Water lilies (Nymphaea spp.) are the perfect finishing touches for a garden pool or pond, adding practicality as well as beauty to a water feature. Fish use them as hiding places to escape predators, and as shady retreats from the hot summer sun. Plants growing in a pond help keep the water clean and aerated, so you'll spend less time on pond maintenance. Let's take a look at how to grow a water lily. Water lily plants can be divided into two types:
- Hardy - Hardy types are best for northern climates where the water freezes in winter. As long as the roots of hardy specimens are below the level where the water freezes, they will reappear the following spring.
- Tropical - Tropical water lilies won't survive in cold water and must be brought indoors for winter in all but the warmest areas. Many growers treat them as annuals, replanting them each year. Otherwise, remove them from the pond, clean them up, and store them in a bucket of moist sand in a cool basement before the first freeze. Tropical water lily plants can be further divided into two groups: day bloomers and night bloomers. White night bloomers look spectacular with nothing more than moonlight to illuminate them, but blues, purples, reds, and pinks are very difficult to see in the dark. Avoid these colors unless the pond is illuminated by artificial light at night.
How to Grow a Water Lily
A pond or pool covered in water lilies is attractive, but complete coverage prevents light from penetrating into the water, choking out other plant and animal life. Growing water lilies in containers helps keep them from spreading and taking over a small pond and it makes water lily care much easier. When you are growing water lilies, use a large plastic pot with several holes punched in the sides and bottom. Fill the pot to within 3 inches (8 cm.) of the top with silt, loam, or clay soil and mix in a small amount of slow-release fertilizer labeled for use with aquatic soil. Plant the rhizome close to one side of the pot at a 45-degree angle with the eye pointing up. Cover the soil with a layer of pea gravel, keeping the gravel away from the top of the rhizome as much as possible. The gravel keeps the soil from floating off or washing out of the pot. Place the pot in the bottom of the pond, adjusting the depth to that recommended for your specific variety. Most call for a depth of between 6 and 18 inches (15-46 cm.). If necessary, you can raise the depth by placing the pot on top of rocks. NOTE: For those having fish in their water garden, water lilies should NOT be potted in regular potting soil, as this contains a lot of organic material that will eventually rot and foul the water. Remove any rotting organic material from your pond or water garden, as this is a breeding ground for anaerobic bacteria and pathogens and may add unwanted excess nutrients to feed algae blooms. Instead, pot water lilies, and any other pond plant, in a heavy clay soil and cover with fist sized rock, and then river rock to prevent fish from rooting around in the pot and sending the planting medium into the pond. A few simple preventative steps up front are far easier to take than trying to treat sick and dying fish later.
Water Lily Care
Once planted, taking care of water lilies is easy. In fact, most require no care at all other than dividing them every three or four years to rejuvenate them and to keep them from spreading into unwanted areas.
Gardening tips, videos, info and more delivered right to your inbox!
Sign up for the Gardening Know How newsletter today and receive a free download of our most popular eBook "How to Grow Delicious Tomatoes."
Jackie Carroll has written over 500 articles for Gardening Know How on a wide range of topics.
Growing Mushrooms On Logs: 5 Best Mushroom Varieties To Try
You’ll find growing mushrooms on logs is simple, enjoyable, safe and tasty – as long as you pick the right kinds! We reveal five of the best for an endless feast of fungi
By Janey Goulding
Snag Trees: What Are They & Why Are They Good For Wildlife?
The term snag tree may not seem appealing, but for insects, birds and other wildlife, a tree snag can provide the perfect haven.
By Bonnie L. Grant
Growing The Victoria Amazonica Giant Water Lily
Read about the fascinating Amazonica water lily named for Queen Victoria, whose leaves can stretch as wide as 6 feet.
By Teo Spengler
Water Lily Problems – Water Lily Pests And Diseases
Even with good care, water lily pests and diseases may become an issue. These are the most common issues and what to do about them.
By Mary Ellen Ellis
Red Water Lily Leaves: Reasons A Water Lily Has Red Leaves
What if your water lily has red leaves? The answer is usually simple, and the health of the plant isn’t affected. Learn about red leaves on water lilies here.
By Mary H. Dyer
Water Lily Weed Control: Learn About Water Lily Management In Ponds
Aquatic plants, such as the water lily, serve many purposes. In addition to creating oxygen, aquatic plants provide necessary habitat for wildlife. However, controlling water lilies (and other plants) is especially important when plant cover becomes too thick. Learn more here.
By Tonya Barnett
Wintering Water Lilies: How To Store Water Lilies Over Winter
Graceful and elegant, water lilies are a wonderful addition to any water garden. But, if your water lily is not hardy for your climate, you may be wondering how to winterize water lily plants. Learn how right here.
By Heather Rhoades