How to care for your pond plants

June 24, 2011

Waterlilies (Nymphaea) and Lotus (Nelumbo) are jewels of the aquatic world. Symbolic in both the ancient and modern world, they are celebrated for their beauty and immortalized in art and religion. Many of them are easy to grow and reward the gardener with fragrant and sumptuous blossoms from June until October.

Types of Waterlilies:

There are two main divisions of waterlilies: hardy and tropical. Hardy waterlilies will survive our winters if they are planted below the freezing line in a water feature, while tropical waterlilies need to be stored over the winter or treated as annuals.

In addition to cold hardiness, tropical waterlilies differ from hardy waterlilies in the following ways:

  • can have larger flowers
  • have longer stalks that hold the flower higher above the surface of the water
  • tend to have larger lily pads
  • come in a range of colors, including blues and purples; hardy waterlilies only come in shades of yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and pastel orange
  • are more fragrant
  • come in day-blooming varieties (diurnal) and night-blooming varieties (nocturnal); hardy waterlilies are day blooming

Caring for Waterlilies

Plant waterlilies in large plastic containers or baskets specifically designed for aquatic plants. Line baskets with burlap or landscape fabric so that the soil does not fall through the cracks. Several sheets of newspaper can be placed on the bottom of containers for the same purpose. Always use topsoil that is free from herbicides and pesticides. The containers should be large enough to allow the rhizome room to spread. Since the rhizomes creep across the surface of the soil, a wider pot is preferable to a deeper one.

If you don’t happen to have a pond, a whiskey barrel or planter are great alternatives. In fact, the shell faux stone planter that we offer in our shop, at 13 inches high and 23 inches in diameter, will make a striking ornament for your outdoor garden. Make sure to research the ultimate size of your plant before you buy it. A waterlily with a six-foot spread will not thrive in a whisky barrel or a small tub. There are plenty of options available on the market in all colors and sizes.

If you do have a pond, why not add color to your garden with our beautiful new watering accessories by Dramm. Dramm watering tools are the choice of professional and serious gardeners for their durability and high performance. How about a purple hose to go with your pink waterlilies?

Planting instructions vary for tropical and hardy waterlilies. Tropical waterlilies should be planted just like annuals. They often come as bare root plants. Place them in the center of a container, and let the crown of the plant rest just above the surface of the soil. With hardy waterlilies, plant the rhizome at a 45-degree angle with the growing tip positioned toward the middle of the pot, resting slightly above the soil level. Cover the soil with gravel or a thin layer of sand.

Each flower on the waterlily lasts 3 to 5 days. They open during the day and close at night (unless they are nocturnal). Once the flower is finished, it will slowly sink into the water. Seed pods form and the ripe seeds fall into the soil below. Seed production is costly to the plant. To ensure many blooms, cut the dying flowers as they sink below the surface. Follow the stem down as far as it goes; either cut it or snap if off with your fingers. Also clean off dead or dying leaves in the same manner.

Tropical waterlilies can be stored over winter by lifting the plant from the container and storing the rhizome in a plastic bag full of damp sand or a mix of damp sand and peat moss at 50-55 degrees.

If you love waterlilies like I do and want to add them to your home décor, you can enjoy a limited edition print of the gigantic South American waterlily by Walter Hood Fitch (1817-1892), from the Rare Book Collection of the LuEsther T. Mertz Library at The New York Botanical Garden. Victoria regia (now named Victoria amazonica), was discovered in 1801 and named in honor of Queen Victoria in 1838. The first European flowering occurred at Chatsworth, where the celebrated 19th-century gardener and glasshouse designer Joseph Paxton had constructed a greenhouse especially to house the waterlily.


Lotus will be hardy if the tuberous rhizomes do not freeze. Lotuses, like waterlilies, prefer 6 or more hours of sunlight. They die back at the end of the year. Cut them down to a few inches above the rhizome. Be patient with them in the spring as they are late to emerge. They prefer warm weather and will start to grow once the water temperature has risen above 70 degrees. The first new leaves of the lotus float on the surface of the water, while older ones are raised in the air. They have beautiful ornamental seed heads that are used in the florist trade.

