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Water Lilies: Queens of the Water Garden

Catherine's writing reflects her life-long love of nature and gardening. She advocates for sustainability and respect for all living things.

a beautiful sunlit water lily- Nymphaea odorata

a beautiful sunlit water lily- Nymphaea odorata

Beauty with a Purpose

Water lilies are some of the most spectacular plants in the world. Their majestic leaves and blooms have been central to cultural and religious symbolism for centuries and have inspired many artists, the most famous of which is Claude Monet.

They serve many purposes beyond pleasing the eye. Frogs and water turtles find protection from predators among the masses of pads and stems and are sometimes found basking atop the leaves. If one looks carefully, they may spot the patterned flanks of koi or the quick movement of a water snake searching for food.

Besides providing a beautiful display and shelter, lily pads block sunlight from the pond depths preventing algae bloom. This naturally protects fish from a lack of oxygen. Leaves also serve to convert the ammonia from fish waste into beneficial nutrients for the plants. In the fall as the leaves decompose, the organic breakdown becomes a significant food source for aquatic invertebrates. This, in turn, provides sustenance for the amphibians, fish, waterfowl, and small mammals higher up in the food chain.

The Nymphaea water lilies fall into two categories: the tropical lilies and the hardy lilies which are the most common to home water gardens.

Hardy Water Lilies

The hardy water lily is the aquatic lily most commonly grown in home water gardens. It is a perennial aquatic plant which grows from a rhizome much the same way a spring flower grows from a bulb. The thick glossy leaves which float on the water's surface can measure nearly a foot across, each with a slit that gives them a heart-shape appearance.

The leaves form at the ends of thick, ropy stalks as do the individual flower buds. When fully bloomed, the blossoms are pure perfection with golden stamens. They open each morning with the sun, attracting dragonflies, damselflies, and whirligig beetles which help to pollinate them. By late afternoon, the flowers will close up for a night of rest.

hardy water lilies

hardy water lilies

Nymphaea odorata ,the American water lily, is the beautiful white fragrant hardy variety that is native to North America. These cold hardy lilies are able to go dormant in all but the harshest climates and regenerate in spring from the energy stored in their rhizomes. Other cold hardy lilies bloom in an array of colors from yellow to pink, peach, red, and even lavender. There are many variations in size to suit both smaller container gardens and larger water features. Look for those with variegated leaves and coppery hues for even more pizazz.


How To Plant Hardy Water Lilies

Hardy water lilies can be enjoyed in both containers and ponds and are commonly found in the spring at nurseries or aquatic garden centers. They can also be grown indoors with plenty of sunlight and an average temperature of 70 degrees. Spreading by nature, water lilies are best submerged within containers to prevent overgrowth.

  • Plant in a 10"- 14" diameter submersible pot or fine mesh basket with a depth of at least 10."
  • Fill the pot with topsoil or a special aquatic planting mix. Regular potting soil is too fluffy and not suitable. Avoid any peat moss, perlite, or vermiculite.
  • Place the rhizome at a 45 degree angle, crown up, then cover with coarse horticultural sand of fine gravel. Be careful not to completely bury the crown as this will cause eventual rot.
  • Fertilizer tablets or spikes can easily be pushed into the soil for continuous feeding.
  • Choose a spot where the water is slow moving or nearly stagnant with a minimum of 6 hours of sun for good bloom.
  • Carefully lower the pots at a slight angle to a depth of 12 - 18." This will help release air bubbles, and the plants with gradually rise to the surface. If the plants are being grown in a larger container, water can be added after the plant pots are placed. Container gardens should have at least a 15 gallon capacity.

With any aquatic garden, biting insects can be a problem. Pond fish or mosquito bits and dunks containing BT israelensis will be necessary to control nuisance populations.

General Care of Hardy Lilies

Blooms last 2 to 4 days and will then fold under the water. New buds should continually replace the spent ones all season until the cold sets in and the leaves turn yellow. In home gardens, it is important to remove dying leaves and debris before it is allowed to collect and rot on the bottom of the pond. A build up of waste can raise ammonia levels which is harmful to your pond fish.

If the plant leaves look yellow with no blooms during the warmer growing season, this is an indication that it's lacking nutrients. Fertilize with a slow release food being careful not to overfeed. Excess fertilizer will promote algae bloom.

When the weather cools, pull the basket from the pond and pinch back the stems as close to the soil as possible then replace in at least 2 feet of water where it will stay during winter. In harsh winter areas, entire plants should be removed and stored in plastic bags with peat moss until they are ready to be re-submerged in spring.

In late spring the rhizomes will begin to leaf out again as the water warms. This would be the time to move plants back to more shallow water. If the plant is growing too vigorously, moving it into deeper water will direct more of the growth into the stem, so repotting can be delayed until the growing season is finished.

