Hardy Water Lilies
Considered the crown jewel of any northern water garden, hardy water lilies are sturdy souls able to survive the cold winter climate, yet they provide a much sought after explosion of colour and blooms during the dog days of summer.
Hardy water lilies are exotic, fragrant dayblooming plants, available in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours including red, yellow, orange, peach, pink and white. Some varieties even change colours as their blooms mature!
As they grow, water lilies push out a profusion of rich, green floating leaves, creating a gorgeous backdrop for their blooms, and important shade cover and habitat for all pond life. Easy to grow and maintain, hardy water lilies are almost a prerequisite to fully appreciate the water gardening lifestyle.
The botanical name for the water lily is Nymphaea, named after beautiful female Greek mythological creatures called nymphs, who are known to seduce young gorgeous men into tranquil pools of water and drown them in lust and passion. Now that’s a plant every woman needs in her garden!
Shopping for Water lilies – What to look for
Hardy water lilies are ideal for any water garden because of their perennial beauty, ease of culture, wealth of bloom, and range of colour and form. Their purchase may be considered a permanent investment, with reasonable care they can be retained for many years.
There are two types of water lilies, hardy water lilies, and tropicals. We do not recommend tropical water lilies as they need a consistent water temperature of 80 degrees Celsius and above, and are therefore poor bloomers in our Northern climate. Tropical water lilies also require a very extensive over wintering process which does not always prove successful.
At the Pond Clinic all of the lilies we sell are hardy water lilies which do very well in our climate. When shopping for water lilies always look for healthy leaves floating on the surface of the water and new growth. It is best to buy lilies that have not yet bloomed so that the bud will bloom in its new home, your fabulous pond.
Often you can find multiple plants in a pot, these will give you better value and a fuller plant.
You should always check to see if the lily is root bound, you can do this by sticking your finger in the pot. If the lily is root bound you will not be able to get your finger in and therefore it will be difficult to get a fertilizer tab to the roots; these lilies will need to be re-potted.
Purchasing bare root lilies vs. potted lilies
Spring is the only time of the year that bare root lilies should be purchased. If water lilies are not potted early in the season they will use up all their nutrients that are stored in the plant’s tuber and will not do well, as lilies are heavy feeders.
If you do purchase a bare root lily be sure to plant it right away and expect for the plant to take up to a month to fill out and may not flower in the first year.
If you are looking for an instant “wow” factor it is advisable to purchase a potted lily that has had time to mature.
All hardy water lilies should be fertilized each spring to encourage blooming and strong growth.
Planting your lily
The elegant blooms of water lilies only look delicate. Plant a hardy water lily for a summer splashed with colour. Ideally lilies should be planted at a depth of 30-50cm (12-18”), the closer the lily is to the surface of the pond the closer it is to the sun. The warmer water results in a fuller plant with more blooms.
The best way to plant lilies is to plant them in a fabric lily pot and adding aquatic planting media. These flexible porous fabric pots were designed to help aerate the root zone for healthier growth of your aquatic plants.
The aquatic planting media is an all natural, non-toxic alluvial planting media. A fine-grained soil perfect for supporting your aquatic plants. Our Media contains no peat moss or compost and is safe for fish and does not cause any cloudiness when put into your pond.
Make sure at this point to fertilize your lily. All hardy water lilies should be fertilized each spring to encourage blooming and strong growth.
Place the fabric pot in the lily pockets in the bottom of your pond and covering the pot with the displaced gravel. It is best to use a heavier gravel (1-1.5”), especially if you have koi, as the fish like to nibble at the gravel around the plant.
If you do not have a lily pocket, no problem, you can create one using rocks.
The great divide
A good way to determine if your water lily needs dividing is if it’s not blooming or producing nearly as many pads as normal. What can happen is the root (or rhizome) has become so overgrown that it has essentially run out of room in the pot, and can’t effectively absorb nutrients to grow.
Another sign that is time to divide you lily is if you try to put in the fertilizer tabs and you are unable to due to the overcrowding of the roots in the pot.
Dividing your lily is simple, and the best time to do this would be in the spring when the plant is just beginning to grow.
To divide remove the pot from the pond and empty the contents. You may at this point choose to rinse of the tubers so you have a better visual.
Using your fingers, feel along the tuber to about 4” from the new growth, this is where the tuber will be cut using either a sharp knife or secateurs. Your plant may yield 10 or more lilies by the time you are done.
