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Water Lilies

 lily water hardy water lilies

 'Rosy Man' Water Lily

Water Lily (Nymphaelaes) Hardiness zone: Hardy types; 3 - 11. The tropical varietyes can be grown in zones 3 - 11 but overwinter in zones 10, 11 only.

The most common of the aquatics are the water lilies. There are hardy and tropical species, both of which can be used in colder climates such as the North Eastern portion of the United States but only the hardy will survive the winter below zone 10. The tropicals will be grown as annuals and will need replacement each year, unless one chooses to lift and clean the tubers and store them in distilled water in a jar placed in a cool, dark place. Certain of the tropical water lilies are more shade tolerant than most hardies, which can be a reason for using them but the minimum amount of light for the most shade tolerant hardy or tropical is three to four hours of direct sun.

Planting depth (where you put the pot) for water lilies ranges between 6 inches of water cover over the soil to more than two feet, depending on the species, with any given plant being able to thrive within a considerable range. A depth of twelve inches of water above the pot is common but not a rule. They are most often planted in pots placed on the bottom of the pond or on ledges, but if planting pockets have been built into the pond and filled with heavy soil or a sand soil mix they can be planted directly, obviating the sometimes unsightly container. One attractive method of providing planting places for lilies and other aquatics or marginals is to build stone planters with river stone and mortar into the inside of the pond, after the liner is in place.

 planting depth for water lilies

 The graphic shows the different depths for the various pond plants.

There are many species and cultivars of water lilies displaying an astonishing array of variations. Some are night blooming, some hold their flowers above the pond surface while most float, some are fragrant, there are doubles and singles showing a variety of flower and petal forms, bloom times vary as to when and duration, there are dwarf, medium, large and giant species with various size, spread and quantity of leaves and flower colors ranging from virginal white through pale to deep pink, red, yellow, peach, apricot, blue, purple and lavender with many changing their color as they mature or through the day.

In addition to the wonderful beauty of their blossoms, their leaves are also attractive, floating on the water’s surface they provide shade for fish, launching (and lunching) pads for frogs and they keep down algae growth. Surely, water lilies are a must for any pool that can sustain them, that being determined by depth, (at least fourteen inches) and light, (at least four hours direct sun. Some sources insist on six hours but I know of ponds that get less than four and the lilies do bloom.)

Planting the water lily is not difficult. They thrive in heavy garden soil with ample clay, not mixed with humus, manure, vermiculite or any other light weight soil amendment which tends to float out of the pot and sully the surface. They can be purchased as undeveloped rhizomes, or more commonly as rhizomes with fully developed stalks and leaves, even flower buds, though these first buds tend to drop off. They can be planted singly, or if the container is large enough, in groups or two or three.



Generally, tropical water lily tubers are planted upright and can be placed in an eight to ten inch diameter pot for one rhizome. Hardy water lilies grow more horizontally so need a wider pot to accommodate the length of the rhizome - around fourteen inches is recommended, a fabric pot said by many to be the most desirable. Place the rhizome in the pot in a depression in several inches of soil and cover with soil such that the crown with growing tip, which will be evident, is just above the soil level or is slightly covered.

Press in fertilizer tabs (usually two per rhizome), firm the soil around the rhizome, cover with not more than an inch of gravel or small stones and place the pot in the pond with six to eighteen inches of water over the soil level. If the stalks are quite short or not yet grown and you want to be quite precise you can place the container in less water and lower it over the next few weeks as the leaf and flower stalks grow. Otherwise, a permanent depth of twelve to twenty four inches over the soil level is a good average. Be sure to place them in relatively undisturbed water, away from the splash of a waterfall or they will not thrive. Lilies like tranquil water.

 blue water lily

As with any garden, leave enough room between pots to allow the plant’s foliage sufficient room for development. The flowers and the foliage of water lilies reproduce throughout the growing season and both fertilizing and removal of dead growth is part of the upkeep. Tools are available to aid in both these procedures.

For maximum benefit, allow the water lilies to go dormant during the winter (they need this) and in Spring, bring them up to shallower (warmer) water until they their leaves reach the surface, then lower them. They should also be fertilized in the Spring, as they begin to produce floating leaves. It is best to use tabs inserted into the soil to minimize the amount of fertilizer that goes to the algae.

Normally a pond will develope algae sooner than the lilies and other aquatics begin to flourish, which is why most ponds are green in the Spring. If you have sufficient water lilies and other floating plants, and a balanced ecosystem, the algae will come under control as the other flora grow. Provided, of course you have a good filtration system. It is also a good idea, as the plants grow, to remove the spent blossoms and yellowed leaves, as they will contribute to the toxin build-up in the pond. To better understand this, click here.

For excellent resources on water garden plants, click here.



 Albert Greenberg

 Blue Star