Tips and Troubleshooting:

  1. Make sure your waterlily or lotus gets enough sunlight; at least 4 hours, ideally 6 hours or more.
  2. Strike a balance between plants and the surface area of the pond; plants should cover approximately 65% of the surface area.
  3. Remember to fertilize your plants with tablets that you press into the soil around the plant. Do not fertilize directly into the water, as you will change the pH of the water and harm both plants and fish. Fertilize plants once a month. Tropical waterlilies are heavy feeders and should be fertilized generously throughout the growing season.
  4. Pay attention to depth when you are planting your aquatic plants. Planting too high will cause hardy plants to freeze in the winter; too low will prevent young plants from receiving enough sunlight. Waterlilies prefer to be planted no less than 4 inches and no more than 18 inches below the surface.
  5. With new plantings, initially place the pot just below the surface and gradually lower as the waterlily grows. Once the plant is established, the pot can remain at the desired depth.
  6. Remember good maintenance practice: clean off old, yellowing leaves and spent flowers to keep your plants healthy.

Keeping Summer Ponds Beautiful

June 14, 2011

The lazy days of summer are here. Your pondkeepers have worked hard throughout the spring to get their ponds in great shape to enjoy all summer long. Now is a good time to talk with your customers about what is happening in their pond. Are they experiencing a lot of algae growth, are the fish multiplying at unusual rates, or are the plants becoming overgrown? Take this opportunity to respond to their concerns and get them back to enjoying their pond as soon as possible.

Summer Ponds

Oxygen levels in pond water must also be closely monitored since the warm water conditions mean the water is not able to hold as much oxygen. Running water such as waterfalls, streams, and fountains ensures maximum aeration. Leave all water features running day and night. Oxygen is at a premium at night because plants are competing with fish for the limited oxygen supply. Plants photosynthesize during the day but respire at night and can cause an oxygen deficit by morning unless extra aeration is supplied. Removing oxygen-greedy, troublesome algae also will help ensure proper oxygen levels are maintained.

The warm summer weather is the perfect condition for algae growth. If your pondkeepers have a pond in direct sunlight, this is even truer for them. Advise customers to remove string algae with a blast of high pressure from the hose and/or using their hands – the best tools for this job. Remove as much string algae as you can. Then, remind customers that there are algae control remedies available to treat green water and string algae, and be sure to stock some options for them.

For heavy algae blooms, suggest a UV clarifier. Suspended, microscopic single-cell algae are so tiny that they pass through even the finest filter. To combat this potential problem, recommend adding a UV clarifier which uses ultraviolet light to destroy the reproductive ability of algae. The dead algae then clump together in particles large enough to be removed by the mechanical filter

Pond Fish

Explain to your pondkeepers that in the summer, when pond water temperatures are above 50?F, feeding high-quality digestible foods will promote growth, vitality, and color enhancement. Fish, like most animals, require a nutritionally-balanced diet in order to grow and be in their best possible condition. Their bodies require the correct amounts (and quality) of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. Proteins are used for tissue formation and, because they cannot be stored in the body, young fish need to obtain large quantities on a regular basis.

Algae Growth

Encourage your pondkeepers to feed fish high-quality food, particularly in the summer. Fish should be fed as much as they will consume in five minutes several times a day. Fish eat what they need to survive in various conditions, and as the water temperature rises to 77°F and higher, fish will consume less food in a given time.

Remember, fish in hot water temperatures may not show an interest in food. When fish feed in extreme summer heat, their movement also uses more oxygen, which is problematic if there isn’t a sufficient supply in the water. Feed fish in the early morning, at the coolest time of the day.

Keep an eye on fish health as well. Spawning activities in the pond may have taken their toll on females and if they are suffering, suggest your pondkeepers conduct a water test. Stock a product that tests for pH and the presence of ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and KH in the water.

Raised pollutant levels are generally caused by overcrowding the fish, overfeeding, or under-filtrating the pond. Each leads to the imbalance between the number of fish and the amount of filter bacteria, which decompose fish waste.

