapanthus roots were for sale at a wayside table. I potted up the rather chlorotic pieces and placed them in my frost free porch when we returned home.

Will they really be white when they flower next year?
        
Ready for potting in mid August. They have made so much root I have had to cut the plants out of the pot 

Potted and well on target to flower next year but will they be white?  
Visiting party

Last week a visiting party of gardeners from Flaxton visited my garden. They generally marvelled at the quality and quantity of my agapanthus. Good for my ego. They generally thought that agapanthus are difficult to grow. I don’t know why. Perhaps they have been trying some delicate fancy varieties. Perhaps Flaxton soils are very heavy clay and because of poor management and too much digging are not very well drained. Horror of horror perhaps they dig over their borders in autumn and chop up those lovely fleshy white roots! Perhaps they have bought small delicate plants grown soft in a tunnel or stood too long on a garden centre bench? Perhaps they have planted an evergreen type outside? Sometimes it might help with small plants to overwinter them for their first winter in a greenhouse.
None of them could bring themselves to chop up agapanthus with a sharp spade!



56 comments:

  1. I might well be using this post as a reference soon, Roger. We were recently on holiday in Cornwall, and the Agapanthus is very widespread there, inspiring me to have a go at growing it. I would probably have to grow mine in a pot, because I don't have a suitable space in real soil. It's a shame I don't live near you, otherwse I'd be round to scrounge a cutting off you!

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    1. As I have said to you Mark if you are ever up here ever call in! You will see from the post that I could find you a piece at almost anytime!

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  2. I wrap up the fruit tree pots with bubblewrap over winter - would that help agapanthus in pots to survive?

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    1. yes Sue it's a good idea. I assume you mean wrapping round the pot itself and for deciduous ones even over the top. I don't have any experience myself with bubble wrap and would be doubtful about wrapping an evergreen top for more than a short period because water condensate might encourage rots.

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    2. Just the pot to protect the roots.

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  3. Again very interesting post. I have none of the so called hardy perennial Agapanthus in my garden. I tried them a few times, they did not die, but when they had recovered from winter it was already autumn again. As I told before we have wet soil and that is a bad combination with frost in winter. On the other side I have 9 large tubs with evergreen blue and white Agapanthus all originating from Madeira. We love spending (walking) holidays in Madeira and spread over a long time we have been there 9 times. They mostly produce a great quantity of huge flowers. This year they had it a bit difficult, because we do not heat our greenhouse anymore so last long winter they survived in the dark basement. But nevertheless we had still enough flowers. The difficulty is they grow very fast and the tubs are overcrowded but it is tough to split them even by spade.

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    1. Thanks for this helpful information Janneke. The friends who went with us to Funchal Madeira have been 14 times. there seems something about the place. As our holiday was in January we did not see the agapanthus but I imagine they are extensive. I wonder if they grow alongside the levada walks like the clivias do.

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  4. Hi Roger, this is a really useful post. Like Mark I've been inspired to grow them this year after seeing them on holiday - but not in Cornwall, in Provence where they really were the plant of the holiday. A few doors down they have a huge pot of agapanthus and they've been coming back every year for as long as I can remember so I assumed mine would too. Hmm, seems I can't take that for granted though and so I'll look after them over winter. Again, a very useful post. Thank you!

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    1. Best of luck with them Anna. Although I don't have any need to put any extra covering mulch in winter over mine in cold areas it might be a good idea.

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  5. Thank you for the growing and dividing instructions. I have always been a bit nervous about dividing mine. Agapanthus are not supposed to be hardy here, in Canada, where winters are quite severe, and in most places they are not. However, they are hardy in our area. This is why I have always been reluctant to disturb them. From what you say, I think I should fertilize more. I will dig them up this autumn, divide them and add a lot of compost. Of course they can only survive in the ground and we only grow the deciduous varieties.

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    1. Thanks for news from Canada Alain. As an island and with the coastal influence we do not usually get long periods of intense winter cold that penetrates deep in the ground.

