Water Lilies for Beauty And Every Shade Of The Rainbow

Almost every rainbow shade is represented in the blossoms of modern-day water lilies, which range in size from 3” to 12” inches in diameter.

Thus, no home gardener, whether his pool is of good size or only a tub garden in a bit of sunny space, need be denied the pleasure of enjoying one or wide varieties.

Growing Water liliesPin

Ideal Water lily Culture For Successful Growth

Success or failure with water lilies depends greatly upon the pools they are to be grown.


In locating a pool, consider first the amount of sunlight available.

Full sun is essential for water lily culture. Never build a pool under a tree that sheds many leaves.

Not only will the pool be littered with decaying debris, but too little sunlight will penetrate through the foliage.


The depth of the pool will depend upon whether the lilies are to be grown in boxes or in a natural soil bed.

A lily pool does not need a continuous supply of fresh water. Tropical lilies delight in water that is warm and even temperature.

Add only enough fresh water from time to time to replace that lost by evaporation.

If you want to change the water in your small pool, do so in spring before planting.

Simply siphon the water out with a hose and refill the pool the same way.

Wherever possible, stock the pool with fish that help control mosquito larvae and the algae.

Types Of Pool

A concrete pool is usually better for a small place than one with a soil-covered bottom.

The first can be practically weed-free, and its water will remain clearer.

The second offers anchorage to many aquatic weeds, of which certain species will be difficult to control.

For this reason, many gardeners prefer to raise lilies in large boxes or half-barrels set in the pool.

The simplest and least expensive type of pool is a hole dug in the ground and filled with water.

If the ground proves to be porous, puddle it with clay to prevent water loss.

The hole can be of any shape or size but must be two feet deep.

The pool next in simplicity is a water-holding container, preferably sunk in the ground.

For this, any wood, porcelain, metal, or plastic tub, even a discarded bathtub, can be used.

The edge of the hollow container may be rimmed with brick, stones, or any other hard material to add distinction. Also, plants may be tucked into the crevices of this edging.

If a permanent concrete pool is desirable, choose between one constructed only with concrete sides or the other built entirely of cement.

In either case, the concrete walls should be about 5” inches thick for security with some reinforcing (such as a layer of chicken or fencing wire) laid within the concrete.

Use a concrete mixture of the following:

  • 1 part cement
  • 2 parts of sand
  • 4 parts of coarse gravel

Tamp the mixture in place. Then, after it has dried slowly, apply a finishing coat (1/2″ inch thick) consisting of 1 part cement to 2 parts sand.

Then, change the water several times before introducing plants into the pool.

Two Distinct Types Of Water Lilies

Water lilies for a pool are classed as two distinct types:

  • Tropical
  • Hardy

Many gardeners prefer tropical water lilies because they hold their flowers high above the water.

Their blooms are also larger, more fragrant, and more prolific than the hardy kinds, besides continuing into late fall, long after the hardies are through.

Remember, too, that among the tropicals, you will find night-blooming species capable of adding hours of pleasure in a pool garden.

Tropical lilies are treated as annuals and purchased each spring for planting.

The hardy lilies, however, are perennial and can be kept outdoors during the winter with some protection.

The hardy lilies produce rootstocks that elongate with age. Plant these while still dormant in the early spring.

After a few years, they tend to degenerate by crowding and starvation.

Then, it is advisable to take up the rootstock and cut it into as many sections as there are “eyes.”

Each section will grow into a new plant if properly reset.

The hardy lilies bloom earlier than the tropicals and usually float their flowers on the water surface.

Ideal Planting Conditions


Water lilies can be planted in bushel-size boxes placed in the pool or planted directly in soil spread out over the entire pool bottom.

Since the plants are heavy feeders, the soil in which they are to grow must be richly fertilized.

The preferred mixture is 3 parts of good topsoil to 1 part of well-rotted cow manure.

If the latter is unavailable, any commercial water lily grower will sell you suitable fertilizer for the plants.

