Native to Asia and Australia, the lotus is considered sacred by the Buddhist and Hindu religions. It’s also prized by water gardeners because it’s both beautiful and easy to grow. Lotus stalks start out in muddy soil and water, and end in sweetly fragrant white-to-pink flowers that can grow as large as 12 inches across. Although spectacular, the flowers are short-lived—appearing for only a few days followed by large ornamental seed pods. Also intriguing to observe, the plant’s canopy of waxy blue-green leaves can reach two to three feet in diameter—either lying flat on the water or rising up several feet above the water line.
Lotus grows best in full sun and an aquatic feature without flowing water—which has the potential to disrupt growth and flower formation. Some lotus varieties require a massive amount of water surface to mature, while others do just fine in small water gardens. Read plant descriptions carefully when selecting a lotus for your landscape.
You can grow lotus in one of two ways depending on the water feature. For small ponds or water gardens, plant the lotus tuber (aka root) in a large round container without drainage holes. Choose a container sized to suit the size of the plant. While still on land, fill the pot halfway with heavy garden soil. Spread a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of coarse sand over the soil surface. Next, set a lotus tuber crosswise on top of the sand with growing points sticking straight up. Embed the tuber into the sand and weigh it down with stones to keep it from floating. Fill the container with water until it reaches just above the growing tips and wait.
Once the lotus breaks dormancy and starts shooting out leaves, lower the pot into the pond. Place bricks underneath, if needed, to raise it to the right level: 6 to 12 inches below the water surface when sitting on top of the pond's muddy bottom. Eventually the tuber will send roots into the soil and stems will emerge.
If you want to naturalize lotus plants in a larger pond, anchor the tubers directly in the muddy bottom near the edge of the pond where they can easily spread. Keep in mind that lotus tubers multiply with gusto when planted directly in the mud of a natural pond. In a few short years the plants may blanket the water surface, resulting in an unhealthy environment for any aquatic life.
Seasonal Lotus Care
Lotus plants can safely overwinter in a pond as long as the tubers are planted below the freeze line—in other words, they won't freeze solid when temperatures drop. In colder climates (where the temperature drops below 0 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods of time) or when the water in the pond is less than six inches deep, move the container to a deeper part of the pond where the tubers will be protected from freezing. Or take the container to a cool, dark space (below 50 degrees Fahrenheit) that won't freeze—such as a basement or root cellar. Keep the soil in the container slightly moist so the tubers don't dry out. Place the tubers outside again in the spring only after the last hard freeze has taken place.
As the weather and water warm in late spring, the plants will push up new leaves. If the containers were moved to deeper areas of the pond for winter, raise them to their summer growing position as soon as possible in spring. If the containers were overwintered inside, place them back in the water.
Spring is also the best time to repot lotus, which should be done every few years as soon as leaf spikes emerge in spring. Working carefully so as not to damage growing points, remove the tubers from the soil. Discard the soil and any dead tubers. Replant with fresh soil and submerge the pot again.
More Varieties of Lotus
'Baby Doll' lotus
Nelumbo 'Baby Doll' offers white blooms on a dwarf plant sized just right for container water gardens. Zones 3-10
'Double Rose' lotus
This gorgeous variety unfurls fully double, rich rose flowers. The plants grow 6 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-11
'Momo Botan' lotus
Nelumbo 'Momo Botan' bears huge magenta flowers that stay open for days and appear in summer and fall. It grows 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide. Zones 4-11
'Mrs. Perry D. Slocum' lotus
This variety offers attractive blooms that start out pink with a touch of yellow and change to yellow with a pink blush. The plants grow 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Zones 4-11
Nelumbo nucifera features broad white petals tipped in rose pink that radiate around a central crown of golden seedpod fringed in gold stamens. The plant grows 5 feet wide. Zones 4-10