Water lilies, are beloved for their colorful and exotic-looking blooms, but they are more than just pretty plants. They also contribute to pond health. By covering the water surface, they shade the water and keep it cooler, which helps control algae that thrives in heat. Water lilies also shelter fish from birds of prey and filter out excess nutrients to further inhibit algae growth.
Growing from stout rhizomes from the pond bottom, water lilies’ signature leaves develop on long stems and float at the surface. When temperatures warm up in summer, water lilies’ showy flowers open in the morning and close at night.
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Water lilies are available in a rainbow of color options. Many of the hardy varieties have soft, pastel flowers; tropical varieties come in jewel tones of bright blues, purples, oranges, and yellow. Many varieties have a lovely fragrance, too. Though the majority of the species bloom strictly in the daytime, some bloom at night and close in the early morning. Other variations occur in leaf color: Most tropical varieties have a deep, emerald green, but a few are a rich burgundy color.
Related: Top Water Lilies for Your Garden
Water Lily Care Must-Knows
Whether you have a natural or artificial pond, plant water lilies in containers to limit their size. (They will grow to fit the container they are in.) A container prevents the plant from growing through the pond liner or from growing too large and taking over your pond.
Any type of container will work. Plant your lily tubers so that a bit sticks out from the heavy clay-loam soil amended with a slow-release fertilizer formulated for pond plants. To prevent soil from washing away or clouding the water, cover it with fine pea gravel.
Related: Water Garden Landscaping Ideas
If your plant has leaves already developing, begin by placing the container so that the leaves are 6-8 inches deep. After several days, the leaves should reach the surface, then lower the plant to 12-16 inches to its final depth. During the growing season, fertilize the plants every month or two for the best blossoms. Water lilies may need fairly regular grooming of leaves as they begin to yellow and die.
If you are growing hardy varieties, you can leave them in the pond as long as the water does not freeze. Just lower the plants to the bottom of the pond. Come spring, as soon as any threats of late freezes are over, bring the lily pots back up to growing height. As a part of regular water lily maintenance, divide the plants every two to four years to ensure the most vigorous plants. This should be done just before plants break dormancy, usually when you are bringing them back up to growing height.
More Varieties of Water Lily
Cape Blue Water Lily
This Nymphaea capensis selection is a day-bloomer that features fragrant light blue flowers with a distinct star shape that rise above the floating leaves in summer. The plant spreads 5-8 feet. Zones 4-10
'Colorado' Water Lily
Nymphaea 'Colorado' delights with vivid pink-peach day-blooming flowers tipped in pale yellow. Its new leaves are burgundy, adding extra interest. The plants grow 3-5 feet across. Zones 4-10
'George L. Thomas' Water Lily
This type of Nymphaea offers shimmering, deep pink blooms during the day. This fast-growing plant needs a larger pond to show off its glory. It spreads 6-12 feet. Zones 4-10
'Luciana' Water Lily
Nymphaea 'Luciana' is a classic day-blooming variety that generously produces 6-inch-wide pink flowers over a long season. It is adaptable to low light. This plant spreads 3-4 feet wide. Zones 4-10
'Mrs. George H. Pring' Water Lily
This type of Nymphaea is an award-winning variety that features fragrant day-blooming single, large white blooms with a ring of showy yellow stamens at the center. Zones 8-11
'Shirley Bryne' Water Lily
Nymphaea 'Shirley Bryne' bears vibrant-pink cup-shape blooms during the day. Zones 8-11
'Afterglow' Water Lily
This variety of Nymphaea offers magical coloring (pink flowers touched with shades of yellow and orange) on its very fragrant flowers during the day. Plants spread 6-8 feet. Zones 4-10
'Arc en Ciel' Water Lily
Nymphaea 'Arc en Ciel' offers showy foliage; each leaf is unique, with splashes of pink, yellow, cream, and sometimes red. The pale pink flowers open in daytime and fade as they age. Plants spread to 4-5 feet wide. Zones 4-10
'Carolina Sunset' Water Lily
Nymphaea 'Carolina Sunset' bears peach-color blooms during the day and grows to 8 inches wide. Zones 4-10
'Chromatella' Water Lily
This cultivar of Nymphaea bears small yellow flowers during the day, as well as attractive purple-mottled foliage. This dwarf variety is perfect for petite ponds and container gardens, and it tolerates light shade. Zones 4-10
European White Water Lily
This selecion of Nymphaea alba bears cup-shape white flowers, sometimes tinged pink, around a center of showy stamens. The dark green leaves have red undersides. The plant spreads 5-1/2 feet. Zones 5-11
Fragrant Water Lily
Nymphaea odorata is a North American native that's fast-growing and endowed with very fragrant flowers. Held high above the foliage, the white blooms are 6-8 inches in diameter. Plants spread 5-7 feet wide. Zones 4-10
'Helvola' Water Lily
Nymphaea 'Helvola' is a miniature day-blooming variety that produces small yellow flowers among leaves streaked with purple. It spreads to 2-3 feet. Zones 4-10
'Marliacea Carnea' Water Lily
This Nymphaea cultivar unfolds glowing flowers with a subtle pink blush during the day. It is vigorous, flowers freely, and flourishes in larger ponds. Plants spread 4-5 feet. Zones 4-10
'Peach Glow' Water Lily
Nymphaea 'Peach Glow' features large, luminous peach flowers during the day that pale to white as they reach the end of their four-day bloom. This free-flowering variety continues to produce blooms into the fall. Plants spread 5-7 feet. Zones 4-10
'Texas Dawn' Water Lily
This cultivar of Nymphaea is a glorious day-blooming hybrid that holds its clusters of large yellow flowers up to the sun. It spreads 3-5 feet. Zones 4-10
'Hot Pink' Water Lily
This Nymphaea variety is an award-winning tropical water lily that sports large, neon-pink flowers that remain open until late in the day. The green foliage is mottled with reddish brown. It spreads 4 feet. Zones 9-11
'Midnight' Water Lily
Nymphaea 'Midnight' produces small, lightly fragrant lavender blooms during the day. The plants spread 4-6 feet. Zones 8-11