 Once identified, these pollutant problems are relatively easy to overcome. A partial water change will immediately dilute the problem, giving you time to identify the cause. Remind your pondkeepers to treat the water with a product that makes tap water safe for fish by removing harmful chlorine and chloramines. Also, make sure their filtration system is up to the task. If it is not properly sized for their pond volume and/or number of fish, recommend a larger filter, pump, or both.

Aquatic Plant Care

Aquatic plants provide important shade, which reduces algae growth, and provides added natural filtration, which helps clean the water and keep oxygen at healthy levels. Plants are very important to an overall healthy pond. To keep them looking their best, recommend that pondkeepers tend them regularly by removing dead blossoms, leaves, and stems to keep the pond free of debris and decay.

Remember that aquatic plants need extra care to promote growth. Stock a fertilizer product that is in tablet form and planted directly in the pot next to the plants’ roots. This will minimize the plants’ release of chemicals and nutrients that would ultimately encourage algae growth.

Another area of care is pest and disease control. Several pests and diseases afflict aquatic plants, but unlike elsewhere in the garden, these cannot be sprayed with chemicals since most will harm or kill the fish.

Water gardeners need a decent understanding of pests and disease lifecycles in order to attack them effectively. Simply using one or more of the following techniques can control many pests:

• Spray infected plants with clean water from the hose, knocking insects into the water where they can be consumed by the fish.

• Remove pests such as water lily beetles from the plant by hand.

• Remove infested foliage to make way for new growth. Diseases such as water lily leaf spot and crown rot must be dealt with by extracting the damaged foliage.

Help your pondkeepers to care for their pond throughout the summer by stocking products that will help make their work effortless. Remember to be prepared with summer pond care literature and knowledge to keep your pondkeepers coming to you for all of their fish, plant and water care.

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Water Lilies, Popular Aquatic Pond Plants

June 3, 2011

Water lily flower

Water lilies or Nymphaea, to scientists – are considered by many to be the jewels of the pond. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but they also serve an important purpose in the pond, mainly in aiding its ecosystem. Water lilies spread across the waters surface, filling it with color and vibrancy all the while keeping the pond and the creatures in it safe and healthy. produce.

Besides being pleasing to the eye, water lilies do a great deal to maintain the well-being of the ponds they inhabit. For one, they provide shade to keep the water temperature down during the hot summer months. By blocking out a lot of sunlight, the lilies help to keep the algae growth down. Their shade also gives shelter to any fish that may be in the pond – a respite from both the sun and any predators that may be lurking nearby. They also absorb nutrients in the water that would normally feed these undesirable green plants, keeping the water clear and clean-looking.

General Information

Hardy water lilies can remain in the pond year round. The lily will die off in the winter time and produce new leaves and flowers in the spring. The hardy lily generally flowers from May through September. Flowers come in a variety of colors, opening in the early morning and closing in the late afternoon. Some hardy water lily flowers change color shades over the life of the bloom

Water lilies grow completely within water, with their blossoms flourishing on top of or above the water’s surface. They typically grow to suit the size of the area in which they are placed, spreading their leaves across the surface of the water and filling it with color.

Water lilies require a lot of sun to grow properly. In frost-free regions, they bloom all year. In cooler regions, they bloom during the summer and often into the fall. Throughout their growing season, they constantly generate leaf growth. These leaves live up to three or four weeks at the peek of the season.

The most striking feature of water lilies is the incredible amount of variation found among the different plants. From their shape and size, their color and fragrance, or their blooming patterns and growing periods, there is a water lily for every preference and every pond.

Water lilies range notably in size – from miniature flowers with small leaves to giant plants that spread over 25 square feet. They come in a variety of shapes – star shaped, cup shaped, pointed or fluffy, though that’s certainly not all. The leaves can be smooth or jagged, rounded or pointed.

The colors are just as varied, ranging from yellow, pink, red, white, purple, blue and orange. Several types of lilies are incredibly fragrant, as well.

Lily Flower Macro

In the center of all water lilies are golden stamens – the organ of the flowers that bear pollen. When the lilies are young, the stamens stand straight. As the flowers age, they begin folding and curling into the flower.

