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wide angle of a water lily in a pond in the light
The water lily has been revered throughout the Middle East and Asia for thousands of years, and no wonder. The elegance of water lilies floating serenely on a pond is very appealing. You don’t need a vast expanse of water to grow a water lily—it’ll do quite well in a large bowl.

What you need to know about water lilies 

Name: water lily (Nymphaea spp).

Height: leaves float on water; flower stems up to 30cm.

Foliage: mid green, rounded with a V notch, 20cm or more across.

Climate: cool temperate to tropical, depending on species.

Soil: loam with added manure and compost.

Position: ponds in full sun to light afternoon shade.

Flowering: symmetrical multi-petalled blooms from white and pink to blue (depending on type).

Feeding: use long-term controlled-release fertiliser tabs inserted deeply into pots.

Watering: submerged in ponds; do not allow pots to dry out at any time.

Appearance and characteristics of a water lily

Water lily is an aquatic plant. There’s not much to see under the water, just a few straggly stems coming out of a pot. Their true beauty lies on the surface. Their leaves are almost a perfect circle, with a notched “V” where they attach to their stems. They may be 20cm or more across.

Flowers are stunningly beautiful. They are perfectly symmetrical, and have a bright yellow centre. Petal colours vary according to type.

As a guide, whites and pinks grow well in cool to warm climates and need at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. Apricot shades tolerate cooler conditions and are more shade-tolerant. All these colours can be grown in the southern states, where winters can be chilly. The blues are heat lovers, thriving in the tropics. They won’t flower unless they have at least 6 hours of intense sun daily, and generally won’t do well in cooler areas.

 birds eye view of a pink water lily in a pond

How to plant and grow a water lily

You can buy a water lily as a bagged rhizome or a young potted plant. Don't keep the plant out of water for more than a day or two. It can be planted directly into the soil of a natural pond. However, most garden ponds are lined, meaning the plant will need to be potted up (see below).

Young plants should be submerged so the top of the pot is at least 10–15cm under the water surface. If your pond is deep, place a brick or two on the bottom of the pond to raise the pot up to the correct depth. Older plants can be gradually lowered over a few months to a depth of 45–60cm.

If you don’t have a pond, don’t despair! Water lilies can also be grown in large bowls, or urn-shaped pots 60cm or more deep that have been water-proofed. These add a touch of glamour to a courtyard or outdoor living area. Make sure they get plenty of direct sunlight daily and top up the water regularly.

Planting tips

  1. Don’t use regular potting mix. Not only is it light and may float out of the pot, but water lilies prefer a heavy, almost muddy soil.
  2. Take some reasonable-quality loam from the garden and add plenty of well-weathered manure (horse, sheep or cow, but NOT poultry).
  3. Choose a terracotta pot, preferably (it's heavier than plastic), and place some flywire mesh over the drain holes to prevent the soil mix washing out.
  4. Add the prepared soil to the pot.
  5. For tropical water lilies, make sure the rhizome is planted vertically, with the growth tip uppermost.
  6. For cool-climate water lilies, lay the rhizome horizontally or at an angle no greater than 45° from horizontal.
  7. Fill the pot to within 8cm of the rim and tap to settle the soil.
  8. Press a couple of controlled-release fertiliser tablets or cones for aquatic plants into the soil. Ensure they are not touching the rhizome.
  9. Cover the soil with a 5cm layer of 8–12mm landscape pebble mix to stop the soil muddying the water and to keep fish from pulling out plants.
  10. Lastly, carefully submerge the pot. Take your time, ensuring the soil mix is completely saturated.

A water lily can be left undisturbed for several years. Add a fertiliser tablet or two every spring, trim off dead leaves and cut off dead flower stems. When pots become too congested, remove and divide up the rhizomes, replanting the younger ones and discarding the old ones.

Diseases and pests affecting the water lily

Water lily is seldom troubled by pests or diseases, but aphids may be a problem occasionally.

The best way to get rid of them is by drowning! Lower the pot so the leaves are underwater, or cover the leaves with wet newspaper, which will weigh them down. Use a biological insecticide as an absolute last resort.

Standing water in the garden can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Fish and tadpoles eat the larvae, so think about adding a goldfish or two to the pond or bowl and encourage the local frog population too!

If you like this then try

Iris: bog or water iris thrives in and around ponds, enjoying wet feet; flowers from yellow through blue to purple.

Cyclamen: the ground cover cyclamen C coum has small pink flowers and creates a colourful carpet in winter.

Japanese maple: delicate fern-like leaves from green to burgundy on a shapely small tree, perfect over a pond.

Start growing today

Check out our huge range of plants now and get your garden growing.

 

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.