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  6. Secret to good flowers is feed the plants with tomato fertiliser from May to August every two weeks. Have been growing Agapanthus as past 27 years commercially.

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    1. Thanks for the tip Ian. I appreciate it from a commercial grower. I agree they respond to plenty of nutrients and tomato feed is the best balance for most ornamental plants. As you will read in my posts I am a little lazy and give my nutrients with a balanced fertilizer top dressing (currently yaramila) which contains all six major nutrients as well as the trace elements. Its balance is very similar to your tomato liquid feed fertiliser.

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  7. We moved our agapanthus (evergreen) from a humungous pot on our caravan patio (near Abersoch) into the hedge last year. It was so cold over winter I really thought that they would expire... Due to various family complications we didn't get to the caravan till end of July, no sign of the agapanthus when we arrived, but it was getting dark. Next day I found they were flowering away like fury, just completely hidden and choked by the bracken! Usually we are able to get the bracken out earlier in the year, so I'm hoping they will continue to survive. Thank you for all the handy hints - will definitely feed next year, assuming we manage to get to caravan a bit earlier!

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    1. Hi Roger

      I am delighted to find your site as I have just picked up some agapathus from Madeira, described as yours were, they look huge so I expecting good results as I really fell in love with the flowers on our honeymoon last week (December). I will pot them up now but just wondered if you can offer me any tips about what to pot them up with and their aftercare.

      Anything would be wonderful,

      Many thanks


      Lindsey

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    2. Hi Lindsey
      Lucky you seeing them in flower, we missed the boat in Late January, but saw loads of plants alongside the Levada walks.
      I expect you have a good sized plant with plenty of leaf.Mine had few leaves and was more of a sprouting 'bulb'
      Pot it up into John Innes 2, although there are other options but as I expect you will be keeping your plant in a pot it is perhaps best if the compost is soil based.
      It will be best if it is frost free but cool. I kept mine in my frost free porch although it is now in my unheated greenhouse where it will take its chance. Yours straight from Madeira will be tender and it will certainly be the less hardy evergreen type.
      You should try and keep it pretty inactive until the light is better in March. As it will have green leaves keep it in as light a position as you can

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  8. I was so happy to run across your site I brought back
    White Agapanthus from Florida many moons ago and for long time they grew changed pots and they bloomed but this last fall I did not get them in and wanted to cry when I saw the leaves turn to watery mess.Was not going to give up threw all leaves away and brought them into TV room cleaned most of the papery stuff around each base watered lightly as bases were solid now they are growing back in the middle so hopes prevail, love that plant.

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  9. Hi, I live in New Zealand, and I'm hoping someone may be able to anwser my question. My agapanthus have decided to flower again, and it's our winter here.... and we are getting frosts, so I don't understand them flowering at this time. Am I going to encounter a problem with them in the summer when they should be flowering ?

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  10. Hi Nat, great to have a comment from New Zealand
    I presume to be flowering now you must just be entering Winter and the plants have not yet died down - or perhaps yours are the evergreen type. Just enjoy the flowers and hope your Autumn frosts let you!
    I have a similar 'problem' with my clivias at the moment! They normally here flower Jan to March in our conservatory and this year were magnificent. Now in June in my cold greenhouse they are flowering again! I have few worries about them flowering well next year and nor should you with your agapanthus!

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  11. Hi Roger,
    I have 5 largish pots of agapanthus which I 've just neglected for years. This year there are only about 10 flowers among the lot, sadly.They're very pot bound. If I divide them up will ones that have come up blind flower again or should I discard them? Sue

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    1. Whoops just found this and my reply is rather belated!
      I hope you have not thrown them away. If they are repotted and given good light they will flower again. If your neglect included poor light they might not flower the first year!

