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Water Lilly and Tropical Lillies

water lily pictures

Photo courtesy of The International Waterlily Society by Noriyuki Kato

Pond owners say the Water Lilly plant is a must have when choosing your water garden plants. They come in many varieties and make a beautiful addititon to your Koi pond designs.

Water lillies bloom throughout the summer months, and many have mottled or speckled foliage. They are quick to root and they provide cover and shade for your Koi fish.

When building your Koi garden pond one thing to keep in mind if you want Water lillies is, they must have at least six hours of sunlight per day.

In colder climates and backyard ponds with limited sunlight, lillies can be raised off the bottom to the warmer surface water (6 to 10 inches deep) in the summer months to trick them into believing they are closer to the sun, which will extend the growing season and induce more flowering.

Although it is quite possible to have a stunning and soul satisfying water garden without water lilies, most gardeners plant at least a few. These plants are prized not just for the blossoms that open day after day, but also for the shiny pads that serve as landing strips for frogs and dragonflies. While not as colorful as the flowers, these floating leaves have a fascination all their own. When they first unfold they are often purple or copper and show pronounced splotches and streaks. Some retain this mottling as they age.

The flowers of Water Lilies vary in shape. They are usually described as either cup-shaped-with petals held upright and close together-or star-shaped-wtih the petals opening wider and flatter. They can also range from single, with a few elegant petals, to fully double, with so many petals that they look like floating peonies.

Growing Water Lillies

Although it is possible to build permanent beds for them on the floor of your pond, I recommend using a container. Water-garden suppliers sell specially made baskets, but you can recycle plastic dish pans, trays sold for mixing concrete, or other containers.

If you live in frost free Zone 10 or 11, you can plant water lilies any time of the year. Elsewhere, plant hardy water lilies when the danger of frost is past in spring, up until a few weeks before the first expected frost in fall (although if you plant them early in spring, you will get to enjoy their flowers the first year). Plant tropical water lilies once the water in your pond has warmed to 70 degrees F.

Keep your hardy water lilies moist and cool until you plant them. Tropicals should be planted as soon as you receive them from the nursery. Suppliers will ship mail ordered water lilies at the appropriate time for planting in your area.

The container you use need not be deeper than 6 to 8 inches, but most water lilies need a diameter of 12 to 18 inches; vigorous hardy water lilies and tropicals need more with. Go with the too big and you may be able to divide the plants less often, but then they will be more difficult to lift from the pond. Heavy garden soil, even clay that is not good for other plants, is the ideal planting medium for water lilies. Lighter soil may float away, and manure or compost may foul the water. Fill your container about half full of soil and lay the water lily rhizome on top. The rhizome can be either a “pineapple” type, with growth coming from the top, or more similar to an iris rhizome, with growing tips running along the rhizome’s length. In both cases, add soil around the rhizome until just the growing tip appears above the soil surface.

To keep your pond clean, your only ongoing chores will be to remove dead foliage and fourth-day flowers (which usually stay underwater) and fertilize the container once a month in spring and fall and twice monthly in midsummer. Fertilizer tablets sold by aquatic dealers are the most convenient way to feed your water lilies without polluting your pond or breaking the plants fragile growing tips. You simply poke the tablets well down into the soil.

N Perrys Fire Opal Waterlily

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Repotting Your Water Lillies

Water Lillies will perform best in big water containers with plenty of fertilizer. You will need to repot them every two to three years. When repotting, start with a fresh tuber from the old clump and discard rotten pieces.

When you repot your water lilly make sure you give an initial dose of aquatic plant fertilizer. When the roots reach into the lower one-third of the overall soil volume, it will take in the additional nutrition. Most water lillies perform well in 18 to 36 inches of water. Dwarf lilies prefer to be in the range of 18 to 24 inches.

Hardy Water Lily

Hardy water lillies reward the owner year after year with plentiful foliage and flowers colored white, yellow, peach, pink, and red.

There are a number of different tuber types, the favored being those that have compact, clump forming, or marliac type tubers. They are more content in water containers and less likely to jump the pot and keep gong.

If you see hardy water lily pads growing above the water surface, it means that plants need dividing. Expect to divide them every two to three years, and possibly every year in the Deep South. Spring is the best time to do this. To divide a plant, gently upend the container and pull the rhizome from the soil. Once you have rinsed it off, you should be able to recognize seperate growing tips. Use a clean sharp knife to cut the rhizome into sections 3 to 6 inches long, each with a healthy growing tip, and replant the sections as you did the original plant.

