Water lilies, belonging to the genus Nymphaea, are aquatic flowers thriving in ponds
and water gardens.
Their vibrant green lily pads extend gracefully over the surfaces of freshwater habitats.
With the onset of warm weather each year, these lilies unveil their striking blooms adorned with
spiky, brightly colored petals.
The captivating elements of these plants include both floating leaves and blossoms, which emerge
to captivate onlookers in water gardens.
Despite their surface presence in tropical and temperate waters, it’s essential to note that their
roots require soil for sustenance.
These sun-loving perennials, boasting eye-catching allure, may soon become your preferred choice
Continue reading to discover more about water lilies, ideal species for novice gardeners, and
effective care tips for nurturing them in your personal pond or water garden.
Common Name: Water lily
Botanical Name: Nymphaea spp.
Plant Type: Herbaceous, perennial
Mature Size: 3 to 12 ft. wide, depending on variety; to 6 in. tall
Sun Exposure: Full
Soil Type: Heavy clay or loam in standing water
Soil pH: Acidic, neutral
Bloom Time: Summer, fall
Flower Color: White, pink, yellow, purple, red, orange
Hardiness Zones: Varies
Native Area: Asia, North America
Water Lily Care
Water lilies burst into bloom during the warm late spring and summer months, entering a dormant
phase in autumn and winter.
Varied in hardiness, some species endure diverse climates, with certain types being hardy while
others lean toward the tropical.
The blooming patterns also vary, with some opening their petals during the day and others
unfolding their beauty in the nighttime.
Fragrance adds an extra dimension to the diversity of these captivating aquatic plants.
The New Southern Living Garden Book characterizes water lilies as aquatic perennials that
thrive with roots submerged in the soil while sporting long-stalked leaves that gracefully float on
the water’s surface.
The leaves are rounded, featuring deep notches on one side where the leafstalk attaches.
The display of showy flowers is equally diverse, with some floating on the water’s surface, while
others proudly stand above it on sturdy stalks.
Typically, water lilies are left in containers for planting, finding their place submerged in either a
natural or artificial pond.
To ensure the plant’s health and maintain water quality, it is recommended to remove any
Embrace the enchanting world of water lilies, where each variety adds its unique charm to the
Thriving in full sunlight, water lilies benefit from a minimum of six hours of direct sun
exposure each day.
The leaves serve as natural sun umbrellas, providing shade for fish, maintaining cool water
temperatures, and mitigating the proliferation of algae.
Optimal soil for planting in your pond consists of heavy clay or loam, providing a stable foundation
for root development.
Avoid the use of potting soil or other lightweight alternatives that may float to the surface.
To prevent water clouding, incorporate a thin layer of gravel over the soil.
Cultivate your water lily in stagnant, standing water, ensuring not to plant it excessively deep.
For initiating growth from tubers, The New Southern Living Garden Book advises placing 6-inch-
long sections of rhizome on the soil at the pool bottom or in designated boxes.
Orient the rhizome almost horizontally, with its bud end facing upward.
Using a measuring stick, confirm that the soil’s top is at least 8 inches below the water surface,
with a maximum depth of 18 inches (some larger lilies may tolerate up to 24 inches).
Patiently wait for the tubers to send shoots to the surface, witnessing the emergence of leaves and
blooms on the water’s surface.
Temperature and Humidity
These aquatic residents of ponds effortlessly adapt to humid summers.
Tropical water lilies thrive in water temperatures of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the Southern regions, cultivating robust varieties proves to be the simplest, making them the
ideal choice for beginners eager to explore planting Nymphaea species.
The American white water lily, Nymphaea odorata, displays resilience by enduring winters in
USDA plant hardiness zones 4–11.
For those residing in areas with mild winters, such as the Lower and Coastal South, the opportune
time for water lily planting spans from February to October.
Conversely, in regions experiencing colder winters, like the Middle and Upper South, the
recommended planting window is from April to July.
Achieve optimal blooming by fertilizing your plants monthly throughout the growing season.
Insert aquatic fertilizer tablets into the soil of each container to promote healthy growth and
Types Of Water Lilies
There are various types of water lilies, each showcasing unique characteristics and adding beauty
to aquatic environments.
Some notable types include
Hardy Water Lilies (Nymphaea spp.):
Resilient and adaptable, these water lilies can withstand diverse climates, making them suitable
for a range of environments.
Tropical Water Lilies (Nymphaea spp.):
Flourishing in warmer climates, tropical water lilies often boast larger and more vibrant blooms.
They add a touch of exotic beauty to ponds and water gardens.
Night-Blooming Water Lilies:
These intriguing varieties unfold their blossoms during the evening, creating a captivating and
enchanting display as they open under the moonlight.
Day-Blooming Water Lilies:
Contrasting with their nocturnal counterparts, day-blooming water lilies showcase their colorful
petals during daylight hours, attracting pollinators and admirers alike.
Fragrant Water Lilies:
Adding a sensory dimension to water gardens, fragrant water lilies emit delightful scents,
enhancing the overall experience of being near these aquatic beauties.
Miniature Water Lilies:
Perfect for smaller water features, miniature water lilies offer the elegance of their larger
counterparts but in a more compact size, making them suitable for container gardens and smaller
Variegated Water Lilies:
Featuring leaves with unique patterns and color variations, variegated water lilies add visual
interest to ponds and water gardens, even when not in bloom.
Water lilies come in a spectrum of colors, including white, pink, yellow, purple, red, and orange.