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    2. Hi, very helpful post, how will I know if my agapanthus are evergreen or deciduous ?
      Thanks in advance.
      Rachel

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    3. Hi Rachel
      All my deciduous ones have been a lovely bright shade of yellow Autumn colour for almost a month now - and will soon be turning brown
      My evergreens are still outside and are completely green- about to go in my cold greenhouse
      Evergreens should keep most of their green leaves through the Winter - although if you lose just a few this is usually ok

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  12. Why have my agapanthus leaves got yellow tips?

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    1. Sorry anon I missed your question in April!
      Some of mine were slightly yellowed at the tips with a late hard frost this year. They have grown out of it now

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  13. What soil are they generally planted in,acid or limey? thank you.

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    1. I have grown them on both acid and alkaline soils with equal success Ray.

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  14. Hi Roger
    Loved your post and am an agapanthus fan having holidayed in the Scillies for the last 8 or so years where they grow prolifically. I have several plants, some of which are quite young and others more established, and all bar one plant flower every summer. But my oldest plant, which was planted in the ground and which I have and for about 7 years has never flowered. It looks very healthy and is now quite a large clump. I can't bring myself to get rid of it as if it did ever flower it would be spectacular. However, last autumn, following the advice of other agapanthus enthusiasts, I dug it up and stuffed it into a pot it would only just fit into, as a "last-chance saloon". It still hasn't flowered… But all my other agapanthus plants have buds on them. I have alkaline, well-drained soil, but an automatic watering system so everything is well watered. I never feed any of my plants and the soils seem to be fine on their own. Where am I going wrong with this one agapanthus, and should I just give up on it??! Your advice would be hugely appreciated!

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  15. I once grew a variegated variety but only once got it to flower! Normally all my agapanthus flower well. They are in a variety of soils but are all in fairly bright places and not heavily shaded.
    Last year I noticed one of my tubs had very dense growth and compared to the tub next door to it, it produced hardly any flowers . It was too crowded. It is quite an effort to divide a big plant in a pot and I have not bothered. Its too early to say at the moment although lots of buds are appearing now on all my other plants!
    I do feed all of those in my tubs quite well but not normally those in the ground
    I suggest rather than last chance saloon you divide your plant to several different places in the garden and see if they fare better in a new position
    Best of luck Rhian!

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    1. I have just looked at my article and the one that is too dense is pictured. I think the large number of growing points arose when it was nearly killed in the 2010 Winter -it lost its buds and regenerated too many new ones

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  16. Thank you so much Roger. I will do this, and in fact temperature may be the reason for my problems - my garden is in a frost-pocket at the base of the Chilterns (next village to Benson which seems to get consistently some of the lowest temperatures in the country) - it is possible that this particular plant is more susceptible to the cold than my others. I will also try overwintering a section of it inside to see of that makes a difference and will keep you posted! Rhian

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  17. Dear Roger
    I made the mistake last winter of letting too much frost hit a wonderful large pot of these beauties and had assumed that all was lost - maybe all still is lost, I'm not sure. I left the pot in a corner of the garden, but looking for a new pot in the last days, I note lots of faintly green, healthy, thick roots near the surface of the pot's soil, but still zero foliage. Is there any hope, or is it time to put the pot to better use?
    Thanks...
    Bill

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    1. I am not optimistic Bill. It sounds as if the frost killed all the dormant buds.
      Some plants such as clematis can recover from this bud loss even if they miss a season!
      There is no harm in waiting until next year!
      If you want the pot now, fork out the rootball and overwinter it in near frost free conditions in a cheaper pot

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    2. Hi Roger
      Your lack of optimism was well-placed.
      Thick, green healthy roots - growing roots too - but for a second season, zero growth above ground...
      Best

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  18. Hello roger. Very interesting article. I live in sunderland, by the coast. In my garden I inherited a large clump of evergreen leaves. Seven years ago it gave a fantastic display of tall large white agapanthus flowers. Since then they have declined in number. About 3 years ago I managed to take a clump from the edge as it is too big to lift and planted that in another part. I have decided to dig up the smaller bit and split it so have just dug it up. It has wonderful healthy long roots, but also a huge fleshy tuber? I I have split it but just left it to dry out a little in the greenhouse. If it is too cold do they die completely? I love agapanthus so hope I can revive this one! Thanks, liz

