Hardy water lilies are a major class of water garden plants. I’ll describe them here so you’ll be able to grow them successfully. Other practical stuff is below and linked into this page. There are some major differences between water lilies and soil-based garden plants.
A basic difference is that the roots of most water garden plants do not have the tiny root hairs found on regular garden plants. Those tiny root hairs are responsible for absorbing water in our garden plants but because water plants have adapted to growing underwater, they have different mechanisms for absorbing water.
Water lilies also tend to have their stomata (similar to sweat cells) on top of the leaves rather than below the leaves like most plants (it it’s kinda hard to eliminate excess water and absorb oxygen when the sweat gland is underwater). And that’s the end of the biology lesson for this page.
More Growing Tips for Water Lilies
To begin with, hardy pond lilies are the tough ones. Unless you freeze them solid, they are one of the easiest of plants to grow. They require very little attention during the summer months; other than pruning off the dying leaves and flowers they are quite happy to sit in their pond and bloom.
These hardy pond lily plants bloom during the day opening in the late morning (the actual time depends on the time of year, the heat of the water and available sunlight) but then they close down again the late afternoon. This means if you work for a living, you’re only going to see the hardy blooms on the weekend. (evening blooming plants are available in more tender tropical water lilies.
Hardy lilies need at least six full hours of sunlight a day if they are to bloom properly. A few hybrids will bloom with a bit less than that (and they are often marketed for this purpose) but no lily will bloom in the shade.
Think about it for a moment. How many trees are there out in the middle of a lake or big swamp where we find these plants in nature?
Water lilies do not like being near splashing water. Those sweat glands (stomata) we mentioned earlier on top of the leaves absorb oxygen. If the splash from fountains covers these tiny holes with water, the plant can actually drown (similar to putting a regular garden plant under water)
I’m told by experts in such things that even if the plant doesn’t drown, the bacteria in water can enter the stomata and multiply – effectively killing the leaf. If you kill enough leaves, you kill off the plant.
Grow water lilies in still water that is approximately eighteen to thirty inches deep.
A rule of thumb is the smaller the variety, the shallower the water and the bigger the variety, the deeper the water. So, miniature tropical varieties can survive and bloom nicely in water that is just under a foot in depth while the largest spreading varieties can survive in water up to four feet deep.
On average, the eighteen to thirty inches is a great rule of thumb. And if you want further planting information, you can find it here.
Yes, water lilies adapt to the depth of the water they are in. The stems stretch out to allow the leaf to float on the surface. My experience in the nursery was that the flower buds would also stretch out (so you can buy a budded plant and move it from shallow to deeper water) but once the bud started to open into a flower, the stem lost its elasticity and the flower stem would not elongate further.
The leaves will adapt nicely to changes in water depth.
Hardy Waterlily Articles
Here’s what you need to know about planting water lilies
A step by step process to start water lily seeds.
The easiest way to get more water lilies is to divide the roots in the very early spring
It’s really simple, you either feed these plants or they don’t grow well and don’t bloom. Greedy feeders!
Here are the tricks to keep waterlilies alive over the winter in shallow ponds
How To Grow Tropicals
The basics for success with tropical waterlilies are right here
There are specific methods to overwintering tropical lilies in non-tropical areas.
Blue Water Lily
If you want to grow the blue waterlily, you really need to read the overwintering section as well as this
Here’s how to plant tropical waterlilies
Grow this one when you’re ready for the big time with a big pond