N James Brydon Waterlily

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Tropical Lillies

Tropical Lillies have bigger leaves then the water lilly and, are often serrated around the edges, with vibrant markings.

They hold their flowers well above the water’s surface and are the most fragrant of all lilies.

They should bloom for at least a short time anywhere in North America except for the Northwest, where summers do not get hot enough. They need air temperatures over 65 degrees F.

Some tropical water lilies are viviparous, meaning that they develop perfectly formed baby plants on their leaves. All you have to do to have more plants is pull off the babies, press each into a container of garden soil, and lower the containers gradually into your pond to a depth that allows the first leaves to reach the surface.

Tropical Lilies are available in very many colors these days and a visit to your Koi fish dealer or horticulturist will reveal the types recommended for your area and size of your pond.

Some day blooming tropical lilies are:

  • Nymphaea King of Siam These produce large, dark purple flowers.
  • Nymphaea Panama Pacific These are also purple and remain a favorite of water gardeners.

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Fertilizing water lilies is necessary to encourage a greater number of larger flowers. Time-released, granular fertilizer, mixed into the soil at the bottom of the pot or plant pocket is a great way to fertilize lilies at the time of planting. Any other time, however, it would be messy and inconvenient. That’s when lily fertilizer tablets work great.

Winter Care

If your pond does not freeze entirely, you can leave your hardy water lilies out all winter. If your pond is very shallow or your climate is cold, you need to winter over your hardies by lifting their containers from the water and storing them in a cold place such as a garage. Put containers in plastic bags, and make sure they do not dry out completely.

Although most people just let their tropical water lilies die and buy new ones the following spring, you can try storing them for the winter. Lift each container, pull the rhizome out, rinse it, and let it air-dry for a couple of days. Brush off remaining dirt and pull off excess roots; store the rhizome in a container of distilled water in a cool but frost-free place. In early spring-a couple of months before you expect your pond water to reach 70 degrees F pot up the rhizome and place the pot in a pan of water in a sunny window to start the growth process.

Night Bloomers

Night Bloomers are usually the last Water Lilly to begin flowering for the season. The flowers on the night bloomers open in late afternoon and close the following morning.

Night bloomers flowers are larger then the day bloomers. The only colors night bloomers have available are white, red and pink. The white and pink night bloomers are the best at catching the moon light. Reds are the most popular night bloomer because of its intense color.

Some night bloomers are:

  • Nymphaea ‘Antares’ – It has rich, dark red flowers with deep olive leaves.
  • Nymphaea ‘Wood’s White Knight’ – the flower is pure white.
  • Nymphaea ‘Rose de Noche’ – This is an excellent night bloomer with rich pink flowers.

Easy Steps to Plant a Potted Waterlily

Instructions for Planting Hardy Waterlilies

water lilly pictures

Before putting your waterlily into a decorative container, you’ll first need to plant it properly into an aquatic container or planter. These no-hole planters come in both rigid and flexible options and can be found at water gardening stores or online.

Plant the waterlily in an aquatic planter approximately 8”x6” in size. Add fertilizer to the planter following package instruction. Waterlilies have voracious appetites and will perform best if well fed. Then add soil, using media specifically designed for aquatic plants. Place the hardy waterlily rhizome at a slight angle (about 45-degrees) with the cut end deeper in the soil and placed at the edge of pot, with the growing tip projecting 3/4” above the surface of the soil.

You’ll then want to cover the top of the soil with washed gravel or small pebbles so the soil doesn’t escape into the water once you set the aquatic planter into your decorative container. Layer the rock or gravel about ½” thick. It’s helpful if you use black or dark gravel so that it’s not easily visible in the water. Now that your waterlily is properly planted in its aquatic planter, you’re ready to place it into its decorative container.

Your best bet is to use a decorative container specifically designed for container water gardening. That way, there’s no hole to fill in the bottom of the decorative container and you don’t have to seal the insides to eliminate seepage. Choose a container at least 12" to 15” deep with a diameter of 24" to 36”. Fill the decorative container with water before placing the waterlily in its aquatic planter into the container.

Carefully place the mesh pot into the decorative container, slowly lowering it at an angle while the bubbles escape. Tilting the waterlily in its aquatic planter while lowering it into the water-filled decorative container will avoid turbulence.