To plant a tropical lily, do the following:

  • Scoop out a hole equal to the size of the pot the plant came in.
  • Then set the lily with its leaf crown above the soil surface.
  • But for a hardy water lily, lay the rootstock horizontally at least an inch below the soil surface, with the crown peeping out a little above.
  • If the lilies are planted in boxes, a half-inch of clean sand on top of each soil will keep it from washing away and clouding the water.


The time to plant tropical water lilies outside depends upon the climate.

A temperature lower than 70° degrees Fahrenheit forces the plants to become dormant—a condition from which they are slow to recover.

In the midwest, usually, they can be planted by the middle of May and even earlier in the south.

In the east and the Great Lakes regions, the first of June is more likely to provide the necessary 70° degrees Fahrenheit minimum daily and night.


Although the leaves of nymphaea lilies sometimes remain submerged after the plants are set, they will extend their petioles and reach the surface during the next day or two.

Not more than 1’ foot of water should be allowed above their crowns at planting time.

If the pool is deeper, water may gradually be added as the plants develop, but 18” inches above any plant is the greatest water depth permissible.


During the summer, in addition to controlling the few pests which may attack lilies, all discolored (or old) leaves, faded flowers, and seed pods should be removed.

Before water lilies attain sufficient growth to shade the pool, algae can become an unsightly pest.

If the pool is large and has no fish, copper sulphate placed in a cheesecloth bag and dragged slowly through the pool until the water turns slightly blue may be used to kill the algae.

Pygmy Water Lily Varieties 

There are many choice varieties of blues for the home pool.

Of these, the pygmy lilies are excellent subjects where larger lilies would be out of scale. They are semi-hardy to hardy and flower freely from late spring until the first heavy frost.

Nymphaea Tetragona

The hardiest is Nymphaea tetragona, a species native to the northern hemisphere.

It also has the distinction of possessing the smallest flower, which is very strongly four-sided. The color is white.

Other Pygmy Lily Varieties

A hybrid between this white pygmy and the yellow Nymphaea Mexicana produced a delightful plant with larger flowers of deep yellow color. This is Nymphaea helvola.

Joanne Pring is a pink-flowered sport of the white pygmy developed in the tanks at Missouri Botanical Garden.

These last two varieties are classed as semi-hardy.

Among the tropicals, Nymphaea heudelotii is considered a pygmy lily with very small, bluish-tipped white blossoms star-shaped.

Day-Blooming Tropicals

Among the day-blooming tropical water lilies, Midnight is an excellent choice.

It bears double flowers of a deep, rich purple with only a small golden center.

Both Judge Hitchcock and Director George T. Moore, of a deep rich purple shade, bear flowers in great profusion.

General Pershing has been a favorite among the pink-flowered varieties ever since it was introduced in 1917.

Talisman comes nearest the shade of a Talisman rose, but even more beautiful is Peach Blow, which bears large, full-rounded flowers with many petals and stamens.

African Gold, St. Louis, and Sunbeam are good yellow varieties, while among the whites, the outstanding varieties are Mrs. George H. Pring and Isabelle Pring.

Henry Shaw is one of the best hybrids developed with fragrant blue flowers and sparsely splotched leaves.

Night-Flowering Kinds

The night-blooming tropicals are robust plants that should be given plenty of room for leaf spread.

The flowers begin to open up in the late afternoon and often stay open until late morning the next day.

Missouri is the most spectacular variety, with enormous white flowers up to 14” inches wide.

H. C. Haarstick is perhaps the best red night-blooming water lily.

Hardy water lilies are suitable for the small pool because they have smaller leaves and spread than the tropical.

The outstanding varieties to look for are:

Red Varieties

  • Escarboucle
  • Attraction
  • James Brydon


  • Rose Arey
  • Neptune


  • Sunrise
  • Chromatella


  • Paul Hariot
  • Comanche


  • Gonnere
  • Albatross