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    1. Good to hear from a maccam, liz!
      I wonder if having a distinct tuber it is the evergreen type which is less hardy - although some of the hardier deciduous ones also look rather tuberous.
      My own evergreen ones do go in the greenhouse and get quite dry in Winter but they do get some watering.
      No problems with overwintering this year!
      Perhaps your declining plants will pick up with the division. I think you might find it worthwhile to give them a Spring top dressing with fertiliser when you plant out your greenhouse clump

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  19. Thanks for your prompt reply Roger. Maybe my coastal garden is slightly warmer being by the sea. I will leave them in the greenhouse for a while before planting out again and also give them a feed.
    Thanks liz

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  20. Dear Roger
    I hope you can help me and my beloved agapanthus. I have 3 huge pots on my terrace each with a huge agapanthus plant. The current plants are 3 years old and I cover the base of the plant with autumn leaves to keep frost away, and I cut down the stems of the flowers in around January. The plants are looking ever so mushy and I would like your suggestions as to what I must do next. There is some new grown showing on some leaves and others look just horrible. Your advice on a miracle cure would be appreciated.

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  21. Hi unknown - you can always add your name at the end of your comment
    It sounds if your agapanthus might be the more tender evergreen type as you mention mushy leaves. The commonest causes of agapanthus going mushy is shear cold or blockage of the pots drainage holes.It might be possible for all three to have blocked if all your plants have made similar strong growth in the past and the holes are small.
    In either case you want to knock them out of their pots (this will only be difficult if the roots are actually healthy!) and physically scrape away mush and see what is left. If they are still alive there will be visible buds on the rootball.
    Repot your plants and hope for the best!

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    1. ps if you had an accident just leaving the evergreen type out in the cold it is only necessary to wait and keep your fingers crossed!

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  22. Hi Roger, Loved the article and the thread. Being a cheapskate by nature, I bought a couple of tiny pots of a couple of the biggest, most hardy deciduous varieties recommended by an agapanthus specialist late last summer. I potted them into a John Innes No 2 mix in big pots and decided to keep them under glass for the first winter, just as a precaution. They are showing growth now and will be moved to the polytunnel to start the hardening off process soon. I want to bulk them up as fast as possible as I've got a lot of planting space and I'm not too worried about a lack of flowers initially. You recommend tomato fertilizer but I wondered if I might be better off starting them with a high nitrogen feed - at least in the early part of the year before switching over to tomato feed in summer? I'd welcome your thoughts on how best to bulk them up most quickly.
    Thanks,
    Holly

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    1. I would not be inclined to increase the proportion of nitrogen but would increase the amount together with other nutrients. Take Ian Scroggy's advice above and use tomato feed now. I might be inclined to use it at every watering but keep the results closely monitored.
      I would also do as growers do and keep the protection of the polytunnel for another month or so to get optimum growth

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    2. Thanks for the response; much appreciated. I've started them on the tomato feed. I think I may try every other feed initially and see how that goes. Wish I'd bought a couple so I could have a control pot to measure progress against! Thanks again,
      Holly

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  23. I have taken over care of several large pots of agapanthus this year and have got some tomato feed as suggested. However the instructions tell me to apply it to the soil and avoid wetting the leaves. This will be extremely difficult for these pots. How careful should I be?

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    1. Some gardeners think that liquid feeds are always suitable for foliar feeding, Nick.
      They are not but really your instructions are just a warning not to do this. A little liquid feed on a tough plant like agapanthus will do no harm

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  24. Thanks, Roger, I'll get on with it.

