How to plant a water lily
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Any seasoned water garden ponder will tell you that the highlight of their pond are water Lilies. And if you are like me you will find colors, just like fish, that draw and catch your attention. After careful planting you wait patiently for the first leaves to appear. Then you begin to watch for that first flower. Finally you see the first flower bud appear. And you wait for what seems to be an eternity. Then one morning it happens. You walk out to the pond and see that another Lily has come into bloom. Love is born!

In order to be successful you must first know your USDA zone and grow the type of Lily that is hardy where you live. Water Lilies are in the family Nymphaeaceae and fall into two basic groups: Hardy and Tropical. The tropical group it divided between 2 groups, Day Bloomer and Night Bloomer.

Colorado hardy water lily    Almost Black hardy water lily  Pink Sensation hardy water lily

Above is 3 of my favorite hardy Lilies.
From left to right Colorado, Almost Black and Pink Sensation

The water is much warmer at the surface and growth will begin much sooner if the pot is NOT left at the bottom of the pond. As the water gets warmer and the spring progresses you can then begin to lower the pot to a deeper depth. Once you move the Lily to the bottom of the pond there is no need to worry about the leaves that are under the water. Just like magic Lilies have the uncanny ability to have their leaves grow to the surface of the water. Often this happens in less than 24 hours!

Generally speaking hardy Lilies can go in the pond anywhere from 12 to 24 inches deep for standard varieties. Dwarf varieties prefer to be placed 6 to 18 inches below the water surface. Hardy Lilies are available in colors of pink, yellow and white. And the shades can be anywhere from light to medium to dark. Then within each color you can find colors like peach, orange, and bi-colored. The flowers usually open in the morning hours and close in the afternoon hours for several days in a row. Generally speaking the hardy Lily needs a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight a day in order to perform well.

Hardy Lilies are hardy to zone 3. These Lilies spend the winter in the bottom of the pond. Once the water begins to warm in the spring you can speed up the process by removing the pot from the bottom of the pond to a few inches below the surface of the water. Once you see leaves starting to emerge, push a couple of pond tab fertilizer tablets into the soil near the outside edge of the pot.

Tropical Lilies are broken down into 2 sub groups, those that bloom during the day and those that bloom at night. The day bloomers will open mid morning and close in late afternoon around 2 or 3 PM.

The night bloomers will open in the early evening, around dusk and be close the next morning. If the morning is cloudy and overcast the flower will remain open longer. The night bloomers are very popular with the "working" crowd as they are usually home from work to enjoy the blooms in the evening. If you are fortunate to be home most of the time, then by all means you should have one of each kind!

Colors of tropical Lilies can be blue, purple, red, white, pink and yellow and there are many shades of those colors. In tropical Lilies one can find colors from sky blue to a deep purple-blue. Tropical Lilies have much showier leaves. One favorite of mine is Leopardess. The green leaf with splotches of deep burgundy is an awesome sight even when the plant is not blooming. And most tropical Lilies are very fragrant. The most wonderful perfume comes from another favorite of mine, Blue Beauty.

  Leopardess a day blooming tropical has huge leaves.  See the US quarter in the center of the leaf?

Even when not blooming the leaves put on a great show. The lavender-purple flowers are a sight to behold. Even when not blooming the leaves put on a great show


Antares a night blooming tropical
Antares a night blooming tropical has flowers as close to true red that you will find.  Wonderful burgundy foliage.
Sturtevanti is a wonder pink night bloomer with deep burgundy foliageSturtevanti is a wonder pink night bloomer with deep burgundy foliage.

Red Flare is also a night bloomerRed Flare is also a night bloomer


I have had 7 open flowers on my Blue Beauty at one time. I have had 7 open flowers on my Blue Beauty at one time.  It is one of the most popular day blooming tropical Lilies around.

Unlike their cousin, the Hardy Water Lily, the Tropical Water Lily needs to have, warm water. They are considered winter-hardy only in zone 8 or higher. In these warmer climates they can reside in the pond all year round. Should you have a brief "Cold" snap, you may have a temporary setback but don't worry they will snap back as soon as the water warms again. They also require a minimum of 6 hours of sun a day to grow and perform at their best.