The variations found in water lilies are especially pronounced when one breaks down the genus further, into hardy water lilies and tropical water lilies. They are similar, but they are not closely enough related to be naturally cross-bred. While both need a lot of sun to bloom and to thrive, tropicals, unlike hardies, can still bloom with as little as three hours of sun in a day. That said, tropical water lilies can be either day- or night-flowering plants, while hardies only open during the daylight hours. Tropical water lilies also start blooming later in the summer than hardies; however, they remain in bloom for longer than hardies. Tropicals also tend to have larger plants and larger blossoms than their hardy counterparts, and tend to hold their blossoms higher above the water than do the hardies.

These are a few of the differences between the two types, but the list continues. Both subgenres – hardy water lilies and tropical water lilies – have their own characteristics and their own needs, as outlined below.


Hardy Water Lilies

Hardy Water Lily picture

The leaves of hardy plants are circular in shape with smooth, round edges. There is a waxy cuticle covering their surface. These features all aid in their survival: the shape helps to protect them from tearing in rough winds or waves, while the waxy cuticle allows the water to roll off the surface so that the leaves do not sink.

Hardies come in a variety of colors, ranging from red, salmon, pink, white, yellow, orange, peach and nearly black. There are some varities – called changeable water lilies – that change their color over their bloom period (of three to four days). Hardy water lilies are the first of the lilies to come into bloom in the spring. Once the water temperature holds steady at 60 degrees, they will begin to bloom, spreading their pads across the pond with their blossoms eventually floating on or just above the water’s surface. These shallow-rooted plants need plenty of room to grow and spread up and out across the pond.

In the early spring, these fresh lily pads will begin to emerge on the water’s surface. Many of the lilies will be in bloom by mid- to late-spring. They bloom throughout the warm-weather months, eventually becoming dormant in the fall. These are perennial plants, meaning that as long as the rhizome – the underground stem that sends out roots and shoots – does not freeze, the plant will survive through the winter and bloom again in spring. Come winter, in areas with no frost, they will continue to grow, however their growth will certainly slow down a bit. Year-round blooming is possible in frost-free zones. In areas with frost, however, the lilies survive through the winter only if they are below the pond ice.

These are not night-blooming flowers. Indeed, they are open in full bloom by mid-morning and are closed again by mid- to late-afternoon. Though each flower will last approximately three to five days, new flowers will constantly open throughout the season.


Tropical Water Lilies

Tropical Water Lily picture

The lily pads of the tropical plants come in different shapes, typically smooth, toothed or fluted. The edges are usually jagged and pointed and may even look ruffled. The pads are larger than the hardies, often taking up much more space in the water than they do.

Tropicals blossoms are impressively sized – some span more than a foot across. Like the hardies, they come in many different colors. The two subgenres share the same color palette, for the most part (red, salmon, pink, white, yellow, orange, peach and near-black), but these types also come in blue and purple.

Though hardy water lilies are indeed very beautiful flowers, it is the tropical lilies that command – and capture – the most attention. They are larger and flashier than the hardies and tend to be more fragrant. They also tend to bloom for a month or two longer, stay open later in the day, and are more likely than hardies to produce multiple flowers at any given time.

The tropicals require warmer temperatures than do the hardies to bloom, thus making them a bit more difficult to grow. After three or more weeks of temperatures above 80 degrees, these flowers will finally start to open up and bloom. Once they do, they fill the ponds with their colorful blossoms throughout the summer months and well into fall. After the hardies have gone dormant, the tropicals will stay in bloom for several weeks longer, often until the first frost. During the winter months, however, they go dormant and die.


Tropical Lily Pads

There are two kinds of tropical water lilies: night bloomers and day bloomers. Lilies in the white, pink or red color range tend to be night bloomers, and these types are typically more fragrant. These flowers can take an entire hour to fully open, and tend to open in the late afternoon or early evening and close the following mid-morning.

Day bloomers, however, are the most common kind of tropical water lilies. They are fragrant, as well, but their scents are usually lighter and sweeter than the heavy-scented tropicals. Day bloomers have pointed petals and come in various shades, from magenta, red or pink, to white or yellow, or to blue or violet. They open midmorning and close again during the late afternoon hours.