A Proper Home

Make sure you give your potted container waterlily a proper home. Waterlilies need a minimum of 6 hours of sun. However, they will perform optimally in an area that receives at least 8-10 hours of direct sun.

Resources: Aquascape, Inc.

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Water Lily Care

Water Lillies are very easy to care for. You need to give them a few fertilizer tabs at the beginning of each pond season and when you replant them. To keep them blooming all season, add a plant tab or two each month. Tropical lillies should be fed until the middle of August.

If you are continually getting algae blooms, stop feeding your lillies and only fertilize them when they seem to slow down in making new blooms.

If you see your plants turning yellow immediately after a feeding, you may have added too much fertilizer. Fish the tabs out of the dirt and wait for the plants to recover before feeding again.

You will have beautiful water lily blooms throughout the growing season if you stick to monthly fertilization application and giving water lillies the light and depth requirements they need.

Koi Fish and Lillies

Koi fish and water lillies are a natural combination and it happens that the Koi fish do not unduly bother with the lillies so these are often a feature of their ponds. They have the extra benefit of providing shade for the Koi fish during warm weather and the Koi fish will browse under their spread leaves nibbling any attached grubs and insects on these. Water lilies also discourage algae along with protecting your fish

To achieve both of these goals, you need to cover about half of your pond surface; in a small pond, up to 70 percent. If you are meeting these goals with water liies alone, plant at least one water lily for each 10 to 20 square feet of surface. Water lilies vary in the surface area they will cover, from a singe square foot to 10 to 12.

Water Lillies are available in many cultivated varieties and include types that are best planted in shallow water (dwarf lillies), those which prefer the mid-levels and finally the true deep water species. It is always better if lillies are placed into baskets so that their substrate does not get scattered all over the pond, and the growing media can be covered with suitably sized pepples that are too large for Koi fish to dislodge.

One thing to keep in mind when deciding on lillies for you Koi fish pond is that lillies rarely compliment the Koi, in most cases they can actually detract from the Koi fish because they compete with them for color. The backdrop for Koi is best seen in Japanese gardens which feature many shades of greens and browns, and these are usually in the form of conifers and small trees.

Resources: Some Photo's courtesy of The International Waterlily Society by Noriyuki Kato

water lily pictures

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Water Lillies Variety

These are some varieties of Water Lillies:

  • Adventure Victoria~it is a night bloomer and one of the largest water lillies flowers in the world.
  • Albert Greenberg~is a tropical day bloomer with multi-colored pads that contribute its beauty in our ponds.
  • Arc En Ceil~is a multi-colored leaved hardy
  • Blue Gigantea Anecphya~is a blue day blooming Australian tropical lilly
  • Colorado~Another hardy water lily that blooms in spring.
  • Daubenayna~This day blooming small tropical lily is so viviparous that it's producing new plantlets before it gets to a mature size. It is perfect for small tubs on decks and is always producing flowers.
  • Drector George Moore~this is a tropical day bloomer its flowers are large and beautiful.
  • Ganna Walska~is a viviparous tropical day bloomer with multi-colored pads.
  • Islamorada~is a tropical day bloomer
  • Joey Tomocik~is a bright yellow hardy water lily.
  • Longwood Victoria~It is a night bloomer, and has large spikes on the underside of its pads and stems.
  • Mrs. George Hitchcock~is a beautifl night bloomer and grows very well in 5-gallon pots. It produces large seed pods and has vibrant colors of red and pink.
  • Niemi's Opal~is a relatively new hybrid with many colors.
  • Pamela~Pamela produces large tubers in the Fall from which many small plantlets will grow. It is a flourishing day bloomer.
  • Partytime~Partytimes parentage is unknown but it is viviparous and supplies us plantlets on its pads starting in July.
  • Pink Beauty~is sturdy hardy and will come up every year.
  • Red Cup~is day blooming tropical lilly whose parentage goes back to the Red Flare. It produces many tubers for the winter and many flowers in the summer.
  • Sunrise~Light yellow hardy water lily
  • Tina~Tina is a small, viviparous tropical lilly that grows plantlets on its pads during the summer. Its blue is delightful and constantly produces flowers for its audience
  • White Anecphya~This is an Australian lily with large pads and constant 10" flowers it is a day bloomer and opens early in the morning.
  • Woods White Knight~This Woods White Night is a prolific night bloomer and always produces very large, 10" flowers every year. Its flowers stick out at least 15" out of the water when it is mature in August.

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