Tropical Water Lilies Planting & Growing Instructions
Written by: TWL “Dusty Culp”
Tropical water lilies come in a wide spectrum of colors: purple, blue, red, pink, peach, orange, white and yellow or a mixture of some or all the colors. Mainly all tropical water lilies are medium and large varieties but one can grow almost any tropical in a one-gallon container to keep it small; and, if fertilized properly, the plant will bloom well. All tropical water lily flowers come up well above the water surface while the leaves rest on the water surface. Tropical water lilies are classified as being day blooming, night blooming, viviparous or non-viviparous. Be careful when deciding on the tropical water lily of choice and make sure to take in consideration day or night blooming water plants. We have put a brief description by each water lily, stating the size, spread and proper water depth, plus whether it is night blooming, day blooming, etc.
Tropical Water Lilies are true to their name: they do not do well in the winter in very cold climates. If a pond freezes and stays frozen all day, then it’s probably too cold to over winter them outside. But tropicals will grow perfectly fine just about anywhere once temperatures get warm -- warm meaning water temperatures above 65 degrees Fahrenheit at night and days above 80. Water lilies as a whole like to have direct sunlight but if outside temperatures get up into the high 90’s, then water lilies will prefer to be in the shade. Almost all will tolerate 50% of shade even with average temperature growing conditions which is 65 to 95 degrees. Tropical water lilies will outperform hardy water lilies by blooming, growing and staying up twice as much and long compared to hardy water lilies.
Texas Water Lilies ships using US Postal Service priority mail for a 2-to-3-day service. We usually ship Monday-Wednesday so packages are not held up over the weekend. TWL takes great pride in the growing, picking, packing and shipping process. We grow all of our own plants and pick them fresh daily, keeping the water lilies at room temperature (warm in the winter and refrigerated in the summer months). Every afternoon we hand deliver the water lilies in a refrigerated vehicle to the local post office for shipping, keeping the plants fresh and cool. We ship the water lilies bare root and will usually place the water lilies into a large zip-lock bag (every bag is labeled with the variety name) and add a little moister for shipping. Then they will be placed into a small shipping box, about the size of a shoe box or larger. Newspaper is used around the zip-lock bag for insulation and for cushion.
Once water lilies are received, they must be planted ASAP (especially if the weather is hot and the plant has broken dormancy). If one is not prepared to plant right away, one may float the hardy water lilies in a pond or large bucket, but the longer the plants are left out of the water, the more they will go into shock. If the water lily is still dormant, planting may be delayed for weeks before damage to the plant occurs. If the outside temperatures are hot, the plants need to be kept in an air conditioned room.
The plant will usually be well established and will have broken dormancy when temperatures are hot. One should never place a water plant in direct sun without water. This may kill the water lily in a matter of minutes.
One can plant most hardy water lilies in almost any type of container. A strong plastic container is recommended so it will not crack or come apart. One must make sure the container is at least 6 inches tall. Larger varieties need to go into a 2-to-10 gallon container. The smaller water plants can be planted in as small as a 3/4-to-1-gallon container. If the container has holes at the bottom cover the holes with a couple of layers of newspaper before adding the soil. The newspaper will hold the dirt in place for about a month or two. By then the roots will hold the soil in place.
Once ready to plant, get your pot and put in your planting medium. Make sure to have at least 5 inches of dirt in the container. One can use almost any type of top-soil: yard dirt, heavy loam, etc, but the best stuff to use is river bottom dirt that usually has a heavy clay base. That stuff is packed full of nutrients. Don’t use potting soil, mulch, peat moss, cow-manure compost or humus. Leave that stuff for yard plants or non-aquatic plants.
Fill the pot all the way up to 1-to-2 inches from the top. Wet the dirt thoroughly with water soaking it. Plant the rhizome on the side of the pot in the horizontal position. Make sure the crown is facing towards the center. The root should be planted down into the dirt enough so that the rhizome is barely covered. If the rhizome is planted any deeper than a couple of inches, the water lily stands a good chance of dying. Adding pea-gravel or flat rocks on top of the dirt may prevent fish from disturbing the dirt once planted.
