Water lilies are the most popular aquatic blooming plants, and aside from being beautiful, they offer several benefits to ponds, lakes, and water features. Water lilies create shade in the water, which is beneficial to both fish and the health of the pond or lake.
Shade will offer protection to fish during the hottest parts of the day, as well as giving them a place to hide from predators. Shaded water is also likely to have a reduced rate of algae growth. Water lilies help to keep the pond water aerated and clean, which will reduce the amount of time you have to spend on pond maintenance.
The lily pads provide a place for some small pond creatures, such as frogs, to sit. Aquatic plants are also able to absorb excess nutrients in the water and help to keep the water temperature stable. All of these benefits contribute to improved pond health, and to top it off, water lilies are easy to grow and require very little in the way of care.
Although water lilies are beneficial to the health of bodies of water, it’s important to keep them in check. They have a vigorous growth habit and can become invasive if left to grow unsupervised. To maintain optimum pond health, your water lilies should cover no more than 65% of the surface of your water. This is to ensure the light is still able to penetrate the water, keeping other pond life from declining.
Water lily Overview
|Origin||Europe, Asia, North Africa, Australia|
|Type||Aquatic perennial or annual|
|Common Names||Water Lily|
|Height||4 to 6 inches|
|Watering||Lives in water|
|Watering||Lives in water|
|Pests||Waterlily beetle, waterlily aphid, leaf-mining midge, brown china-mark moths|
There are two types of water lily plants; hardy and tropical.
Hardy water lilies are able to live through the winter in colder climates, so long as their roots are below the level at which the water freezes. They come in shades of white, pink yellow, orange, and red, and only come in varieties which bloom during the day.
Tropical water lilies are suited to warmer climates, as they won’t survive winter in cold water. Tropical water lilies can be broken down further into two main types; day bloomers and night bloomers. These water lilies also tend to produce larger flowers than hardy water lilies, which often will stand on tall stems held high above the water.
Their flowers also tend to be more fragrant than those of hardy lilies, and they have larger lily pads. They come in a wider variety of colors than hardy lilies, including shades of purple and blue.
Varieties of water lily include the following.
Commonly known as ‘Blue Cloud,’ this is a sub-tropical water lily which is native to New Guinea and Australia. It produces pale blue flowers during summer months, which sometimes develop into a white color. The leaves of this plant are particularly large, measuring as much as two and a half feet across.
This water lily can be found growing natively in various warm climates across the world, including Asia, Europe, and North Africa. It produces medium-sized lily pads of around 12 inches across. Its flowers are white, contributing to its common name of ‘White water rose.’
This tropical water lily is grown across tropical regions such as Africa, Australia, and Florida. It is relatively drought-tolerant for an aquatic plant and can survive long periods in dry riverbeds. It produces purple-blue blooms that have earned it the common name of ‘Cape blue water lily.’
Nymphaea 'Pygmaea Helvola'
This is a hardy water lily with a miniature size. It should be planted in shallow water, which is only around 12 inches deep. The lily pads of this dwarf plant reach a maximum size of 5 inches across, while the flowers will be under 2 inches in diameter. Blooms appear in bright yellow, contrasting nicely against the plant's foliage, which is dark green speckled with deep purple.
Nymphaea 'Pygmaea Rubra'
Another dwarf variety of water lily, this hardy perennial produces stunning flowers in vivid shades of pink, which develop to deep red as they mature. Blooms are cup-shaped, sitting above small lily pads, which are green with tinges of purple around their edges.
This water lily grows in freshwater environments across Europe and Asia. It produces white flowers with yellow centers through July and August. Blooms are medium-sized at around 6 inches across, with the lily pads measuring a similar size. The foliage of this plant is heavily veined, which becomes more visually prominent as the plant ages. This water lily is perennial, growing best in a full sun location at a water depth of around two and a half to three feet.
Caring for Your Water Lily
Water lilies are best kept in plastic containers that are submerged beneath the surface of the water. They have a habit of spreading and can become invasive, which can be detrimental to the life of your pond.
If they are allowed to spread without restriction, the lily pads could easily cover the whole surface of the pond, preventing light from getting in and therefore killing off other plants and animals residing beneath the water. Keeping water lilies in tubs also helps to make caring for them much simpler, as you can lift the tub out of the water if you need to check on the plant's roots, or if you want to propagate it.
To plant your water lily, first, choose a waterproof container; plastic tubs work well. Buy a container that has several holes in the bottom and around the sides or create holes by drilling. Line the container with burlap or newspaper, as this will allow water to penetrate through to the soil, while also preventing too much soil from leaking out of the pot. Fill the pot with soil, allowing the head of the water lily to rest just above the soil level.
