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  • How to Grow Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus

    The Water Lily and Lotus

    Water lilies (Nymphaea genus) and lotus (Nelumbo genus) are the most popular aquatic garden plants. The Water Lily and Lotus are grown from seeds or rhizomes, the horizontal stem of the plant found underground, just below the soil line. Aquatics plants have their own unique planting process, but once understood, gardners can achieve immense satisfaction both from the process and the results.

    Many aquatic seeds have a tough protective coating that must be slightly removed using a process called scarification in order to grow. Rhizomes behave much like a potato: plant the potato tuber itself and the gardner is well on the way to success.

    Growing Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus

    Growing aquatic plants like the water lily and lotus are similar to growing any other plant. It all starts with the proper environment. Like most every other plant, the gardener needs to be concerned with the container, soil, fertilizer, planting techniques, and temperature. Everything a successful gardener pays attention to for any plant. When it comes down to it, the major difference is aquatic plants grow in a water environment instead of the air. And the only additional variable is the water depth. With that in mind, novice aquatic gardeners can quickly become successful.

    Growing Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus from Seed

    When grown from seed, a the hard seedcoat requires scarification, a process of carefully removing the thin outer casing so water can penatrate. To scarify the seed, slowly file the rounder end of the seed until it's abraded. If filed too deep, the seed will be destroyed. After scarified, place into a glass of room temperature water. Germination usually takes less than 15 days. The seed or the root section, the start of a rhizome, should be anchored to bottom of a tub of water or shallow pond. Once the rhizome grows, it can be transplant to container as described below.

    Growing Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus from a Rhizome

    Like all other rhizomes, this rootstalk is the essence of the plant, sending out roots that form additional rhizome nodes that form new shoots that repeat the growth cycle. The rootstalk will have a growing point from where the shoot grows. To locate the growing point, look for one or more buds similar to eyes on a potato.

    Soil for Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus

    Aquatic plants like water lilies and lotus perform best when planted in heavy clay loam soil containing around 30% clay, 35% loam, and 35% sand. The soil is gritty, making it porous to water and amenable to root growth, yet dense enough to maintain its integrity in water. Commercial potting mixes and traditional soil amendments are not suitable; they are too light once in the water, causing the soil to float, making it susceptible to dispersion over time, and unable to hold nutrients due to diffusion.

    Containers for Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus

    Like all container gardening, the container controls the health and size of the mature plant. Too small, the plant will be root-bound and possibly nutrient deprived. Too large, the gardener is utilizing too much soil and limiting plant placement because the container simply takes too much physical space.

    Water lilies and lotus do well in a container 10 inches deep. For hardy aquatic plants, use a container that is about 15 inches in diameter. For tropical water lilies and lotus, use a container that is about 20 inches in diameter. If the container has holes, cover them with a material like burlap or plastic before the soil is added to avoid soil from coming out after the soil is saturated underwater.

    Planting Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus

    Fill the container about two-thirds full of soil and dampen it with water, plant the rhizome per instructions below, and add half an inch layer of pea gravel. The gravel will cap the container, discouraging fish from digging into the soil and generally reducing soil dispersion.

    Planting Hardy Water Lily

    Hardy water lilies grow outward from the side of the rhizome. For these aquatic plants, place the rhizome near the edge of the container at a slight, upward angle and the growing point exposed just barely above the soil level pointing to the center of the pot. With this positioning, the plant is situated to take the maximum advantage of the container.

    Planting Tropical Water Lily

    Fill the container about two-thirds full of soil and dampen it with water. Tropical water lilies grow upward from the rhizome. For these aquatic plants, place the rhizome in the center of the container at a slight, upward angle and the growing point exposed just barely above the soil level.

    Planting Lotus

    Fill the container about two-thirds full of soil and dampen it with water. The lotus is a fragile rootstalk that grows upward from the rhizome. Carefully place the rhizome flat in the center of the container, covered with around 3 inches of soil while keeping the growing points just above the soil level.

    Placing the Plants in the Water

    Determine the proper depth, following the placement guide below. To achieve the proper container depth, bricks or inverted pots can be used to adjust for various bottom conditions. Carefully and slowly lower the potted plant in water to the proper depth. Slow submersion will reduce the likelihood of rushing water upsetting the gravel cap, washing away the soil, and disturbing the placement of the rhizome.

    Hardy water lilies and lotus plants are tolerant of cooler water temperatures and can be placed in the water when temperatures reach 50 degrees Fahreheit (10 degrees Celsius). Tropical water lilies cannot tolerate cold temperatures and should not be placed in the water until the water temperature reaches 70 degrees Fahreheit (21 degrees Celsius). Placing plants outdoors before their minimum temperature can be maintained can cause dormancy, injury, and retardation of growth.

    Placing Hardy Water Lilies

    Hardy water lilies grow to a height over 18 inches in full sun and around 6 inches in shade (less than six hours of sun a day). For plants in full sun, the plant can be placed at an initial depth of six inches and then moved to its final depth of 12 to 18 inches as it grows; the minimum depth measured from container top to water surface should be no less than six inches. For plants in shade, the ideal depth is six inches to assure the plant receives enough sunlight.

    Placing Tropical Water Lilies

    Tropical Water Lilies grow to a high around 12 inches; the plants will tolerate a water depth of six inches but prefer 12 inches. These aquatic plants desire full sun.

    Placing Lotus

    Lotus tolerates growing in constantly wet soil. Mature plants desire 4 to 6 inches of water and full sun.

    Fertilizing for Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus

    Plants are like animals. Each animal, even within a single species, has its own unique DNA and grows differently in the exact same situation. And like animals, plants are dependent on their environment for their nutrients. The composition of the soil, the quality of air, the amount of sun, the temperature (regulating the metabolic rate of the plant and the microbes within the soil), and the plants around it all factor into how well the plant will grow.

    For optimal growth all of these variables need to be regulated. The planting process started with the proper soil. The temperature and sun are taken into account. The water and other plants in the garden must be maintained. In addition to the soil the aquatic plant gardener also needs to be concerned with the water and the fertilizer in tandem.

    For non-aquatic plants the gardener are typically concerned with each plant individually. The gardener will assay the plant and provide the proper amount of water and fertilizer. In a water garden the water itself and the other plants in it are impacted by the fertilizer. We don’t fertilize the water itself as tempting as that may be. Different plants even of the same species need different amounts of fertilizer, and even if they were fine with the same amount, too much fertilizer in the water will cause algae problems.

    Water lilies and lotus are fairly tolerant of fertilizer. Generally, slow release tables or granules with a fertilizers analysis of 20-10-5 or 12-8-8 are acceptable. The Banana Tree experts recommend a concentration of four ounces of fertilizer for every one cubic foot of soil for mature plants and half that for emergent plants. For mature plants, fertilizer should be applied every month during the prime growing season between April and August. For emergent plants, fertilizer should be applied at once at planting and again midseason in June.

    Overwintering Aquatic Plants like the Water Lily and Lotus

    Tropical water lilies and lotus are handled differently because they are tropical, requiring relatively warm temperatures to avoid damage. Prior to the first frost, remove the containers from the water and remove the plants from the container. Separate the rootstalks from each other and trim off most of the leaves. Repot the rootstalks into smaller containers and store in an aquarium tank or other container where they get plenty of light and where the temperature can be maintained between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. When placed in warmer water, the plants will begin to sprout again so it is important to maintain the temperature to avoid damage or growth during storage. Some tropical water lilies produce walnut-sized tubers, which can be removed and stored in water at 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit for the winter. When water temperatures maintain 65 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, the planting process described in this document can be repeated.

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