Read our guide to water lilies for everything you’ll ever need to know! Tips for planting & caring for water lilies.
Everybody knows the water lily. Whether seen in a park or someone’s backyard pond, this fragrant aquatic plant with a full blooming and stunning flower is undoubtedly a head-turner.
Indeed, given the fact that it thrives when it has access to still waters such as ponds, it is of the utmost importance to accommodate such an environment if you decide to grow this absolutely amazing Nymphaeaceae plant that, truth be told, has little competition.
Just imagine your front or backyard garden with a growing collection of various plants and flowers, and a small – or large, depending on the space you have available – peaceful and heaven-like zone with a pond full of water lilies and other water-loving plants and a hammock placed in the shade. Isn’t this the dream? It sure is, in our opinion.
So, if you have the space and the necessary resources, you should definitely start growing your garden collection and consider including the water lily plant. Having such a piece of heaven at home can improve the quality of your life.
Sipping your coffee in the morning or hosting a barbeque or brunch with your loved ones will be a delight, surrounded by beautiful plants and flowers. And a pond full of Nymphaeaceae will surely be one of the main attractions.
If you are feeling slightly overwhelmed, especially if you are not too experienced when it comes to gardening and you have little knowledge on how to grow and care for a garden with a pond, you can rest assured.
It is understandable that you don’t feel ready, which is why it is crucial to take it step by step. Start by growing and planting low-maintenance plants and gradually increase the level of difficulty depending on how confident you feel to grow plants with more specific needs.
Luckily, growing and taking care of the water lily isn’t too difficult. This plant has specific requirements and needs, so as long as you are well aware of them and are dedicated and committed to meeting them – this applies to all plants – your garden will thrive.
Seeing the results after growing and taking care of your garden, with plants thriving and flowers blooming, can be incredibly fulfilling. Indeed, it takes a bit of work, passion, commitment and dedication. But with the right attitude, you can slowly and surely grow a garden full of various eye-catching flowers and plants.
Whether you want to build a pond or choose a container fit for aquatic plants, growing and caring for a water lily can be an incredible experience. This stunning fragrant plant with colourful flowers needs full sun exposure to grow healthy and have full-blooming flowers in the summer.
But before you learn how to plant and grow the water lily, it is recommended to learn more interesting facts about it and discover its features. Getting acquainted with the plant is the first step in learning how to take care of it.
Keep reading to discover everything there is to know about Nymphaeacear or the famous water lily so that you can add it to your garden collection.
About Water Lily
- The water lily belongs to the Nymphaea species and Nymphaeaceae family, which consists of more than 50 species, mainly native to the temperate and tropical areas, specifically Brazil and South America in general. Nowadays, they can be found in still waters around the world.
- There are five different genera of Nymphaeaceae plants: Barclaya, Ondinea, Euryale, Nuphar, Nymphaea, and Victoria. The Barclaya genus consists of plants that are native to tropical Asia and it is often considered a completely separate family of plants because it has a different structure. Native to northwestern Australia, the genus Ondinea has recently been included in the Nymphaeaceae family and it is a small and not very spectacular plant.
- The Euryale genus, native to far east Asia, and the Victoria genus, native to South America, are closely related despite their geographic distance, but they are not very closely related to the other members of the Nymphaeaceae family and specialists believe that further studies are required to determine the relationship between these species.
- The Nuphar genus is native to the temperate and subarctic regions and includes the alligator-bonnet lily, the pond-lily, and spatterdock lily. The main difference between Nuphar plants and Nymphea plants is the size of their petals – the blooms of Nuphar plants are smaller than the sepals, whereas in Nymphea plants the petals are larger than the sepals.
- The sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) was once included in the Nymphaeaceae family of plants, but it now belongs to its own family – Nelumbonaceae.
- There are many varieties of water lilies and each has its unique features, but throughout this article, we’ll focus on the Nymphae genus, as it includes the most popular types of water lilies.
- In the Southern states of North America, you’ll often come across the yellow waterlily (Nymphaea Mexicana), which is present in marshes and lakes. In the Northern states, a more common species is the dwarf waterlily (Nymphaea leibergii), which grows natively in waterways and lakes. Another very prolific and popular type of waterlily is the American white waterlily (Nymphaea odorata), which is commonly known as sweet-scented waterlily and fragrant waterlily and you’ll often find it in northeastern and midwestern states, growing in lakes, marshes, and slow-moving water.
