How to plant a Water lily

Common nameWater lily
Botanical nameNymphaea
Plant typeHerbaceous perennial
OriginAsia, Australia, North America
Size3-6 inches tall, 4-8 feet wide
Sun At least 6 hours
SoilClay soil, loamy soil
Ph Neutral
Bloom timeSummer 
Hardiness zone4-10


Water lilies are beautiful flowering aquatic plants coming under the family Nymphaeaceae. They consist of more than 50 species and has are considered native to Asia, Australia, and North America. But now a days they can be seen almost anywhere in the world. Water lily thrives in warm water (21°C) and can reach up to 3-6 inches tall and 4-8 feet wide. They are perennial plants and bloom during summer time. The foliage (lily pads) of water lily is generally round or slightly heart shaped and floats in water. The leaves have a waxy texture i.e. they are hydrophobic and the leaves are attached to the underwater stem by long stalks. The flowers are solitary and come in different colors like purple, pink, white, blue, yellow, red, and orange depending on the species. The intensity of the fragrance produced by the flower also depends on the species and the flower can last up to 3 days. The plants die in autumn and re-emerge in spring.

If you are planning to keep a lily pond and have pets, you better keep this in mind! Even though lily is edible to humans, every part of your lily plant is toxic, except the seeds, to your beloved pets. But you can keep them along with other aquatic plants like cardinal flowers, marsh marigold, and pickerel weeds.   

Now let’s discuss on how to plant and take care of water lilies at home. 

What to plant?

Tubers (rhizomes) of lily are available in nursery and can be planted in to the pot. The whole plant is also available along with the pot.

How to plant?

Selecting the pot: Water lilies prefer a wider pot to grow rather than a deeper one. You can use medium to large size pots, as the smaller pots may restrict the growth of your plant. So the ideal size of the pot will be 15-20 inches wide and 8-10 inches deep. If drainage holes are present, cover them with burlap or newspaper to prevent the escape of soil. The pot should be big enough for the tuber to spread as it creeps across the surface of the soil. 

Filling with soil: Fill the pot with heavy soil such as clay soil or mountain soil or soil specifically designed soil for planting aquatic plants. Leave three inch gap between soil and top of the pot. It is better not to use a regular potting mix that is available for garden plants, because the potting mix may contain perlite, vermiculite, and peat which can float in the water and alter the pH.  If you are using garden soil, fill 2/3rd of the pot with garden soil and cover the exposed soil with half inch of pea gravel or sand to prevent the soil from leaching out when placed in water. You can also add pebbles on top of the gravel. 

Fertilizer: Water lilies are heavy feeders and you have to supply them with fertilizer pellets once in every month. While preparing the planting pot, push the fertilizer tablet directly into the soil, and cover it up with the soil. It is better to use slow release fertilizers as it release slowly into the soil. Fertilizers such as bone and cow manure can increase the growth rate but it will spoil the water and harm the other aquatic life forms present in the water.  

When to plant?

Season: Normally they are planted from April to September. 

Planting the tuber/rhizome: Before planting, remove old leaves and roots. Check for the eye of the rhizome and place it facing center of the pot with a tilt of 45° in the soil. You have to cover the lower portion of the rhizome, leaving the eye pointing outward. It will help to spread across the pot. You can spot new leaves sprouting in 10 days. Or you can place a single tuber near the edge of the pot with the top pointing out.  

Submerging the container: Submerge your freshly planted pot in to your pond or any water source where you want to grow your lilies at an angle to allow the air to escape. Leave at least four inches gap between the pot and the surface of water. The ideal depth is 6-18 inches deep. It is better to lower the pot gradually as the water lily grows. If your pond is deeper than 18 inches, your lily may fail to grow and flower. So the height is achieved by placing bricks at the bottom of the pond and placing the pot over it. If you plant them too deep they will fail to flower, and if you plant them too shallow they will die.

Water lilies and splash: Splashes are a red flag for water lilies. Just like with depth, keep them away from water splashes (fountain or cascade). When raining, they close their buds or don’t form buds. They show a similar reaction to splashes. Frequent splashes may rot the leaves and the plants may be busy replacing the leaves instead of flowering. So if you want to enjoy those alluring flowers, better keep off from the splashes. 

How to maintain?

In addition to fertilizers you should also watch for other factors…

Sunlight: water lilies require at least six hours of sunlight. Flowering depends on the amount of sunlight they get. So when you are placing the pot in the pond, make sure the spot gets enough sunlight.

Pruning: The flower opens during the day and closes at night, and can lasts for at least 3 days. Later the flower may die. So the sinking flower and dead leaves have to be removed regularly from the starting point. It will help your plants to have new blooms.

Repotting and propagating new water lilies: If you find your plant stop flowering, that means it’s time for propagating. They will be ready to divide in about 3-5 years. Winter may be the best time repot as they are dormant during this period. This is a messy process. You have to lift the pot from the pond and pull out the plant carefully. With the help of a sharp scissor or knife, remove sections of rhizome which contain at least two eyes and repot them in the same manner. Place them back into the pond. The tough woody crown of the plant can be discarded. Repotting will help them to flower better.  


  • If the water in the pond starts to smell, remove it immediately and replace it with clean water.
  • Use of chemicals for killing the unwanted algae may stunt the growth of plants, so it is better to reduce its use.
  • Certain fishes like guppies will eat the mosquito larvae present in the container.
  • Don’t over fertilize as they increase the algal growth and turns the water green.
  • Frequently remove the decaying vegetation.
  • Make sure 60% of the pond is shaded by lily pads or other plants.
  • A well aerated pond keeps the plant healthy. 

Leave a Reply