Tropical Lilies can be grown successfully in zones lesser than 8 but one will need to follow a few guide lines. Tropical Lilies should not be placed in the pond until all danger of frost is past and when the water temperature is above 70 degrees. I always grew a few tropical Lilies while I was living in Michigan zone 5 because I was madly in love with them.

In colder zones many treat them as an annuals. Grow them one season and then throw them away. You can expect to pay around $30.00 for a tropical Lily, depending on where you live. Or if you are budget-minded you can over winter them by lifting them from the pond right about the time they go dormant. Trim off all foliage, buds and open flowers and place them in a large bucket (a 5-galloon bucket works great) of clean dechlorinated water and store them in a spot that is 55 to 70 degrees for the winter. If you have a larger collection, purchase a large Rubbermaid tub, one that will allow for several inches of water over the top of the pot. By following this advice the Lily will go dormant and rest for the next season. Be sure to check periodically during the winter to make sure the water does not get funky or evaporate. If this happens, replace with clean water.

As spring approaches move the bucket to a warmer, sunnier location to encourage the Lily to break dormancy. For most zones this would be some time in March. Once you see a few leaves, push a couple of pond tab fertilizer tabs into the soil near the outside edge of the pot. By the time your water has warmed in the pond to 70 plus degrees you will have a plant with many leaves to add to your pond and this will give you an early jump on the growing season.

TIP: when you remove the plant from the pond, remove any flower buds to a vase of water and in most cases the flower will continue to grow and open. And you can then enjoy the wonderful fragrance for few days in your home. Do not set the vase in front of a sunny window or the flower bud may die prematurely. Change the water in the vase daily as you would fresh cut flowers.

Not sure if your Lily is hardy or tropical?   Keep in mind that the leave structures on tropical Lilies are different than hardy varieties. The leaves are thinner and are serrated on the edges. The tuber is different looking also. The Tropical Water Lily tuber is oval in shape and can vary in size from a small nut to the size of a large egg, depending on the age of the tuber. Generally speaking the pads are much larger than hardy Lilies and often quite showy. The rhizomes of hardy Lilies are thick like a carrot and can be very long depending on the age of the rhizome itself. The leaves on most hardy Lilies are more round in shape.

It is important to remember that each pad only lives a few weeks then it will turn yellow, then brown and finally die. This is to be expected. Each type of Lily will continue to send up new pads to replace the older pads.

Keep the brown pads removed as well as the spent flowers. I have also found it helpful to go into the pond periodically and remove excess healthy green leaves. This will allow more sun to reach the crown of the plant and thereby provide more flowers. While I do not overstock my pond with fish, I surely do with Lilies because I have so many colors that I dearly love. And I can overcome the crowding of the Lilies by removing healthy leaves on a regular basis.

Like most of garden plants Lilies have can have problems too.
Aphids are the most common. Aphids can be several different colors, depending on the variety. The simplest is to wash them off with a spray of water and they become food for the fish. You will have to be persistent because if the fish do not eat them, they will climb back up on the plant.

A few years ago I found a light spray of cooking spray of cooking oil like Pam could kill them. Take care not to spray during the day as the sun will magnify the oil and damage the leaves. Spray on a cloudy day or later in the evening. It is very important to use a hose early the next morning and wash the oil off the leaves before the sun hits them. You may see a light oil film on the water and this is not any cause to worry. The oil will soon dissipate.

You can also purchase Malathion in your local garden center. You can use either a hose end type sprayer or a pump type pressurized sprayer, either one will work fine. Malathion is often used to treat flukes in the pond and it is very safe to use on pond plants as long as you do not exceed the recommended dosage of 2 cc’s per 1,000 gallons of pond water. It will dissipate in the water so there is no need to worry about doing water changes. Usually one treatment is all that is needed if the spray actually hit the aphids. The spray can be repeated in a few days if you still find aphids are present.
These critters leave a squiggly trail across the leave that is actually between the layers of the leaf. This trail looks like some one took a pen and drew a squiggly line into the leaf.

The best method of dealing with leaf miner is to remove the leaf and destroy it by burning or putting out with the rubbish.

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