- As you can see, the water lily flower is featured in many colours, but the white one is the most common and has a striking fragrance. For this reason, white lilies are sometimes called “odorata.”
- Water lily is also known as Nymphaea. The word “nymphaea” means nymph, a Greek mythological supernatural female being that was said to inhabit glades.
- Interestingly, water lilies have the power to help the environment. More specifically, their role is crucial in the aquatic ecosystem. The plant’s flowers are more than just strikingly beautiful. The fact that these plants can float and rest on top of shallow and still freshwater like ponds and lakes, they can provide shade. This acts as protection for various fish, as they are sheltered from heat as well as predatory birds.
- In addition to water lilies protecting the aquatic ecosystem, the shade provided by the water lily flowers and pads can also control algae growth.
- The beautiful Nympaeaceae is mainly a summer plant, its flowers blooming from May to September. But July is the summer month known as the middle of the prime season for the water lily. So, individuals born in July – the water lily is your flower!
- There is no denying that the water lily flower is of a unique beauty floating around on still freshwater. But this is short-lived, given the flower’s lifespan is around four days, after which it sinks. This makes you appreciate it more.
- The water lily is regarded as a spiritual symbol worldwide, having different meanings depending on the region of culture. For example, Buddhists believe the water lily represents enlightenment.
- The water lily flowers close up during nighttime, and their bloom opens up again during the day. For this reason, another symbol of the plant is spiritual rebirth.
- The water lily is a plant that is often featured in art. For instance, Claude Monet, the renowned impressionist painter, enjoyed painting the water lily and you can notice this attractive ornamental in some of his most famous works of art.
Water Lily Features: An Overview
- The water lily is an aquatic herbaceous perennial plant that can grow from 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 cm) tall and 4 to 8 feet (120 to 240 cm) wide when it reaches maturity.
- The plant’s foliage is made of generally rounded or slightly heart-shaped leaves coated with a waxy texture and of a glossy green, able to float in still freshwaters. The water lily has leaves attached to long stalks which arise from underwater stems.
- The fragrant stunning, and solitary flowers come in various vibrant shades from blue, purple, and pink to yellow, red and orange. But the large white water lily flower is perhaps the most common and reinterpreted in art, given its pure appearance and intense fragrance.
- The flowers of the water lily plant open up during the daytime and last from three to four days.
- Water lilies are toxic and all parts of the plant, with the exception of seeds, contain nupharin, an alkaloid that is specific to Nympheaecea plants. The entire lily plant is toxic for pets – the leaves, the pollen, the flowers, and even the water in a vase. Ingesting even a small leaf fragment or petal or interacting with the pollen can cause kidney failure in cats.
- Interestingly enough though, some parts of the water lily are edible to humans. In some regions, people eat the young unfurling leaves and the unopened flower buds raw and cooked. The rhizomes also have many culinary uses and can be roasted, boiled, and prepared like potatoes. In addition to this, the seeds of the water lilies can be ground and used as flour.
- Water lilies grow well alongside other aquatic plants such as cardinal flowers, marsh marigolds, and pickerel weed. If you want to create a balanced ecosystem, make sure you keep your aquatic plants contained in special containers and pots because some aquatic plants can be invasive and can prevent native plants from growing. Water lilies can quickly take over a pond or a lake, so they are sometimes labelled as invasive plants.
Growing Water Lily
Water lilies are aquatic plants that come in a wide range of sizes and thrive in lakes and ponds. They can spread quickly and you should choose the right type for your garden depending on the available space and the depth of your pond.
If you are the lucky owner of a large and deep pond, you can grow the larger varieties. If you have a small pond, you can still enjoy these attractive ornamentals by growing dwarf varieties. If you don’t have a pond, you can grow dwarf lilies in large containers of water that are at least 30cm deep.
Water lilies are perennial plants which means that you can enjoy them for many years. They die down in autumn and reemerge in spring.
In summer, during their blooming period, water lilies need warm water that is around 21˚C (70˚F). Hardy water lilies will thrive in most regions, but tropical varieties will require frost-free conditions in winter, so make sure you choose the right type for your climate.