Please note that dividing can be hard on your plant so ensure it is re-potted correctly and fertilized. The new plants may take a month or so to really start growing and producing blooms.
If you must divide the plant in season it is best to just cut some of the tubers from the pot and fill in the holes with planting media and re-fertilize the plant.
Hardy water lilies will overwinter well if their roots do not freeze solid. Foliage will die back mid to late fall but roots will remain alive. Steps to overwinter lilies should be taken at this time. DO NOT COVER the pond or bring plants inside until late fall when dormancy has begun.
If you own a 2′ deep pond, and your lilies are in lily pockets, simply cut back all plants foliage and stems to just about the level of the rhizome. The ice will only freeze down 6″-12″ so there is no need to worry about the plant freezing.
If you lilies are in a shallow area, and are not in lily pockets, move planting pots to an area of the pond that is at lease 2 feet deep. Remove the dead leaves on the lilies leaving the new sprouts. Colder zones in Canada (Zone 3) should increase this depth. Return planting pots to original positions in spring.
If you pond is shallow and will likely freeze solid, remove the old leaves and stems from the lily and bring planted pots indoors to cold storage, approximately 40°F (5°C), for the winter. Keep planted lilies moist and in a dark area at all times. More lilies are lost from drying out than from freezing. Return plants to the pond after the ice has melted the following spring.
Marginal water plants, meaning those growing at the edges or ’margins’ of the pond, are the most unappreciated, confounding elements of water garden landscapes. Like the plight of poor Cinderella, held in reproach by her evil step-sisters until she was found by her prince, marginals are thought of only after all the honeymoon allure and preoccupation with water lilies & lotuses has waned.
A water garden design that overlooks the complex beauty of marginals is sure to be banal and superficial. Besides aesthetically softening the transitional edge between rocky shorelines and the waterline, marginal aquatic plants create wetland-like spaces, which play a key role in keeping pond water clean & clear. Marginals are fabulous filters, consuming tremendous amounts of impurities and nutrients that would otherwise feed unsightly algae.
Since over 40% of all wildlife lives in wetland areas, marginal plants are great for attracting wildlife to your pond. They complete the water garden ecosystem. Marginal plants give toads, frogs and other amphibians protection from weather and predators. They provide shelter for birds and small mammals who drink and bathe in your pond, and the sweet nectar of many plant varieties attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and hundreds of other beneficial insects.
It is true that water lilies, like the bride at a wedding, will always remain the focal point in your pond. However, marginals plants, like a well chosen group of bridesmaids, can help set the stage for a wonderful marriage.
And think about it. Who wouldn’t want a gorgeous ’plant’ like Pippa Middleton around on their wedding day!
Shopping For Marginals – What to Look For
Hardy marginal plants are grown in the shallow areas of your pond, also know as the ‘margins’. They are great hiding places for amphibians, beneficial insects and small fish, and they create a fabulous transition between your pond and the surrounding gardens. Hardy marginal plants are also perfectly suited for Rain Gardens and Constructed Wetlands.
A sure sign of a healthy marginal is new leaf growth on the plant. A healthy marginal should be able to stand on its own in the pot without flopping over. If you pick the plant out of its pot by its foliage the plant, this indicates that the plant is well rooted. If the plant pulls free when picked up by the foliage it indicates that the plant has been recently re-potted in a larger pot and has not had time to establish its root base.
For plants that flower, it is best to purchase ones with buds, but not blooms, to ensure the flower will emerge in your water garden.
Choose a place along the edge of the pond or shelf and dig out a hole in the gravel the size of the base of the plant. Place the plant in the hole and spread the gravel around the base of the plant. Be mindful that each plant will have depth requirements and if in question, refer to that specific plant on our website. If you are not able to retrieve the information on a specific plants required depth, as a rule of thumb, go shallow.
To make an impressive show of your new marginal plants, it is best that they be planted in groups of odd numbers such as 3’s, 5’s and 7’s, while staggering the plants. Be sure to put larger plants at the furtherest point from your viewing area to ensure you are not going to be blocking the view of the beauty of your pond with large plants up front. It is also a nice idea to plant shorter growing species at the base of taller plants to add depth and interest.
Avoid the use of concrete blocks or pavers to prop up your plants as concrete can leech lime into your pond increasing the PH levels.
Bare Root Planting
When plants are bare root planted in the pond it is beneficial to the overall health of the pond because the roots can grow unrestricted throughout the gravel removing nutrients from the pond and adding in the growth of the plant. Bare root planting of marginals is easy, simply rinse off the excess dirt from the roots, preventing the loose dirt from creating a cloudiness in your pond and algae blooms, and plant them as directed above.
