Water Lilies

Water lilies are one of the most popular feature plants for water gardens.  They are seen in exotic places throughout the world in a multitude of colours and sizes.  In Africa, some lily pads are strong and large enough to support the weight of a small child.  Combine them with Water Poppies or floaters to provide the necessary 70% surface cover that deters algae growth.  The unique colourful flowers will provide a dramatic touch to your pond during July and August.  Use water lilies to add a bit of exotica and tranquility to your pond.  

Planting Tubers

Begin by selecting a specially designed water plant container with aerated walls that permits oxygen exchange.  This will prevent the soil from rotting and enable the plant to grow without any restrictions.  Use a planting medium such as clay, sand or aquatic soil with no organic matter or fertilizer added.   

Plant the lily tuber at a slight angle with the crown of the lily ½” above the level of the soil.  Fill the final ½” layer with sand or washed pea-gravel that will prevent the growing medium from washing away.  It is very important that no soil is covering the crown of the lily or the crown will rot.

The plants should be fertilized, at this point, with a slow release fertilizer in tablet form. The tablet is pushed down into the soil beside the root, but not in direct contact with the root.

Since water lilies are heavy feeders they should be fertilized during the growing season, according to fertilizer instructions.  


Once you have chosen your water lilies, there are a few requirements that will help them reach there full potential.

  • Water lilies can survive in the pot they were purchased in for up to two years.  However, it is recommended they be transplanted in a specially designed water plant container as soon as possible.  This will enable the plant to grow without any restrictions.  
  • Use a good aquatic soil.
  • Do not cover the crown of the lily with soil, as this will promote rotting.
  • Each water lily has a specific depth it prefers to be at.  Do not immediately submerge the plant to that depth.  Always keep the leaves floating on the surface of the water.  Place bricks beneath the pot to maintain the appropriate height, removing bricks as the stems grow and the plant adjusts to the pond.
  • Make sure there is at least 15 cm of water over the crown of the plant.  Hardy varieties prefer 20-30 cm of water over the crown where as Tropical varieties prefer 15-20 cm.
  • Transplant lilies to a new larger container every two year
  • For water lilies to produce blooms they need a minimum of 4-5 hours of sunlight each day, preferring   5-8 hours.
  • Water lilies prefer calm waters.  Spray from waterfalls and spitters will puncture holes in the leaves. 
  • Use a heater to establish and maintain the ideal pond temperature of 60-70 ºF.  Lilies will not leaf out until the water is 60ºF and will bloom best at 70 ºF, with full sun. 
  • Water lilies are heavy feeders.  Fertilizing once a month will maintain vigorous growth.  Try using a slow release fertilizer preferably in tablet form.
  • Do not use cow or sheep manure in the soil mixture.  This will cause water discolouration.
  • Choose the right lily for your pond size.  Lilies vary in spread and vigor.  If you have a small tub or basin, you do not want a vigorous lily such as ‘Attraction’ that spreads up to 5-8 feet.  A dwarf variety is ideal, spreading only 1-2 feet.  Larger ponds can accommodate vigorous growers, such as ‘Attraction’ or ‘Chromatella’.
  • Divisions should be done in the spring by dividing the rhizome with sharp shears.  Pot-up the new tubers as described in ‘Planting Tubers’.  It’s best to divide tubers every 4 to 5 years to rejuvenate the plant.

Hardy Water Lilies

Nymphaea ʽColoradoʼ
Colour: peach-salmon 
Spread: 5 to 8 feet
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea ʽAuroraʼ (Changeable)
Colour: yellow changing to copper tones and finally to red
Spread: 4 to 5 feet
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea ʽFire Opalʼ
Colour: fuchsia pink
Spread: 3 to 4 feet / 90-120cm
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea ʽJames Brydonʼ
Colour: hot pink
Spread: 3 to 4 feet / 90-120cm
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea ʽMadame Wilfron Gonnereʼ
Colour: Pink flushed with white, deep rose centre
Spread: 4 to 5 feet / 120-150cm
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea ʽAttractionʼ
Colour: red
Spread: 5 to 8 feet / 150-240cm
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea ʽBurgundy Princessʼ
Colour: red
Spread: 2 to 4 feet / 60-120cm
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea ʽPerry’s Almost Blackʼ
Colour: rich black cherry red
Spread: 5 to 8 feet / 150-240cm
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum


Nymphaea marliacea ʽChromatellaʼ
Colour: yellow with darker yellow center
Spread: 5 to 8 feet / 150-240cm
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea marliacea ʽJoey Tomocikʼ
Colour: bright yellow
Spread: 3 to 4 feet / 90-120cm
Planting depth: 12 inch / 30cm minimum

Nymphaea marliacea ʽAlbidaʼ
Colour: white flowers with a yellow center
Spread: 4 to 5 feet / 120-150cm
Planting Depth: 12 inches / 30cm minimum


The first frost indicates it is time to prepare for winter.  Once foliage on plants has blackened from frosts in the fall, they should be lifted, left in baskets and left on their sides to drain for a few hours.  Drain in a frost-free area.  Once drained, allow soil to dry until damp, but not completely dry or muddy. This forces nutrients from the leaves back into the tuber. Cut back or break off dried leaves to the crown. A fungicide may be applied to the water lily now to prevent disease.

After these initial steps have been taken there are three methods to choose from:
  1. This is the most successful method of over wintering water lilies.  Store pot in cold storage at temperatures between 1 to 5 ºC.  Use a plastic tub with a tight fitting lid.  Or wrap the pot and all in burlap, then place it in a plastic bag and loosely tie (for air exchange).  The refrigerator is ideal.  Check monthly to ensure the root system is sufficiently moist. 
  2. Remove the waterlily tuber from its basket and rinse it off.  Cut off the leaves to the crown of the root, and place it in a plastic bag containing moist peat or perlite.  Store in a cool (1 to 5 ºC) dark place.  The drawback to over wintering with this method is that the plants will take longer to establish themselves the following spring.  This may impact the blooms or reduce blooming period. 
  3. Lilies can be left in the pond provided that the pond does not freeze solid.  In Alberta, that means the pond must be at least 1.2 meters deep.  To ensure the survival of the lily, they must be below ice.  Place them in the deepest area of the pond where the risk of freezing is reduced.  

Plants stored in this dormant state will begin initiating signs of growth as early as February.  Just keep them moist until your growing ponds are thawed (i.e. 60ºF).  Once your pond has thawed, you can re-introduce them outdoors.  Growth will be slow until the pond warms up.  Fertilizing should be done at this time.  Basically there are two things that will kill your water lily, freezing and drying out.


If your lily is not blooming or lacks growth, these are a few ideas to consider:
  • Were chemicals used in or around the pond?
  • Is the container to small for the size of the plant?
  • Is there enough sunlight?
  • Did you forget to use sand or gravel to keep soil from washing away?
  • Is the crown of plant covered by soil?
  • Is the plant root bound?
  • Is there too much / too little water over the crown?
  • Holes in the leaves?  Usually not from bugs but from waterfalls or spitters.
  • Mosquito problems?  Buy goldfish because they love mosquito larvae.
  • Hardier lilies go dormant in October.
  • Tropical varieties do poorly in cold water and go dormant after heavy frost.