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How to Care for a Water Lily Plant!

Gorgeous pink water lilies floating on a pond

Genus Nymphaeaceae

I don’t know about you, but I have personally always dreamed of one day having a pond in the backyard that I could fill with coy fish, surround it with pussy willows, and of course to cover it with a layer of water lilies.

The genus nymphaeaceae is comprised of 70 different species of rhizomatous aquatic herbs. This awesome family of flowering plants can grow in a surprisingly diverse array of climate types, making them achievable for gardeners all over the world!

Gardeners love these flowering plants for obvious reasons. They’re gorgeous, they bear fragrant showy flowers that bloom for a long time, and people just seem to love those lily pad leaves. Though not the easiest to care for, they will bring your garden to a whole new level.

What do Water Lilies Look Like?

There are two different types of water lilies that are categorized based off of the type of climate that they can exist in. They are divided into the hardy water lily type, and the tropical water lily type. There are also night blooming lilies and day blooming lilies.

Hardy Water Lily

Hardy water lilies are known for their ability to grow in surprisingly cold regions. All that they need to survive is for their roots to be planted underneath the freezing line in a water feature.

Hardy water lilies also have smaller flowers that are less fragrant and they also tend to have smaller leaves. They require much more sunlight in order for their flowers to bloom.

Tropical Water Lily

Tropical water lilies are known for growing in much warmer climates, or they are treated as annual plants if they’re growing in colder climates.

Tropical water lilies are known for having large, showy flowers that are very fragrant and they tend to bloom for a longer time in the day. Leaves will also rise above the surface of the water.

Single bright pink water lily growing amidst lily pads

Growth Habit

The water lily is an aquatic plant. This means that its rhizome (type of tuberous root) will grow in the soil or sand at the bottom of a body of water, with very long stems that reach up to the surface where the foliage and flowers will grow.

Though the flowers and leave will only be a few inches around, the stems of the plant can grow to be anywhere from 4 to 8 feet in length. Stems will basically grow the length they need to in order to reach the surface of the water.

Many water lilies will grow as a perennial plant type, meaning that they will continue to produce flower blossoms each year as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

Leaves

Part of the reason why gardeners love growing water lilies is for their leaves. Water lilies leaves are also known as lily pads, with a classic image of a frog sitting atop of a lily pad.

Each leaf or pad is a deep green color and will usually be a darker maroon or red on the underside. Leaves will be perfectly rounded with a radical notch. Leaves can be quite large, starting around 3 inches with one species having leaves achieving over 10 feet in radius! The round leaves will sit atop the water surface and this is how the plant is able to photosynthesize and continue growing!

Flowers

Water lily flowers are a very gorgeous sight to behold. Funnily enough, scientists believe that these beautiful flowers are a representation of what the earliest flowering plants used to look like!

A water lily flower can a varieties of colors, from blue, to purple, red, yellow, white, pink, or orange. Flowers will usually bloom in the early summer, though that will vary according to species. Each flower will only bloom for a few days before it perishes.

There are some species that are night blooming and they will only open once the sun starts to set, and there are other species that are day blooming that will only open once the sun starts to rise!

What are some Notable Water Lily Species?

Lovely blooming yellow water lily flowers growing in the summer

Yellow Water Lily (Nymphaea Mexicana)

The yellow water lily is also known as the banana lily, or sun lotus. This is an aquatic plant that is from Mexico and is considered as an invasive species outside of those place.

Nymphaea mexicana bears bright yellow flowers that open in mid day until the late afternoon. It has bright green leaves and strange yellow roots that resemble bananas, hence its common name.

Giant Water Lily (Victoria Amazonica)

The giant water lily is an incredible flowering plant that is largest of the water lily family. It is native to South America and has very slow opening flowers.

Victoria amazonica has a submerged stalk that has absolutely enormous leaves. A single lily pad can grow to up to 10 feet in diameter! A plant will bear a star shaped white flower or pink flower.

Fragrant Water Lily (Nymphaea Odorata)

The fragrant water lily is also known as the American white water lily or sweet scented water lily. This is a perennial floating aquatic plant that is a very popular ornamental variety.

Nymphaea odorata can be identified by its fragrant pink flower petals and flat round floating leaves. The stems are also known to have hairy stems and leaves are bright green on top of red underneath.