There are some invasive species of marginals that should not be bare rooted as they will quickly take over your pond. Ask one of our plant experts for help in identifying such species. These plants can be enjoyed safely in one of our fabric planting pots.
Planting in Pots
It is a good idea to plant marginals in fabric planting pots using aquatic planting media. This also allows you to fertilize the plant directly without fertilizing the pond itself, which could cause algae blooms.
Plant your marginal in a pot that is one size up from the purchased size to allow room for growth. You can then create a pocket in the gravel, place the pot in the hole and cover the pot with gravel to give it a natural look.
The Great Divide
A marginal plants shows signs that it needs to be divided when the new growth is less or smaller than the previous years growth. This happens because the plant has become root bound which inhibits its growth.
To divide a potted marginal remove it from the pond and its pot. You may need to cut the pot and the roots of the plant to free it. Try to identify distinguished clumps within the plant that you can use as a guide for your division. If the plant has no obvious clumps cut the plant in half or in quarters. Once you have decided where you would like to divide the plant, using pruners a knife, or your strong muscles and pull apart, or cut the plant in the chosen areas.
Once you have divided the plant, cut back the foliage so that it equals the volume of the roots. This is done because the roots can only support an equal amount of foliage to roots. This may be hard to do as a plant lover, but it is to the benefit of the plant. Then re-pot the plant as usual, being sure to re-fertilize.
To divide bare rooted plants you may need some brut force along with pruners to get the plant out. Be very careful when doing this you cut only the plant roots and not the pond liner.
Overwintering Marginal Plants
Overwintering marginals is much like overwintering the perennials in your garden. Simply trim back the foliage leaving 6-12” of foliage above the crown of the plant. The additional foliage left behind acts as an insulation in the winter. If the plant is less then 12” in height, do not trim it back.
In the spring, when new growth is emerging, you can then remove the dead foliage, it usually comes out very easily. Aquatic grasses can be left uncut as they can provide winter interest. They can be cut back in the spring when new sprouts are starting to emerge.
These plants grow simply by floating on the water surface. They do not require planting or watering. (humour) These plants help control algae by shading the water and utilizing dissolved nutrients that would otherwise be used by algae for growth. At least 25% of your pond should be covered with a combination of floating plants and water lilies. They should be treated as annuals as they are considered tropical and they overwinter very poorly indoors due to lack of sunlight.
Floating Plants are from available May 1st – Sept 30th
Every pool needs oxygenating plants. These plants grow under water similar to plants you see growing naturally in ponds and lakes. They absorb excess nutrients from the water and liberate oxygen during the day, which helps to clear the water and helps to prevent the growth of algae that cause green water.
Oxygenating plants are indispensable when fish are present, as they set up a balanced or natural condition of the water. They also will assist materially in raising a hatch of baby fish, as the young fish find much needed shelter and protection among the foliage.
All oxygenators can be planted bare root into a gravel bottom Aquascape pond. If you have a rubber lined pond, they are best planted in groupings in large shallow pots, then placed on the pond bottom. A good planting ratio for oxygenators would be one plant for every 5 square feet of pond surface area.
Submerged Oxygenating Plants available from May 1st to Sept 30th
Tropical Marginal Plants
While tropical marginal plants do require more work than their hardy cousins, they can add a spectacular splash of colour to your water garden, making them well worth the effort. Many of the tropical varieties listed here may be kept indoors as houseplants during the winter, while others should be treated as annuals.
Tropical marginal water and bog plants are available in 4″ nursery containers, but they should be transplanted into 8″ pots or baskets to encourage vigorous growth. Keep in mind that wide based pots are more stable for tall plants. Fill the 8″ pot half full of moistened, tamped soil. Don’t cover the holes at the bottom, as they allow for the roots to grow out into the water. Place the plant into the centre of the pot. Then add more soil so that the roots are well covered. Leave the crown of the plant, from which the leaves grow, protruding from the soil. Push 2-3 fertilizer tablets into the soil around the crown. Tamp soil down gently. Cover the soil with a layer of gravel and soak with pond water before placing the pot into the pond to prevent muddying up your pond water. Fertilize monthly to encourage growth and bloom. They can be divided and transplanted in the same way at any time. However, we don’t recommend planting tropical marginals directly into your pond as this creates more work in the fall when it’s time to bring them inside for the winter. Recommended planting depths should be respected to produce good foliage growth and blooms.
