How To Build A Water Lily Pond

Would you love to have a water lily pond or water garden in your backyard? The flowers of a blooming water lily is simply breathtaking!

Probably the reason more gardeners don’t grow water lilies is the mistaken idea that they are difficult.

Along with the thought that to make a lily pond, with all the gardening components like waterfalls and lighted fountains is just too much work and too expensive.

water lily ponds share the beauty of with their flowersPin

Give water lilies sun, a rich soil, and of course, water – that is all they ask and these aquatic plants will reward you with colorful flowers with colors only nature’s canvas can produce.

Choosing The Right Lilies For Ponds

Water Lily Nymphaea is divided into two main categories: hardy water lilies and tropical water lilies. Hardy lilies can resist the winter season. On the other hand, tropical lilies can withstand cold, but they would need to be taken indoors as they cannot survive frost.

Water lilies are generally appealing in ponds. However, there are some water-lily pond types will definitely stand out. You also need to consider their sizes so that it can adapt well to the setting.

Dwarf Lilies

When fully grown, these lilies can cover between one to three square feet making them suitable for smaller ponds. The smallest lilies of this type suit tubs and half-barrels. An example of this is the white water lily, also known as Nymphaea alba, a tiny flowering variety ideal for small ponds.

Other varieties under this type include: Helvola, Paul Hariot, and Aurora.

Small Lilies

These varieties need a depth of 30 cm and cover an area of up to four square feet. They will also do well in small ponds while providing larger flowers than dwarf lilies.

Small water lily varieties include: Froebeli, Sioux, and Laydekeri.

Medium Lilies

These specimens look perfect in a large pond. At their peak growth, they can cover up to 20 square feet. A planting depth of 18 to 24 inches is required.

Example varieties under this type: Albida, Atropurpurea, and Albida.

Established Ponds Require Little Care

Once your pond is established it requires little care. You may read some places, “raise the boxes or pots to within four inches of the surface in the spring.” Phooey! That’s too much like work. You can either lower the water, or wait a bit until the sun warms it up.

Since water-lilies are always hungry, I change the dirt in the boxes (some people use pots) every few years. More on repotting water lilies here.

In between times a complete fertilizer can be added by putting a handful of it in thin cloth wrapping or even in paper, and sinking it into the loose mud around the roots.


I prefer using boxes for the individual plants; however you can put the dirt right in the pool, especially if it is small and you only have one or two lilies.

Our first small pond was a wash tub buried in the back yard, no pond kits or pond liners like you can purchase today.

We put one water lily in the tub and if we had a leaf starting, we were so entranced that I immediately began expanding, I wanted some giant water lilies!


By hauling in large flat rocks in the trunk of the car, I built a kidney shaped pool about six feet across and ten or 12 feet long. I stood the rocks on end around the edge, then cemented over everything.

This was a beautiful site, but too much work, and since I didn’t slope the sides to allow for the expansion of freezing ice, it wasn’t too practical as it lasted only a few years.

You can make a water lily pond out of old bathtubs, half barrels or oil drums as well.

My next expansion was getting two ten-foot stock watering tanks and burying them. Since there was a slope to the yard, I put the up-hill side flush with the grade, and used the excavated dirt to fill in on the lower side.

Since it is impossible (for me at least) to cut the bottom absolutely smooth, I placed a couple of inches of sand under the tanks to make a cushion, and to help level them.

Around the edges I placed a row of small flat stones that hid the top. There was no pond filter for the dirty water or one year limited warranty or algae control, just get dirty with trial and error.

Our present pool is the “deluxe” model. Not from the expense angle, but from a practical standpoint, but we do have a pond fountain that was a little pricey.

You may have read pool directions calling for a bottom drain. I’ve never gone to that expense.

I have always found some part of the yard was lower, and have siphoned out the dirty pond water when wishing to drain it. Or you can use a small sump pump.