White Water Lily (Nymphaea Alba)

The white water lily is also known as the common water lily. This is a popular garden plant (for your pond!) that is known for blooming all summer long.

Nymphaea alba can be identified by its floating, round green leaves and slightly fragrant white flowers. The white flower will start out cup shaped but mature into a star shape with pointed petals.

Where is the Water Lily a Native Plant?

Big wild pond with tall grasses and lily pads growing on the surface of the water

I was surprised to learn the water lily plants were able to grow in places that weren’t the tropics! They are able to grow in temperate and tropical climates all around the world.

Water lilies are native plants throughout Asia, Australia, North America, and South America. They tend to grow wild in areas that experience warmer winters in small bodies of water that don’t move very much.

The water lily can exist happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 4 through 10. Outside of those zones they will be treated as annuals, but surprisingly enough you can also grow a water lily as an indoor plant!

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions of Water Lily Plants?

I’m not going to lie, water lilies take quite a bit of maintenance, but the reward is a gorgeous pond filled with fragrant flowers and lily pads that will keep the frogs, pollinators, and people happy all summer long.

Though their growing conditions are quite specific, water lily plants can stay happy once the right conditions are achieved. Just follow these simple tips and tricks.

Lovely water garden with pink blooming flowers and lily pads

Soil Type

This may sound odd considering that a water lily is an aquatic plant, but don’t forget that their roots have to be growing out of the soil at the bottom of the body of water!

It is very important to use top soil at the bottom of the pond if you are making your own pond from scratch. This is because using regular potting soil is far too light and all sorts of debris will float to the surface. Sand will also work great.

Water Level

A very important aspect to water lily care is ensuring that the plant always has clean water. Natural bodies of water have a natural filtration system, so you’ll have to include one in your water feature.

If you’re growing a water lily indoors in a bowl or container, make sure to change the water ever few days to ensure that your plant stays healthy and happy.

Sun Exposure

Another very important aspect to water lily care is ensuring that it gets ton of sunlight. Tropical varieties can handle less sunlight, but hardy varieties require more sunlight.

Full sun, meaning a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight is required to make sure that the flowers will have the conditions that they need in order to bloom fully.

Beautiful calm pond with floating lily pads and pink lotus flowers

Temperature

The temperature requirements for a water lily will vary depending on if it is a hardy water lily or a tropical water lily. You can be sure that they commonly do not like frost or harsh winter temperatures.

Most water lilies will start their growing season once temperatures are consistently hovering over 70 degrees Fahrenheit and will bloom once the days get longer.

Fertilizer

Water lilies are very heavy feeders and they will thank you if you can provide them with fertilizer once a month. However, these plants aren’t fertilized in the same way that soil-growing plants are.

There are fertilizer tablets that you can purchase for aquatic plants. They must be pushed directly into the soil and slightly buried. If the tablets are put directly into the water it will change its pH level and can harm the plants and fish that live in the pond.

Pruning

Pruning is also another very important aspect of caring for a water lily. Once a flower is finished blooming it will slowly start to sink into the water. This is your cue to start deadheading.

Once the flower sinks it will start to form seed pods. The seed pods will then open and seeds will fall into the soil. This is a great way to increase the population of your water lilies, though it is very costly to the mother plant. Most will not survive after they’ve produced seeds.

If you’re keen on keeping your plants alive, all you have to do is snip back the dying flowers once they start to sink. Follow the stem as far down as you can and snip from there. The plant will bloom again the following spring.

Gorgeous white water lilies in full bloom in the summer sun

FAQs

Are water lily plants deer resistant?

One really great thing about aquatic plants is the fact that larger pests like deer, rabbits, and squirrels just won’t mess with them!

How are water lily plants used?

The water lily plant is the first specimen you think of when you think of a water garden. Gardeners will always pick the water lily as a pond plant because of that iconic floating leaf and lotus flower.

Waterlilies are also one of the most visited plants at the Missouri botanical garden and Claude Monet eternalized waterlilies in his famous painting.

What are the damaging agents to water lily plants?

One of the most important parts of water lily care is making sure that the water that it is growing in has the correct pH level and stays clean. If these things are not maintained, the plant will very quickly deteriorate.

Can water lily plants survive winter temperatures?

