How To Plant A Lily Pool This Year

No matter what else you have in your garden, a pool will be the center of interest. 

Perhaps it’s the utter “difference” of water plants, the lure of water, bringing down a patch of the reflected sky into your green lawn, or the intriguing movements of colorful fishes gliding below the lily pads. The combination, in any event, adds up to irresistible appeal.

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Creating Waterscape

Water plants have practical advantages, too. Few flowers are easier to grow. Most mature rapidly, and you can create a “waterscape” of great beauty in one season. 

Furthermore, after a pool is properly planted, there is no weeding, watering, or hoeing. Maintenance is less than that required by a perennial border of equal area.

You can begin in a small way with a tub or half a barrel sunk to its rim in the ground. The large metal tanks sold by some waterlily nurseries are elaborations of this idea. 

Ground excavations lined with rubberized fabrics have made good pools. A recent development along this line is a flexible plastic container similar to those used for children’s wading pools.

However, I think there is nothing better than a well-built concrete pool for permanence and a pleasing appearance. Construction details, included in most aquatics catalogs, are so simple that you can build one yourself.

Foliage And Aquatic Plants To Grow

Whatever pool you have, be sure it is properly located in the sun. Foliage plants – water fern and lettuce, for instance – thrive in the shade. But nearly all flowering aquatics are sun lovers.

Although they will grow in water, nearly all aquatics must be rooted in the soil to thrive. Any reasonably fertile garden earth will do. Suppose it’s on the heavy, clayey side; so much better.

Don’t bother to amend it with sand, peat, leaf mold, or other materials which might seem logical in “dirt” gardening. 

Old rotted cow manure is excellent; however, one shovel of it to about three shovels of soil will make a good mixture. Lacking waste, you will find the packaged waterlily fertilizers very good and easy to use.

Tiny pools and tubs are half-filled with soil and planted. In more extensive collections, however, it is better to have a separate soil container, such as a large bucket, tub, or wooden box. for each lily-and lotus.

One or more additional large boxes will be needed for marginal shallow water plants. Proper water depth for the various plants is then easily obtained by setting the soil containers on bricks or blocks as necessary.

Don’t starve your plants in small flower pots or cans. Their ultimate size, number of blooms, and season-long growth depend not only on good earth but a generous amount of it. 

Hardy waterlilies, other than dwarfs, should have a bushel or more good soil for each root. So should tropical varieties if you want the spectacular flower sizes they can produce.

It is a poor economy to buy the cheap lilies sometimes sold in various stores and pet shops. They are usually collected stock from southern lakes and swamps, and while their flowers are exquisite, they’re shy bloomers under artificial pool conditions.

Buy instead cultivated, named waterlilies; free-blooming varieties are available in a wide color range. 

Occasionally these are offered locally, and you can get them from the large aquatic nurseries that ship, with safety all over the country. Let the dealer decide when to send your order since he knows when it is safe to plant in your locality.

In Tennessee, I can put out hardy lilies in late March and have blooms in April.

Tropical varieties, already bearing small flowers, can usually be set out by May 15. However, these operations must be delayed 2 to 4 weeks in Chicago and New York.

Several different and exciting groups of water plants are listed in catalogs. Here are the main ones, together with selections of dependable varieties in each group.

Exciting Water Plants

Hardy Waterlilies

Floating leaves and pads, average leaf spread 2′ to 4′ feet, leaves green, bronze, reddish or marbled. 

Flowers mainly in spring and summer; production slows in fall. Buds open mornings and close afternoons over three to five days.

Wide varieties of fragrant. Supplied as dormant or (later) growing rootstocks (rhizomes). Grow well with 6″ to 18″ inches of water over the soil, 12″ inches being a standard depth in garden pools.

Tropical Waterlilies

Large floating leaves cover a 4′ to 12′ foot circle; leaf color is green, brown, maroon, red, or mottled. 

Fragrant flowers stand on strong stems 6″ to 18″ inches above the water, start later in the season than on hardy varieties, are produced more freely, and keep blooming until frost. 

Two classes are:

  • Day-blooming kinds open in the mornings and close in the evenings.
  • Night-blooming kinds, opening about dusk and closing in the middle of the next morning.

The same bud lasts several days. They are usually supplied as growing plants from pots. Need water or warmer, 6″ to 12″ inches deep.

Dwarf Waterlilies

Similar to others except in size. The average leaf spreads about 2′ feet. Bloom well in water 3″ to 6″ inches deep. 

Excellent for tubs, small pools, and even old dishpans. Hardy, except as noted.


“Umbrella” leaves rise several feet above the water. Magnolia-like flowers are followed by extensive ornamental seed pods and supplied as fleshy tubers or pot plants. Again, a 4″ to 8″ inch water depth is suitable.

“Chinese Double Red” lotus of some dealers appears identical to the Double Rose Flowered form. This would be my choice if I could have only one.

Shallow Water And Bog Plants

These are highly varied. But alike in needing soil with 6″ inches or less water over it.

Water hyacinth, the famous “dime store orchid.” is a floating plant, strictly speaking, but blooms best with its submerged roots anchored in the soil. 

All these plants are attractive in foliage, flower, or both, and with their varied heights and habits, help build up marginal settings to show off your lilies to advantage.

When your plants arrive, you will have the pool partly filled with water and the soil boxes in place. 

Unpack them at once and sink them in a tub of water or right in the pool until you’re ready to set them out. They won’t tolerate drying.

Simple Planting

Actual planting is very simple: gently push each root hall, tuber, or fleshy rhizome into the soil in its box, leaving the growing point or crown showing above the mud. 

Banana-shaped lotus tubers should be placed in a horizontal position.

While not necessary, it is helpful to sprinkle a layer of sand over the soil. Be sure to avoid covering growing crowns; they should still be visible in the water when you have finished.

Fish are necessary, of course, to control mosquito larvae. But fortunately, they also provide added dividends of beauty and interest. The graceful and slender cornet goldfish is one of the best varieties.

As extra insurance against mosquitoes, I like to have some of the little top-minnow, Gambusia affinis, in my pools. These inconspicuous live-bearers are active, voracious larvae eaters. 

If they are not native to streams in your locality, they may usually be found in pet shops. Many city health departments distribute them free for mosquito control”.

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