Tips For Selecting The Proper Lily Pond Size

Pools and ponds, of course, can be any size and shape you choose. Oval or round is the easiest. You can also try to buy pre-formed ponds.

My present one is “tear” shaped. I simply scooped out a saucer-like depression or hole the size and shape I wished the pond to be.

Some of the loose dirt was thrown to the high side, and some on the low side. This was made about 30 inches deep and flattened out in the center.

The sides were left sloping the last three feet, making about a 45° degree angle. This has several advantages.

One, the concrete can be poured and worked on this without inside forming, and in the winter ice raises itself up without pressure on the sides.

This last point is very important if you live in an area of hard freezing. Birds swarm around this shallow edge for drinking and bathing.


I picked up some one-foot wide quarter-inch pieces of plywood from a construction job. The wood was in the dumpster!

These were stood on edge around the outline of the pool, and stakes driven around the outside line, to hold them in place.

Dirt was banked up outside to withstand the pressure of the cement when it was poured.

From this same construction job, I picked up some one-half inch rebar rods. Two of the rods were run around the outside circle to form a ring.

Then spokes were made, bending the rods to follow the bottom outline of the pool. The ends of these were wired to the outer circle and wired together wherever they crossed.

When this spider web was completed, it was raised about two inches from the ground with bits of rock under it. (Old pipe, electric conduit, woven wire fencing or regular mesh reinforcing wire could be used.)

Next I figured where I wanted my 24-inch square planter boxes, allowing three to four feet each way per plant to allow those attractive floating lily pads  to have room.

For the corners I drove the reinforcing rods into the ground, leaving the tops, so they would be a foot below the water surface when the pool was completed.

Into this shell the ready-mixed concrete was poured. At this point care must be taken to raise the web of reinforcing rods, so they are in the middle of the four-inch concrete slab.

The concrete was troweled down with a water-proofing finish, with extra care taken around the upright rods for the planter boxes to make them water tight.

I got professional help to trowel the concrete, but everything else was “home made.”

In a few days when the concrete was set up firmly, I went in and put plasterer’s metal expanded wire or lath around the posts left for corners.

This was rounded over the top, and put on both outside and inside of the posts. It was wired in place with light wire, then everything was plastered over with a concrete mix just like one was plastering.

An occasional hole was purposely left to drain the boxes when the pool was emptied.

Here are a few points to keep in mind. In running the plywood forming for the outside form, be sure it is level all the way around.

Put a pipe, or cut a notch in the side or end where you wish the overflow. Before putting fish in your pool and planting lilies, you must soak the lime out of the concrete.

Let it set for a few days or a week after filling, then drain or siphon out the water. Do this a couple of times. After that you’ll have no trouble with excess lime.

The last time you have your pond empty, fill your boxes with a rich dirt mixture. I like to put about a three-inch flower pot full of steamed bone meal to each boxful.

Plus, if you can get it, a liberal supply of rotted cow manure. Don’t use any other kind.

Fill your pond, and you are now ready to plant your lilies. The best way. I find, is to wade right into the pool wearing an old pair of shoes or fishing waders.

You can push the roots of the tubers or water lily rhizomes right down into the mud. To keep the fish from rooting around in the mud, place about an inch layer of pea gravel over the top as you plant.

If crushed limestone is used, soak it first in a tub to get out the extra lime.

You’ll find many suggested water plants other than lilies that you may grow. Anacharis, which is one of many oxygenating plants, is a MUST. You can also try to other pond plants with attractive leaves and flowers.

It will help keep your dirty water clear. When first planted your container is going to be murky, and the manure mixture may color it, but don’t be worried about this, as it will soon clear up.

Another MUST will be some gold fish. They will eat the mosquito larvae, and you’ll enjoy watching them under your floating plants.

While there is a little work involved in getting ready for lilies, this can be done in the season when the weather is too cool for most gardening.

After your pond is planted, then settle down in an easy chair, lean back and enjoy yourself to the fullest and get ready for the view and smell the fragrant water lily blossoms.

by Matthew Clem

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