Then, simply place into desired spot in pond. Again, the larger varieties will grow in 1.5-to-2.5-feet of water; the smaller ones, in 6 inches to 1 foot. This measurement is taken from the top of the soil to the top of the water. The container can be elevated your by using a center block from a local hardware store. They only cost about $1.50 and they are a perfect elevator (they measure 8”x8”x16”) It is recommended to wait a week or two before fertilizing. Make sure a slow release pond tab is used, designed for aquatics.
The rule of thumb is one tab per gallon container. Fertilize every 3-to-4 weeks. Make sure to push the pill down into the container on the sides as far as your finger will reach. Then, cover the hole up after fertilizing. Make the roots find the tab. Don’t ever place tabs directly into main rhizome. If you don’t fertilize, then the desired results will be displayed while they grow in a container. Do not fertilize when the plants are going dormant or are in the dormant state.
More and more people are planting their plants in pockets at the bottom of their pond. Some soil may have to be added into those pockets, before planting. Then cover dirt and plant roots with small rocks. Make sure to have some fish to make some home made fertilizer or you may have to push in fertilizer tabs every month or so. Sometimes large Koi will get a taste for aquatic plants. Once they do, they’ll continue to eat the plants. Gold fish usually will never eat the water lilies.
If planting hardy water lilies in an earthen pond, one can plant them in a container or simply plant them directly into the pond. It is recommended planting them directly into the pond. If this is done, there is no need to fertilize, repot or separate in the spring. All one would have to do is “literally watch them grow”. Make sure to simply push the rhizome into the muddy mucky bottom of your pond, just enough to hold the plant down, with the top of the rhizome facing up. If they are not anchored properly they will float and go somewhere you may not desire them to be. With some ponds, one may have to use a little shovel or large knife to break the bottom enough to plant. If the earthen pond has no nutrients at all, one may have to add in some fertilizer tabs.
Once established in an earthen pond Tropical Water Lilies will bloom year round. In TWL outdoor ponds, the temperatures reach freezing points about 40 times per year but the ponds hardly ever have any ice all day long.
Once tropical water lilies are established the leaves and flowers will attract bugs so it would be in order to spray or dust with some type of bug killer. Very light applications are recommended frequently (about every 2 weeks). This process should not hurt your animal life in the pond if used moderately.
The main way tropical water lilies reproduce (and stay true to there name) is by producing tubers or by making babies off there viviparous leaves. Viviparous tropical water lilies will produce new plants off their leaves once the plant is well established. Some Viviparous tropicals will produce many babies and some not so much. It really depends on the variety. At TWL, we have one viviparous Tropical planted in an earth bottom tank that produces about 200 babies every year. The other way tropicals reproduce is by making tubers. Tropical water lily tubers are black and are about the size of a marble to a golf ball. The plant will make tubers sometimes on there own but not many. Tubes are usually made by starving the tropical water lily. TWL does so by growing them in small containers feeding them frequently during the growing season and then stop feeding them in the fall. TWL has found this is the best method of producing tubers. One tuber will make 2-to-10 plants a year if one plays with it. Tropical tubers are worth more than the actual plant because it will not die and it will produce many offspring.
It is recommended repotting every year, using fresh virgin soil. If the pond is in a warmer climate, all one has to do is wait until the temperature warms up. Once the year’s hard freezes stop during the spring, it’s time to repot. Just take the lily out of its pot, dump it up side down and wash away all the dirt. The tuber should be in plain sight; and, if one is lucky, possibly more than one. Plant the new mother plant just as if you have received one in the mail. If located in colder climates, stop fertilizing a few weeks before it starts freezing. Then wait until there is a hard freeze, at this time the tropical will go dormant. Once dormant, pull the pot out, dump it over and wash away the dirt with water hose. The tuber should be found once it is washed off well, then place tuber in a zip-lock bag. Try to take the air out as much as possible. Put some moist sand in bag and store in a cool dark place. A closet would work just fine. Packed this way the tuber will last for several months sometimes years. Plant the tubers once hard freezes are over in the spring.
Water lilies are washed and wrapped in moist newspaper before boxing.