You can buy water lilies online or you can find them in plant nurseries. They are usually sold as bare-root plants that have been lifted from the ground during their dormancy period and that you can plant in spring. You can also find pre-planted water lilies that come in aquatic baskets and that you can place directly in your pond.
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Planting Water Lily
You can also grow water lilies from seeds and if you choose this method you will have to plant the seeds in a container filled with clay soil or heavy topsoil that you’ll submerge in your pond or other body of water. Regular potting mix won’t work for water lilies because it is too light and it might float.
Press the water lily seeds gently into the soil using your finger and place the container in a sunny location as the seeds need warm soil to germinate.
The germination process will take between three to four weeks, depending on the conditions. Once the seedlings are at least 5 cm ( 2 inches) tall you can move them to individual containers. When the young water lilies grow their first leaves, you can move the plants to a shallow part of the pond.
It’s recommended to add a layer of small pebbles or gravel to keep the container in place. As the plants develop, you can slowly move them to a deeper part of the pond. When grown from seed, water lilies will probably only produce foliage in their first year, but you’ll get to enjoy their beautiful blooms in the second year.
When it comes to planting water lilies, it is crucial to know how to grow them below the water surface, given that if it is planted too high, this is a freezing risk to the plan during winter. Planting water lilies too deep will stop sunlight, which can be harmful, especially to young water lilies, which need full sun for at least six hours to grow healthy.
You can plant water lilies in a pond, whiskey barrel, or planter. You should use specific plastic containers if you want to grow the aquatic Nymphaeaceae that should be filled with topsoil without herbicides or pesticides. Potting soil should never be an option when planting water lily, given it has elements that can float.
If you decide to grow water lilies, it is essential to know that you must use topsoil of neutral pH and choose an area where you know there will be full sun exposure so that the plant can thrive. Once you select the suitable plastic container or basket of the correct size, it is crucial to add the soil so that you can plan the water lily.
An essential and noteworthy mention would be that some baskets may need to be lined with burlap or some type of landscape fabric that can hold the soil and prevent it from falling through the cracks. Even newspaper sheets can effectively accomplish this.
To ensure that your water lilies will produce many blooms, you can fertilize your plants. It’s recommended to wait until the plants have developed a few leaves above the water before you use fertilizer. When it comes to aquatic plants, you can use aquatic plant fertilizer tablets that you simply push into the soil.
Watering Water Lily
There is no denying that the Nymphaeaceae is a water-loving plant – this should almost go without saying, given it is an aquatic plant thriving in still freshwater.
For this reason, it is necessary to plant the water lily in a pond or a pot that is placed just below the water surface. As the water lily grows, you can lower the pot until the plant has completely matured and the desired depth can be set.
When it comes to water, it is important to provide just the right amount. So, in order to do that, planting should be between 4 and 18 inches (4 and 45 cm) below the water surface.
Propagating Water Lily
Water lilies are able to propagate on their own. However, if you want to propagate the plant yourself, you may have a chance, provided you have a pond that accommodates this. To reproduce, the plant uses rhizomes which you can cut and use for propagation.
Once you have the rhizomes, you can replant them in another container or location and grow an entirely new plant from your current mature one.
There is another method of propagating water lily. This is the case of particular species which can create plantlets that have the potential to grow into separate plants. If you have a water lily species with plantlets, you must identify and separate it from the mother plant.
A root system can develop by letting the plantlet float on its own and then decay naturally. Once this happens, you can transfer the newly established water lily to a correctly prepared pot with suitable soil and plant it in a location where it can thrive – in full sun.
The water lily is an aquatic plant worth having. Found in still freshwater and ponds around the world, featured in various colour shades, shapes and sizes, the water lily or Nymphaea is a plant known for its unique beauty and being the protector of the aquatic ecosystem. With their spiritual symbolism from ancient times, the water lily continues to be a plant powerful and unique in meaning and appearance.
Easy to grow and low maintenance, the water lily is an excellent addition to your garden, regardless of your experience levels. You will be enchanted for life once you add the water lily to your garden collection. Given the plant’s strong fragrance and sumptuous flower, it will surely be a head-turner.
Let us know in the comment section how the water lily has complemented your garden collection.