How to Care for a Water Lily


Pond owners love water lilies. The aroma is divine and the sight of the blooms rising above the water makes the pond an exotic and dramatic focal point of the garden. Caring for a water lily is easy. A hardy water lily is essentially a weed and will act like one unless it is kept in a pot. The tropical water lily is not as widely grown, but will still multiply energetically in a warm climate pond. Tropical water lilies can bloom at night or in the day. The day bloomer opens about 10:00 a.m. and closes about 5:00 p.m. The night bloomer opens at about 6:00 p.m. and closes by 10:00 a.m. the following morning. Have one of each or you will only see your day bloomer on weekends. All water lilies want at least 5 hours of sun daily to bloom well and often. Night bloomers need more sun than day bloomers. Water lily flowers open and close for about three days and then die. They bloom profusely through the summer, going dormant when the days begin to shorten in October.

Things You'll Need

  • At least one water lily
  • Aquatic plant fertilizer
  • Hand pruners
  • Aqua gloves if you want to keep your hands dry
  • Waders if you want to keep your feet dry
  • Place your water lily with the top of the pot at least 12 inches below the top of the water. If they are higher than that because your pond is shallow, you will not get lush growth and blooms. If your pond is 18 inches deep, put the lily on the bottom. Even if your pond is 30 inches deep, put your lily on the bottom. If it is deeper, elevate the lily using a brick or an upside down clay pot.

  • At least once monthly, after the lily pads reach the top of the water in the summer, the water lily needs fertilizer. You will get more blooms if you feed every 10 days. To feed a lily, put on waders and gloves and get in the water. For each gallon of soil, push one tab in the pot. If you have a lily in a two gallon pot, you will need two aquatic plant tabs. Feed the water lily until the days begin to shorten in October. Stop feeding and allow the plant to go dormant for the winter. You may begin feeding again when you see the pads in the spring.

  • While you are in the water, find any spent blooms and either cut or pinch off the stem and bloom as close to the pot as you can reach. Decomposing stems and flowers can foul your pond.

  • Water lily pads grow outward in a circle. The pads on the outer ring will get brown spots, get ragged and die first. Remove those at the base of the stem at least monthly to keep the dead organic matter from decomposing in your pond.

  • If you have tropical water lilies, you must remove them in the winter if you live where it freezes. Remove the pot from the pond and put it in water in the garage or basement. You may also pack the tuber in damp sand and keep it in the garage or basement. Your tropical water lily will survive about half the time. If at any time the tuber is soft and mushy, it is dead and must be consigned to the compost heap.

  • If you have hardy water lilies, do nothing in the winter and your water lilies will be just fine come spring. They can thrive most anywhere.

Tips & Warnings

  • Water lilies can be different sizes, so if your pond is small, choose a lily that is right for your pond.
  • Before you get in your pond, have one aquatic plant tab for each gallon of pot in your hand. If you get the tabs wet while still in the bottle, they will dissolve and you will have to dig holes in the water lily soil to fertilize your lily

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  • Photo Credit Photo by Jan Goldfield
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