Planting Diagrams


Tropical Water Lilies

Tropical water lilies, which come from Asia, are the showy annuals whose blooms can reach over a foot across. Flowers are born on tall stems which stand above large glossy leaves with crinkled and serrated edges. They bloom from a tuber rather than a rhizome. There are many hybrids, and colors range beyond those of the hardy type. Catalogs feature vibrant blues, magentas, mauves, and purples, and multi-colors. Some bloom during the day and others open at night, releasing their scents to moonlight pollinators.

Their intolerance of cold conditions except in the warmer parts of the world, means their cultivation takes a little more work. They must be removed and stored during winter or replanted from new plants each year. Still, some aficionados find their stunning displays worth the extra effort.

Planting Tropical Water Lilies

  • Use 2 gallon pots or baskets and make sure the pond water temperature is at least 70F degrees.
  • Fill the container 1/2 full with heavy garden soil or an aquatic mix. Do not use fluffy soils.
  • Make a mound in the center and place the tuber on top while letting the roots dangle at the sides.
  • Add fertilizer tabs and continue to add more soil until 2"- 3 " from the container top. The tip of the crown should be at the soil level.
  • Pack the soil over the roots and add 1/2" of gravel on top to weight the soil and keep fish from pulling out the root ball.
  • Submerge into the pond to a 6" - 12" depth.
  • Fertilize every 2-3 weeks during the blooming season.

Winterizing Tropical Water Lilies

When there are no more new flowers or leaves on the plant at the end of the bloom season, September to November, it will be time to winterize until the spring.

  • Pull the potted lily from the water.
  • Let it drain in a shaded spot for 24 hours
  • Remove any weak or dead leaves from the base leaving only small, firm growth.
  • Place in a plastic bag and loosely fasten to keep the soil from drying out.
  • Keep in a cool spot 50F - 60F degrees.

Propagating Tropical Water Lilies

  • Check the bagged lilies that are being saved for spring and look for signs of new tuber growth.
  • When new tuber growth has started, clean them well and place in a ziploc bag of water.
  • Store at 50F - 60F degrees in a dark location and change the water if it smells.
  • In early spring, move the tubers to a container of 75F degree water.
  • When the tubers begin to sprout roots, plant in a small pot of soil and move to bright light.
  • When leaves appear above the soil, carefully remove the new offshoots from the mother tuber and transplant. The main tuber can be put back to produce more offshoots.
  • When the roots of the new plant are strong and significant, move them to a slightly larger pot.
  • By late June, the plants should be large enough, and they can then be prepared for submersion by following the aforementioned planting guidelines.

Water lilies are called "Queens of the Garden", and it's hard to imagine the serenity of a water garden without their bejeweled beauty. Many beautiful varieties are available at aquatic garden centers and online. Just thinking of them shining in the sun brings a sense of peace. They are a flower that is both easy to love and simple to grow.




This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Catherine Tally


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on November 01, 2020:

Thank you, Nithya. I am so glad you've enjoyed reading my article. Beautiful water lilies always lift my spirits! All the best. Cat:)

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on November 01, 2020:

An interesting and informative article about water lilies. Thank you for sharing. Came back to read again, great photos!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on October 29, 2020:

.Hi Sp Greaney. Thank you for commenting. Water lilies can be grown indoors in containers only if they get a large amount of sunlight. In colder climates it's best to prepare them for dormancy and winter storage. Enjoy the warm weather blooms and perhaps take a lovely photograph to look at while waiting for the next season. Be well:) Cat

Sp Greaney from Ireland on October 28, 2020:

There is something beaitiful and unique about these. It would be amazing to try and grow these indor. Our climate is not warm enough all year round.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on July 30, 2016:

Thank you, Manatita- your thoughtful comments are much appreciated!

All the best, Cat:)

manatita44 from london on July 30, 2016:

Informative article and gifted poem, cat. Excellent and exquisite!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 02, 2014:

Hello Pawpawwrites. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

Water lilies are so perfect in bloom that they look unreal! I think the colors are stunning and vibrant but still prefer the contrast of the pure white and the blush pink with the deep green pads. Thanks for stopping by!

cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on September 02, 2014:


Thank you so much!!

Jim from Kansas on September 02, 2014:

I love them. I was at a botanical garden a few years ago, and they had some beautiful colored varieties.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on September 02, 2014:

A beautiful poem for a beautiful flower! Loved it!!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 20, 2014:

Hello Marsei,

I appreciate your kind comments and find your sharing my poem to be a top compliment. Thank you!!

Cat :)

Sue Pratt from New Orleans on January 20, 2014:


I especially like the poem. It's a testament to the fact that quantity is not necessarily quality. Thanks for this hub. I'm sharing it.