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  25. hi roger I am just to the south east of sheffield. I have several agapanthus, most of which I have grown from seed. I have one plant, the really dark blue variety which has spread. It is now about 4 feet x 2 feet and seems to have about 15 seperate "crowns" showing but has only produced 1 flower spike. any suggestions on how to increase flowering would be welcome. thanks. Cliff

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  26. Hi Clifford
    If its any conciliation some of my own tub agapanthus are a bit sparse this year although all those in the ground are better than ever.
    In fact I have been getting grief from Brenda - particularly that same plant as in my photo that is still hardly flowering.
    I think some of my pots have too many crowns competing with each other but I think it is more down to poorer light this year and perhaps loss of nutrients by leaching last very wet Winter. I need to slightly increase my fertiliser
    You don't say whether your agapanthus has flowered better in previous seasons.

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  27. hi roger, I forgot to say my agapanthus is in the garden not in a pot. it is probably about 15 to 20 years old and in the past has been very good at flowering.I did wonder about thinning it out to maybe give it a bit more root space. cheers. cliff

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    1. I have some clumps approaching that age Cliff and looking out of my window I can seed a clump of similar size to yours, its 12 years old and has about 100 flowers
      The thought occurs that during the lifetime of a plant conditions change - trees get bigger and shade more, dehydrating roots of hedges and trees dehydrate, nearby new artefacts such as walls change light levels etc.
      It might be a big job lifting and transplanting but I did need to do that for some of my large pots last Winter.
      You can more easily perhaps just take out some fairly large pieces to try elsewhere.
      Last Winter a lot of pieces went into Cathi's verge that I blogged about. They are all flowering!

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  28. Hi Roger, so happy to read this as yesterday I divided a large pot of deciduous white agapanthus that hadn't been touched for maybe 8 years & the flowers were a bit small & spindly this year - i actually had to take a saw to the roots as a spade wasn't enough! I have planted clumps in a very sunny, free draining, dry bank in my Hertfordshire garden. I kept some & repotted in new compost as an insurance. I have chopped off all the flowers & watered well. should i feed them to get the plant going before they start to die back or just wait with crossed fingers for spring & feed then??

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  29. Hi akismet - what a long name.
    Hope the bank is not too dry although they are very versatile to conditions. They do like quite high moisture- although well drained.
    Definitely feed them, mine love their Yaramila!
    When I divided mine out of my pots last Winter I had to take a hammer and chisel to them

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  30. Hi Roger
    I thought I'd get back to you to let you know that due to lack of time, I never did divide that agapanthus that was in "last-chance saloon", but much to my amazement, this summer it actually flowered, for the first time ever in about 8 years! I discovered that it is the variety "Enigma" (I think I can be forgiven for forgetting given the length of time it took to flower!) which I thought was very appropriate! But the flowers are so pretty with their ice-blue bases and white petals it was (almost) worth the wait! I still have no idea why it wouldn't flower in the ground - it is in no less or more sun than before (both sunny positions), well-watered in both, but with less space in the pot which it was has been in for the last three years. Maybe being a hybrid makes this one more pedantic about its conditions than my other (more common) agapanthus clumps which all flower without fail year after year?

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    1. I have a very dwarf variety - I have forgotten its name that my friend Isobel gave me three years ago and it is refusing to flower. Also several years ago I had a variegated agapanthus which after many years produced a single flower in 2009. Guess what happened to this variety in the 2010 Winter. Perhaps it was psychic!
      Apart from all the things I have speculated about none flowering such as inadequate space, poor light, poor nutrition and being too crowded for some none flowerers it is perhaps in the genes.
      I am thinking of writing a speculative post about cytogenetic factors in horticulture. There are so many things that get the same old recycled wrong explanations in gardening and while we hear so much about cytogenetic effects on our own health and effects in animals nothing about factors such as none flowering and plant juvenility

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    2. Hi Roger
      It truly would be a shame if it bit the dust now after waiting for so long! But I do know of other plants which have flowered best when they were most threatened - my mother dug up a large clump of Crinum and stuffed it in an empty planting trough while she decided what to do with it. There it remained, with only rainwater and very little soil for two years, and it flowered spectacularly. She later divided it and gave me and my sister half each. That was three years ago and despite my half being lovingly nurtured in my own garden since then, it has taken until this year to flower again!

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