The temperature requirements for a water lily will vary depending on if it is a hardy water lily or a tropical water lily. You can be sure that they commonly do not like frost or harsh winter temperatures.

Most water lilies will start their growing season once temperatures are consistently hovering over 70 degrees Fahrenheit and will bloom once the days get longer.

What are the types of water lilies?

There are hardy waterlilies and tropical waterlilies. Hardy waterlilies have smaller flowers and grow in colder climates, whereas tropical waterlilies have larger flowers and grow in warmer climates. Hardy lilies also tend to have less fragrant flowers.

Are water lily plants evergreen or deciduous?

The water lily plant is a deciduous species, meaning that is bears leaves that will eventually change color and fall away once the cold weather approaches.

Can a water lily plant be grown indoors?

Something really great about water lily plants is the fact that they can be grown indoors! They can be grown in large bowls or containers as long as they are kept in a south facing window with tons of sunlight and their water is continuously changed out for fresh water.

Are water lily plants perennials?

Water lilies are a perennial plant type, meaning that they continue to produce flower blossoms each year as long as their ideal growing conditions are met and maintained. If a certain species is growing in a colder climate than it is used to, they will be treated as an annual plant.

Are water lilies an invasive species?

The yellow water lily is a native plant to Mexico as well as California, but it is considered as being an invasive species outside of those places. Do some research to make sure that it’s okay to plant a yellow water lily before deciding to introduce one into your water garden.

What USDA growing zone can water lily plants grow in?

Water lilies are native plants throughout Asia, Australia, North America, and South America. They tend to grow wild in areas that experience warmer winters in small bodies of water that don’t move very much.

The water lily can exist happily outdoors all year long in USDA growing zones 4 through 10. Outside of those zones they will be treated as annuals, but surprisingly enough you can also grow a water lily as an indoor plant!

Should a water lily plant be pruned?

Pruning is also another very important aspect of caring for a water lily. Once a flower is finished blooming it will slowly start to sink into the water. This is your cue to start deadheading.

Once the flower sinks it will start to form seed pods. The seed pods will then open and seeds will fall into the soil. This is a great way to increase the population of your water lilies, though it is very costly to the mother plant. Most will not survive after they’ve produced seeds.

If you’re keen on keeping your plants alive, all you have to do is snip back the dying flowers once they start to sink. Follow the stem as far down as you can and snip from there. The plant will bloom again the following spring.

Do water lily plants prefer full sun or partial shade?

A very important aspect to water lily care is ensuring that it gets ton of sunlight. Tropical varieties can handle less sunlight, but hardy varieties require more sunlight.

Full sun, meaning a minimum of 6-8 hours of direct sunlight is required to make sure that the flowers will have the conditions that they need in order to bloom fully.

Where can I buy water lily plant seeds?

Surprisingly, water lily seeds aren’t too hard to find! You can probably find some at your local nursery or garden centre or you can easily order them online.

What is the ideal soil type for a water lily plant?

This may sound odd considering that a water lily is an aquatic plant, but don’t forget that their roots have to be growing out of the soil at the bottom of the body of water!

It is very important to use top soil at the bottom of the pond if you are making your own pond from scratch. This is because using regular potting soil is far too light and all sorts of debris will float to the surface. Sand will also work great.

What is the easiest way to propagate a water lily plant?

Propagating a water lily plant is very time consuming when trying to start from seed, so people will usually divide rhizomes or just divide the entire plant.

How tall do water lily plants get?

The water lily is an aquatic plant. This means that its rhizome (type of tuberous root) will grow in the soil or sand at the bottom of a body of water, with very long stems that reach up to the surface where the foliage and flowers will grow.

Though the flowers and leave will only be a few inches around, the stems of the plant can grow to be anywhere from 4 to 8 feet in length. Stems will basically grow the length they need to in order to reach the surface of the water.

What time of year do water lily flowers bloom?

Water lily flowers are a very gorgeous sight to behold. Funnily enough, scientists believe that these beautiful flowers are a representation of what the earliest flowering plants used to look like!

A water lily flower can a varieties of colors, from blue, to purple, red, yellow, white, pink, or orange. Flowers will usually bloom in the early summer, though that will vary according to species. Each flower will only bloom for a few days before it perishes.

There are some species that are night blooming and they will only open once the sun starts to set, and there are other species that are day blooming that will only open once the sun starts to rise!