The blooms of both day and night bloomers open and close for periods of three to four days, holding their flowers above the water on strong, stiff stems.

Planting and Maintenance

There are two options when it comes to planting water lilies. They can either be planted in aquatic plant pots (the kind with no holes in the bottom) or directly in a hole created at the bottom of the pond. The planting of the lily itself will not be affected by the method you choose. Once you determine whether to use plant pots or plant pockets, you can begin the whole process.

With plant pots, a hole is created in the bottom of the pond into which the pots will be placed. These holes at the bottom of the pond must be able to accommodate the pot, so it is important that they are deep and wide enough. Once the vessel has been chosen and the lilies have been planted, you can place the pot into the hole. Take heed: the pot must lie directly on top of the soil at the bottom of the hole on level ground.

“If you choose to use the pocket method, you will plant the water lilies directly into the hole at the bottom of the pond.”

The size of your pond will determine the size of the container you use or the hole you dig. Again, lilies grow to suit the size of the area they are in – keep this in mind. As a rule, the larger the vessel, the larger the lilies will grow.

Water lilies thrive best in heavy garden topsoil, but take care to make sure it has not been mixed with other substances such as manure or compost.
When determining where to place the water lilies, one must keep in mind that they do not thrive when faced with heavy water movement or with water splashing on them. Therefore, they should not be placed near waterfalls, streams or other such potential problem areas.

Maintaining the well-being of the lilies is vital for keeping ponds beautiful. Lilies should be fertilized regularly. This will help the flowers to grow larger and to bloom more frequently. You also must take care to remove all dead or yellowing leaves from the plant’s surface so they will not sink to the bottom and decompose. You should also keep the stems trimmed, pruning them as close to the rhizome as you are able.

There are some differences between hardies and tropicals, however, in terms of their planting and maintenance.


Ideally, you should set your hardy lilies out once the early spring chill has subsided but before they begin growing. Doing so will enable them to produce blooms their first summer. If you buy the rhizomes before you can plant them, keep them submerged in water and leave them in a cool place and away from directly sunlight.

These lilies should be planted in pots or holes six to eight inches deep or in pots of a nine- to 20- (or more) quart capacity. The smallest pots recommended for standard and larger sized lilies are nine- to 10-quart containers. At least a five-quart container is recommended for the smaller lilies.

Fill the container about one-third of the way with topsoil then place the seed on top. Then cover the seed with soil so that the tip is just barely peeking through the soil. The blossoms of hardies will rise to the surface one at a time every three to seven days.

Maintenance is key, especially with hardies whose leaves continuously die and grow back throughout the growing season. Yellow leaves and four-day-old blossoms should be removed regularly. You should stop fertilizing hardy lilies in the early fall season as the growth of the plant slows.

Hardy lilies can live through the winter, but special care must be given to them during this time. In cold regions, they will survive if they are below the ice. If the pond isn’t deep enough to lower the containers as needed, remove the pans with the lilies in them and take them to a cool location. Keep them covered with damp material, such as a damp cloth, then seal them in a plastic bag to keep them from drying out.

In areas where frost does not threaten the growth of the lilies, their growth will slow down significantly but will, nonetheless, continue growing.


With tropical water lilies, planting should commence once the pond water has maintained a steady 69 degree temperature. It is very important to note that planting them before the water has reached this temperature may cause serious damage to the plants. They can go dormant – or, at worst, die. They must be planted immediately; unlike their hardy counterparts, these water lilies will not last more than a couple of days without the proper growing conditions.

These lilies should be planted in 15- to 20-quart tubs. They should be planted so that there are six to 18 inches of water growing over their tips.

They will begin growing roughly two weeks after they have been planted and then will begin blooming in another two to four weeks. They should be fertilized about twice a month.

In frost-free regions, tropicals will bloom year-round. In areas prone to frost, however, they do not fare the winter quite as the hardies do, and will die after a few bouts of frost. Many pond owners choose to replace them each spring. If they survive the winter, they should be repotted in fresh soil and fertilized as usual. Once these steps have been taken, they can be placed back in the pond another season of growth and enjoyment.

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