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on January 16, 2014:

A beautiful compliment. . Thank you, Frank :)

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on January 15, 2014:

wow such a gentle poem, pure, soft..another thumbs up

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 04, 2013:

Hello DzyMsLizzy!

Glad you enjoyed the "short and sweet!" I agree that good writing is about content and not length. I dislike excess verbiage and worthless filler too. I thank you for you kind comments and the "thumb's up" on voting. I always enjoy seeing your visits here!

My best to you,

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 04, 2013:

Hello Jamie,

Some flowers are so perfect, it's hard to believe they are real! The water lily is one of those. This photograph was taken at a nearby botanical gardens and has a painterly quality w/o the aid of retouch or enhancement. I am so glad that you enjoyed the accompanying poem too. Thanks for commenting! :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 04, 2013:

Hello Joanne,

Thank you for stopping by to read and for leaving such a sweet comment. :)

Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on April 04, 2013:

What a beautiful capture! Loved this poem. Voted up and beautiful.

Short and sweet, and I don't care WHAT "the Google" says...short CAN be worthwhile!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 04, 2013:

Audrey, Thank you for your encouraging comment. I appreciate your visits, always.

Wishing you a lovely Spring season,

Cat :)

Jamie Lee Hamann from Reno NV on April 04, 2013:

A flower worthy of painting or poetry. Well done. Jamie

Joanne M Olivieri on April 04, 2013:

Sweet, serene and peaceful in it's beauty. Well done and voted up!

Audrey Howitt from California on April 04, 2013:

Such beautiful writing!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on April 03, 2013:

Hi KrisL,

Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I agree with the symbolism of the lotus and see the water lily in the same light. Lilium longifolium, the white trumpet lily, is the flower we commonly associate w/ Easter although most flowers which herald the arrival of Spring are included in our celebrations.

My best to you,

Cat :)

KrisL from S. Florida on April 03, 2013:

I like the water lily as an Easter symbol, although I don't think it's traditional. It is a traditional Buddhist symbol . . . one kind of water lily, the lotus, represents Awakening arising from the mud of suffering and illusion.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 31, 2013:


Thank you for stopping by and leaving the kind comment. It's a pleasure to see you!

Cat :)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 31, 2013:


I'm delighted that you dropped by ! Yes, beauty can come from unexpected places and circumstances. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Best wishes for a happy Easter and a glorious Spring.

Cat :)

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on March 30, 2013:

Just lovely and a fitting tribute to a blossom which proves the possibility of beauty emerging from the depths of murkiness!

Fits the moment, too, with Easter just having begun.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 16, 2013:

Hi Genna,

I couldn't agree more! I think most things in life involve contradiction of some form. I always enjoy your comments and wish you well. I hope you enjoy a beautiful Spring!

Thank you for dropping by.


Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on March 16, 2013:

The contradiction of nature…from the slimy rope-like stem in murky darkness buds the flower that bursts open with pure white radiance in the Sun. We can learn so much from nature. Beautiful poem! :-)

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 11, 2013:

Thank you for the lovely comment, xstatic. I'm glad you dropped by.

My best,


Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 11, 2013:

Hello b Malin,

Nice to see you here! Thank you for the sweet comment and the vote UP. I really appreciate it.


Jim Higgins from Eugene, Oregon on March 11, 2013:

It certainly does reflect the beauty of the sun! Beautiful poem!

b. Malin on March 11, 2013:

I Love "Water Lilies" Cat, and your Beautiful Poem captured them well.

Voted UP & Beautiful too!

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 11, 2013:

Hello Cyndi10,

Thank you! I'm so glad you dropped by to read and comment! I appreciate your kind words. There is a beautiful botanical garden nearby which has the ponds where the beautiful lilies grow . Many of my photographs were taken there including the one featured with this hub. It is so relaxing to sit in the warmth there among those perfect blooms with the frogs, turtles, bees, and dragonflies. :)

Cynthia B Turner from Georgia on March 11, 2013:

Lovely, lovely poem. Do you live near a pond or some body of water that has water lilies? they have a certain fascination as they sit so serenely on the water.

Enjoyed your poem of tribute.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 10, 2013:

Hello Sueswan,

Thank you for such a lovely compliment! I hope all is well with you.

My best,


Sueswan on March 10, 2013:

Pure and beautiful just like the Lily.

Voted up and beautiful and sharing

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 04, 2013:

Hello Blossom,

Thank you for your sweet comment. I appreciate your stopping by!


Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on March 04, 2013:

Water-lilies are so lovely - and so is your poem.

Catherine Tally (author) from Los Angeles on March 02, 2013:

Thank you, Martin. Good to see you :)

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on March 02, 2013:

Beautiful and well crafted. Thank you

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