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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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