Growing Water Lilies: How We DO Them!

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This post isn’t meant to be a treatise on water-lily culture or of varieties. The growers catalogs, which you should get, or searching online will give you all of that information a customer would need.

Like many plants these days, water-lilies have been hybridized and species have been improved.

While we have enjoyed many kinds of water-lilies for years. This past year I decided to change our ponds and try some of the old-time ones, so I placed an order for some.

The results have been positively breathtaking. One that particularly delighted us was a night blooming lily, ‘Red Flare.’ While the catalog refers to it as fire engine red, it reminded me of a deep red rose. The leaves are rich red mahogany.

We also had a yellow called ‘Trail Blazer,’ a blue ‘Mrs. Martin E. Randig,’ and a rose ‘Evelyn Randig.’ These are day bloomers.

The leaves of many water-lilies are almost as interesting as the bloom. This is particularly true of the ‘Evelyn Randig.’

One, ‘Eldorado’ (City of Gold), was the largest and purest lemon yellow I have ever seen. It is so bright that it seems to be reflecting the sun.

The leaves are large and interestingly speckled. Contrary to many large leaved varieties, it does not demand a lot of room in the pool by spreading all over the surface.

The other new introduction for us was ‘Enchantment.’ It is well named. Like ‘Eldorado’ it is almost dinner plate size.

I note the catalog description as deep salmon rose. That hardly does it justice. At least in our soil and water it came out a clear pastel rosy pink, with just a tinge of light lavender.

So remember… catalog descriptions provide no true warranty of the exact bloom color.

Then during the day, with the sun shining through the petals, the salmon tint begins to be noticeable.

One nice feature of this one is that the large flowers open out flat showing the golden heart, and it can be floated in a bowl.

The hybridizer responsible for these two water-lilies and many of the others was Martin E. Randig of San Bernardino, California.

For over 35 years he was breeding new water-lily varieties, growing from seed – a tedious and highly specialized process. He is one of the few serious hybridizers who work with water lilies.

In case you are not familiar with water lilies, you will be pleasantly surprised at their wide range, not only in size, but color.

First To Bloom In Spring – The Hardy Lilies

First to bloom in the spring, and the easiest to grow, are the hardy lilies. They grow from a horizontal stem or rhizomes, and the blooms practically float on the water.

They come in many forms and sizes, in whites, shades of yellows, pinks, sunsets and red. As the name indicates, they may be left in the pool over winter.

Next come the stars. They are sometimes referred to as semi-tropical. They grow on long stems well above the water and can cover a small pond. They come in white, red, pink, rose and blue.

How I Overwinter Water Lilies

They grow from a rough pineapple-like tuber, an inch or two in diameter. After frost or freezing weather, take the star tubers up and store them over the winter in moist sand where they will not freeze. Replant in the spring.

Tropicals – The Exotic Bloomers

The really exotic bloomers are the tropicals. These bloom days or nights. Many are spicily fragrant. They come in whites, yellows, pinks, reds, blues and purples.

The night bloomers stay open until mid-morning, and as the weather gets cooler they will stay out longer. This way, with tropicals you always have some flowers open.

To carry your tropicals over the next year, take them up before frost. You will find a very small tuber at the base of the leaves.

This can be stored in moist sand. Don’t let it freeze, or dry out. I lift the plants, cutting off all but a few small leaves, and put them in a two-gallon stone jar with some dirt.

Then I place them on the floor at the edge of the greenhouse bench where they get a fair amount of light. Growers do not recommend the night blooming tropicals for carrying over the winter.

Besides the stone jars, I have had success by placing them in a tub in the basement near a window to get as much light as possible. A fluorescent light would probably work even better. As mentioned above, I cut off most of the leaves.

In the spring, when the water in the pond has warmed up to about 60 degrees and all danger of frost is past, the tropicals can be replanted in the pool. This is a good time to add some additional fertilizer.

by Matthew Clem