Each hue contributes to the overall aesthetic appeal of the water garden.
Selecting from these diverse types allows enthusiasts to create a harmonious and visually
captivating aquatic landscape.
Regularly eliminate yellowing leaves and faded blossoms from your plants as soon as they manifest.
This practice is particularly crucial in compact ponds or water features, as decomposing plant
material can have a detrimental impact on water quality.
Additionally, the removal of spent flower heads not only maintains aesthetics but also stimulates
further blooming, enhancing the overall vitality and appearance of your aquatic environment.
Propagating Water Lilies
Propagation of water lilies involves dividing the roots, ideally carried out in the spring when the
rhizomes exhibit green shoots without fully developing into leaves.
Begin by extracting the root ball from its container and laying it on a plastic sheet.
Cut the rhizomes into sections, ensuring that each piece has emerging shoots.
Replant each division into a separate container, positioning them in a shallow, sunlit area within
After a few weeks, consider relocating the containers to a deeper section for continued growth and
Potting And Repotting Water Lilies
To restrict their spread, water lilies are commonly cultivated in containers.
Opt for an aquatic or plastic pot with a diameter ranging from 14 to 18 inches.
Line the pot with burlap to prevent soil erosion through drainage holes. Fill the pot with dense
loam garden soil or clay soil.
Lay a rhizome horizontally on top of the soil with the bud end facing upward.
Introduce a 1-inch layer of pea gravel to secure the plant, ensuring not to cover the crown where
Alternatively, water lilies can be planted in mesh fabric bags, designed to prevent soil washout.
It’s advisable to divide and replant these aquatic beauties every two or three years, adhering to the
guidelines for water lily propagation.
Hardy water lilies can endure winter if the pond water remains unfrozen.
Follow these steps to properly overwinter your hardy water lilies:
Clear away any dead or decaying foliage from the plant.
In case of partial freezing, relocate your water lily containers to a deeper, non-freezing section of
These can be returned to their original depth come spring.
If you choose to drain your pond for the winter, take out any containers.
Place them in plastic bags and store them in a cool environment at around 40 to 50 degrees.
For tropical water lilies in USDA zones 9 or colder, it’s essential to bring them indoors for the
Follow these guidelines for successful overwintering:
Wait until the plant enters dormancy before removing it from the pond.
Wash the rhizomes thoroughly with a strong stream of water.
Trim any dead or dying foliage, as well as remnants of roots and stems.
Store the rhizomes in a plastic bag filled with slightly damp peat moss or sand.
Seal the bag and keep it in a dark, cool room with a temperature above 50 degrees.
Periodically check on your tropical water lilies, misting them with water if they appear to be drying
Replant the water lilies once the water temperature consistently stays above 60 degrees in the
Common Pests And Plant Diseases
Aquatic creatures like koi, deer, and rodents may consume the leaves or rhizomes of water lilies.
In the presence of fish in your pond, consider acquiring floating plant protectors to establish a
protective barrier, preventing your water lilies from being accessed by these aquatic animals.
How To Get Water Lilies To Bloom
If your water lilies are not displaying blooms, consider these potential factors:
Is your plant receiving full sun? Water lilies require abundant sunlight for blooming.
Did you plant the water lily too deep? Ensure the rhizome rests on the soil surface, and avoid
covering the crown with gravel.
If the water lily is submerged beyond 24 inches, consider relocating it to a shallower area.
Some varieties, such as dwarf or miniature lilies, may prefer a depth as shallow as 6 inches.
Are animals nibbling on your water lilies? Examine the container to ensure shoots and
rhizomes are not being consumed, and install a floating plant protector if necessary.
If you haven’t fertilized in the last two months, consider using aquatic fertilizer tablets to enhance
Overcrowded plants may require repotting to stimulate blooming.
Are you using chemicals to control algae? Cease using these chemicals, as they can impede
the growth of pond plants.
Water Lilies management of water pounds and algae
Water lilies, known for their captivating beauty, play a vital role in the management of water
ponds by contributing to the ecological balance and enhancing aesthetic appeal.
However, effective management is essential to ensure their optimal growth and to combat common
challenges like algae infestation.
To manage water lilies in ponds successfully, proper sunlight exposure is crucial.
These aquatic plants thrive in full sun, and adequate light is essential for robust growth and
Planting them at the right depth, typically between 8 and 18 inches below the water surface,
fosters healthy development.
Regular removal of yellowing leaves and spent blooms is vital not only for the plant’s health but
also to maintain water quality.
Algae control is another critical aspect of water lily management.
While water lilies contribute to natural balance by providing shade and reducing nutrient
availability for algae, certain measures can further aid in algae management.
Avoiding excessive use of chemical algae control agents is recommended, as these can harm water
Instead, employing natural solutions like barley straw or introducing algae-eating fish can help
maintain a healthy balance in the pond.
In essence, a thoughtful approach to water lily management involves maintaining an ideal growing
conditions, regular maintenance, and implementing eco-friendly strategies to control algae,
ensuring a harmonious and visually pleasing aquatic environment.
How do you care for water lilies?
Waterlilies thrive in tranquil, undisturbed water, avoiding fountains or turbulence.
Optimal flowering occurs in full sun. Plant them in aquatic compost or clay-based loam,
utilizing an aquatic basket.
What fertilizer is good for water lilies?
During planting, incorporate time-released granular fertilizer into the pot’s soil for
For convenience, opt for water lily fertilizer tablets, such as Pond Plant Fertilizer,
outside the planting process.