How to care for water lilies

Nymphaea mexicana
Nymphaea mexicana

Nymphaea mexicana

Water lilies (botanical name: Nymphaea) add beauty to your pond or water garden. They provide shade and shelter for the fish, and they oxygenate the water, reduce algae and act as a natural water filter.

Tropical water lilies

Tropical water lilies may be either daytime blooming opening mid morning and closing in the late afternoon, or night blooming with flowers that open at dusk and remain open all night. Tropical lilies do well in warmer zones (hardiness zone 5 and up) but Calgary, zone 3 is suited to non-tropical, or hardy water lilies.

Hardy water lilies

Photo credit Cliff Sharples, Dig the Dirt

Nymphaea alba

Hardy water lilies are a popular addition to ponds everywhere and are generally available in shades of white, yellow, pink, red and peach. Put them in your pond at a depth of between one to two feet below the water’s surface. When the leaves reach the surface, place organic plant fertilizer tablets directly into the pots for more leaves and bigger blooms. Water lilies need at least 6 hours of full sun daily. Flowers usually open in the morning and close sometime during the afternoon. Unlike tropical lilies, hardy water lilies only bloom during the day.

The best quality pond plants are usually found at the local nursery or garden center. I’ve had success with lilies from the garden center as well as pet stores that specialize in aquarium and pond accessories.

How to store water lilies over winter

Water lilies are perennials and will survive winter in the pond if it’s deep enough that the roots won’t freeze solid. If your pond freezes over winter (Calgary can reach -30°C or colder — so yes!) remove the lilies from the pond during fall. There are several methods for overwintering water lilies and the one that works best for me is to wrap lilies container and all, in black bags and keep them in cold storage, allowing them to remain damp and at temps of 5°C (40°F)  to 12°C  (55°F). Another method is to remove the plant from its pot and wrap the tuber in moist peat moss or leaves, then store in a dark cool environment until the pond thaws in spring. The lilies will go dormant in cold dark storage and in spring when the ice has melted they’ll bounce right back to life in the pond.

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Water lilies, photo courtesy wikimedia commons

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