Water lilies (Nymphaea) are a genus of hardy and tender aquatic plants. They’re perennials that are in active growth from March to September. The stunning flowers appear from June until September and are often lightly scented. The range of plants is huge – some are ideal for life in a tiny pond, while others prefer a lake.
Discover five water lilies to grow.
Choose from soft lemon yellow, white or pink flowering varieties. All they ask for is still water and full sun. In return they will decorate the surface of your pond with flat, floating leaves and provide a cool hiding place for pond life. If you don’t have a pond and still want to grow then, buy a small variety to grow in a watertight container.
Water lilies will only thrive in a pond that has still water and is in plenty of sunshine. If you have a bubble fountain position the water lily as far away from this as possible.
As a guide water lilies should cover no more than two thirds of the surface of your pond. When selecting varieties, consider this.
Large water lilies need to be positioned 75cm below the surface; medium 50cm and small 20cm. If they are planted too deep they will fail to flower. Plants will need to be raised on stones to achieve the ideal depth. When placing stones or bricks in a pond be careful not be pierce the liner.
Plant water lilies from April to September. Water lilies are not often sold at garden centres, so contact a specialist grower for a full range. If your pond has a solid liner plant your water lily in an aquatic basket. Line the basket with a piece of hessian and fill it three quarters full with aquatic compost. Place the rhizome in the basket and cover with move compost, ensuring that the crown is at soil level. Top off with a layer of lime-free pea gravel. The gravel will prevent the compost from floating to the surface.
Plants should not be positioned at their final depth straight away. When first planted place them about 20cm below the surface. Gradually remove your brick plinth over the next month. Lower the pot into the pond slowly. If your planting position is central and over boot height, thread strings through either side of the basket and with a friend lower it into the pond.
After about 10 days of planting in spring, you should see signs of new leaves appearing at the surface. If you don’t you may have the plant too deep in the pond.
After about five years, water lilies will be ready to divide. They often stop flowering when they have outgrown their container. Lift the plant out of the pond in March. This is a smelly and heavy job so wear waterproof trousers and ask a friend to help. Turn the plant out of the containers. With a sharp knife remove sections of rhizome with at least two eyes per section and repot them. Ideally place them back into the pond straight away. The tough woody crown of the old plant can be discarded.
Water lily aphid can be a problem to plants. The aphid is easy to spot, especially if the infestation is bad. Greeny/brown aphids are seen on the surface of the leaves and on flower buds. It is in late spring and early summer when you will see signs of attack. As plants are growing in a pond there is very little that can be done to prevent this problem. If you have it one year it won’t necessarily be a problem the next.
Hardy water lilies require very little care. As with all aquatic plants it helps the balance of the pond if faded foliage is removed in autumn. When working near a pond always work with a friend in case you slip.
If you have a small pond or a water lily in a pot, feed plants in spring by pushing a specialist aquatic feed tablet into the compost.
If you are growing tender water lilies, lift them out of the pond before the first frosts and keep them in a light and frost-free place over winter. Keep them submerged in water in a large tub and follow the specific growing instructions given to you by the specialist nursery. Divide plants every five years.
Water lilies and wildlife
Waterlilies are an important part of a balanced pond. They offer shade and protection to fish and a place to hide from herons. The flowers are also attractive to pollinating bees.
Water lily varieties to try
Nymphaea pygmaea ‘Alba’ – a dwarf type for a small pond. Enjoys shallow water (20cm). White flowers from June to September. Ideal for a small pond pot. Hardy.
Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Helvola’ – ideal for a small pond. Pale yellow flowers from July to September. Slightly fragrant. Spread of up to 45cm.
Nymphaea ‘James Brydon’ – pink flowers in July and August. Ideal for a medium pond with a spread of 1m. Hardy.
Nymphaea alba – white flowers from June to September. A native that is ideal for natural, deep and large ponds. A spread of 2m. Fully hardy.
Nymphaea ‘Marliacea Albida’ – For a large pond with a spread of 120cm. Fragrant, double white flowers from June to September.
Nymphaea ‘Escarboucle’ – For a medium or large ponds – spread 1.2m – 2m. Vermillion flowers from June to September.