Tropical marginal plants must continue to grow during the winter months. Growth will be reduced considerably as daylight hours diminish. Umbrella Palm, Dwarf Papyrus, Little Giant Papyrus and White Arum lilies will survive the winter indoors and make excellent houseplants. Other varieties are best treated as annuals.
Remove tropical plants from the pond before the first severe frost and bring indoors to a heated greenhouse or sunroom. Plants must remain in water and be kept at a temperature of approximately 18°C (65°F). Remove old growth if it yellows. Return to the pond in spring when there is no risk of frost. Small amounts of fertilizer may be required to encourage plants to keep growing during the winter.
Many people treat tropical marginal plants as annuals due to the cost and effort required to overwinter. Simply compost plants in the fall and restock the pond the following spring.
Water gardeners in Canada frequently use the previous overwintering methods for plants. These suggestions can be used alone or in any combination to best suit your own situation. There is no guarantee that your plants will survive the winter however, by trying these commonly used methods your chances of success will be increased. We would be glad to hear from you if you have found other successful ways to winterize your plants.
Lotus, the sacred flower of the Hindus, produces round aerial leaves that stand 18″ to 4′ above the water. The exotic fragrant blossoms produce the unusual seed pod seen in many flower arrangements.
Lotuses require many weeks of sunny, warm weather, large containers and rich soil in order to bloom well, although they are HARDY to Zone 5. Sometimes they produce only aerial leaves in their first year. They will spread rapidly in natural ponds if planted deep enough to protect the rhizome from freezing. We provide bare root rhizomes (which resemble bananas) during the month of May. Lotus in 27L (3/4 bu.) containers are available from May to September. Stock & variety availability varies from year-to-year.
Lotus rhizomes are sometimes difficult to get established, so please handle them carefully and follow directions closely.
Bare-root lotuses may be planted from late April to early June. Lotuses MUST be planted into a 27 litre (3/4 bushel) container or larger. The container must be solid with rounded corners, i.e. no holes, or the lotus will escape from the tub. NEVER plant a lotus directly into the pond as they are very invasive. Fill the container 3/4 full of moistened, firmed soil. Set the lotus rhizome on top of the soil. Dig a trench in the soil beneath the rhizome 2″ deep. Set the rhizome into the trench. Cover the rhizome with soil, just enough to fill the trench, being careful not to damage or cover the growing tips which are very fragile. Push 6 to 8 fertilizer tablets per 27 litre tub into the soil around the rhizome and cover any holes with soil. Gently tamp down soil. Add thin layer of pea gravel, making sure there is no gravel on the growing tips, as they will have a hard time growing up through the gravel. The gravel will keep the soil from being stirred up and discolouring the water. Soak the soil with pond water before placing the containers in the pond to prevent muddying the pond water.
In the spring, lotus tubs should be placed so 1″ to 2″ of water is above the top of the tub. If you do not have an Aquascape pond with marginal shelves, blocks may be needed to raise the tubs up in deeper areas. This allows for more sunlight and heat to stimulate growth. As growth becomes established with aerial leaves, water depth may be increased to 6″ or 8″ of water above the top of the tub.
Similar to lilies, lotuses should not be placed close to waterfalls or fountains where they will be splashed. Lotus are heavy feeders and should be fertilized once a month with 4 to 6 fertilizer tablets from April to August, for maximum growth and bloom.
Lotuses will overwinter if their roots do not freeze solid. Foliage will die back mid to late fall but roots will remain alive. Steps to overwinter lotuses should be taken at this time. DO NOT COVER winterize your pond or bring plants inside until late fall when dormancy has begun.
A. Move your lotus containers to the deepest area of the pond. Do not remove the dead leaves. It is recommended that your pond be at least 2 1/2′ to 3′ deep in one area if this method is chosen. Colder zones in Canada should increase this depth. You may cover pond with boards or framed plastic to provide extra insulation, but do not make it airtight. Return the lotus containers to their original positions in spring.
B. Use this method if your pond is shallow and will likely freeze solid. Remove the old leaves from the lotus and bring planted containers indoors to cold storage, approximately 40°F (5°C), for the winter. Keep containers moist and dark at all times. More lotuses are lost from drying out than from freezing. Return plants to the pond after the ice has melted the following spring.
Note: Northern sections of Canada (< Zone 3) should bring plants indoors or use a pond heater just to be safe.
Bareroot Lotuses are available throughout the month of May, container grown Lotuses are available April 1st – Sept 30th.