You can buy soil especially sold for use in aquatic environments, or you can use heavy clay or loamy soil. Do not use regular potting soil if you have fish in your pond, as the organic components within it will eventually rot and create a breeding ground for bacteria, adversely affecting any pondlife and contributing to algae growth. A heavy soil works best as it will not float out of the container, but you can also help to encourage the soil to stay put by covering the top layer of soil with a layer of gravel.
Water the soil, allowing any excess to drain away. You can then lower your container into the pond so that the container is entirely beneath the water, and the crown of the plant is resting on the water's surface. You may need to create a platform on the floor of the pond to ensure the container is sitting at the right level (Royal Horticultural Society).
As an aquatic plant, water lilies need to be continually grown in water. You do not need a pond to grow a water lily; you could instead use a large planter or barrel filled with water. Water lilies should also be sat on the surface of the water, and if they begin to protrude, you should place their container at a lower depth.
Water lilies require a full sun position to thrive. Ensure your pond is not shaded from nearby trees or shrubs if you wish to grow water lilies successfully.
Hardy water lilies are suitable for growing year-round in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 10. In these zones, they are perennial, so long as their roots are protected from freezing by being low enough under the water that they don’t get surrounded by ice.
If your pond does freeze during winter, lower the depth of your plant's container to ensure its root system survives, bringing up back up to its usual depth in the spring. Tropical water lilies are more sensitive to low temperatures and can only be grown year-round in the warmest climates, typically upwards of zone 10.
Alternatively, in cooler climates with warm summers, you could consider growing tropical water lilies as annuals. To store your tropical water lily over winter, remove any dead or dying foliage and cut the plant back to its crown. Remove the plastic container from your pond, and cover it in a plastic bag. You could instead carefully lift the plant out of its soil, and place the rhizomes in a bag or container of damp sand.
Once your plant is fully protected, you should store it indoors at a temperature of around 55º F, ideally in a garage or basement where it will be cool but not cold. This will allow the plant to enter a period of dormancy. Come springtime, you can bring the plant back out and replant it in a plastic container and position it back in your pond (Better Homes and Gardens).
Water lilies can be propagated in several ways. Water lilies that grow from rhizomes are most commonly propagated by division. This can be done every 3 or 4 years when the plant has outgrown its container and looks like it needs repotting. You can check if it is a good time to divide the plant by checking if it looks rootbound when lifting the container out of the water, or if the lilies are starting to protrude out of the water rather than laying flat on the surface.
To divide the plant, remove the water lily from its container and brush the soil away from the rhizomes. Use a sharp, clean knife to cut smaller rhizomes that have a small shoot attached away from the main crown of the plant. These rhizomes can then be firmly potted up in a plastic container of aquatic soil and set back into the pond.
Rhizomatous water lilies also have the ability to produce baby plants that are still attached to the parent leaf. If this happens, you can remove the plantlet and transplant it to its own container. If it is very immature, you may need to first set it in a shallow tray of water in a greenhouse or warm environment until it is ready to be potted up and put back into the pond.
Water lilies with tuberous roots can instead be propagated by bud cuttings. These types of lilies produce side shoots that can be carefully cut away from the plant's roots. Each shoot can be potted up into its own shallow container of aquatic soil and set in a slightly larger container of water. Ideally, these new plants will be kept in a greenhouse, with a temperature of between 59 and 64° F. As the baby plants grow, you should keep increasing their water depth until they are big enough to be moved to a pond.
Water lilies don’t require any tactical pruning; they are able to grow as they please and will naturally spread out over the surface of the water. However, there are some pruning techniques you can employ to maintain the health of your water.
The flowers of the water lily plant generally only last a few days to a week, after which time they will fall off into the pond and rot. To prevent rotting material from sitting in your pond, it is best to remove the flowers before they drop. Ideally, trace the flower back to where it joins the main plant, and remove it at this point. You should also remove any dying leaves which are attached to the bloom or any separate leaves showing signs of decline, such as yellowing.
Water lilies are hungry plants and require frequent feedings of fertilizer to allow them to thrive. They will absorb plenty of nutrients from their water, but they do need additional feeding on top of this. You can feed water lilies monthly throughout their growing season to meet their demands.
Use a slow-release fertilizer specifically designed for aquatic plants. These usually take the form of tablets that can be inserted into the plant's soil. Never try to feed the plant by adding fertilizer to your pond water, as this will alter the pH of the water, which could negatively affect fish or other pond creatures.