The water lily is the most beautiful of all aquatic plants and considered the queen of pond plants by many. It is as iconic for any garden pond as the hydrangea for a cottage garden or the rose for an elegant garden. Water lilies grow in many shapes, sizes, and colors. These exquisite water plants, also commonly known as Nymphaea, are available as hardy varieties and tropical varieties. The significant difference between tropical and hardy varieties is their tolerance to cold water and cold water conditions.

Hardy Water Lilies

Hardy water lilies are perennials; they’ll come back year after year. They need to grow in a location that receives at least 6 hours of full sun. Hardy water lilies keep the temperature of the water low in summer, which is great news for the aquatic and plant life that exists in your pond. Their flowers will most often open between 9 am and mid-afternoon when the sunlight is strongest.

violet variety of nuphar lutea

A spectacular, violet variety of Nuphar lutea.

They come in many varieties and colors, ranging from yellow and white to red and pink. The Comanche variety changes flower color, from apricot to a dark coppery bronze streaked with red. Leaves and flower sizes are routinely between 3 and 12 inches (8 – 30 cm) in diameter.

These varieties are ideal for northern climates that experience winter. Hardy water lilies will usually survive winter as long as their roots don’t freeze completely. If they are planted with at least 16 inches (40 cm) of water above their root system, they should be okay. Otherwise, you can put them in cold storage where the temperature remains above 41 °F (5 °C). Be sure to keep the plants moist.

Tropical Water Lilies

Tropical water lilies have more variety of colors as compared to hardy water lilies and hold their flowers well above the water’s surface. The color spectrum ranges from blue, purple and even green and their fruit attracts birds, which will make your pond a thriving meeting point for various creatures of the air.

Most are incredibly fragrant; some even bloom at night. They should not be planted until the threat of frost is gone, and the water temperature is around 70 °F (21 °C). Cold waters will shock them. They need warm, still, waters to thrive. Their leaves and blooms are larger, ranging between 7 and 18 inches (18 – 45 cm) in diameter.

Planting a Water Lily

You should always put them in aquatic plant pots, and cover the top with small stones. This hinders them from drifting away or rising, prevents too much soil being washed away by the water and it hinders your fish to dig for the roots. You should always situate them on sheet of slate or a small paving stone. Otherwise, the lilies’ roots may grow into your pond liner. In the end, this will cause leakage. Finding and fixing these leaks will mean a lot more work later than taking these precautions beforehand.


Hardy water lilies need to be divided every 2 or 3 years, as they grow too big for their existing home. In order to flourish and develop they need more space for their roots to spread into. A major bonus, however, is that you end up with more bunches than you started out with!
A shallow and wide container of about 7 gallons (25 liter) is perfect for the average to large sized hardy water lily. A smaller container between 3 to 5 gallons (10 – 20 liter) is ideal for smaller plants.

Springtime is the best time of year to carry out this much needed but often unwelcome chore. Do not worry however if you have missed spring and find yourself enjoying the summer sun. The entire growing season is a perfectly fine time in which to divide your hardy water lilies.
If you follow the steps outlined below, you will successfully achieve your aim!

  1. The first step involves removing the hardy water lily from the pond. Once you have removed it from the water, you will need to gently remove it from its present home and rinse the roots with water to remove excess dirt and debris.
  2. The next step is to cut off old growth from one end of the tuber and cut off any new growth from the other end. If there are new eyes, you can snip them off and pot them if you wish.
  3. The third step is to cut the tuber down to size. On small hardy lilies, you can safely cut the tuber down to between 2 to 3 inches (5 – 8 cm), on the growing part, with a sharp knife. This can be increased to between 5 to 6 inches (12 – 15 cm) on larger plants. Remember to also cut off new buds and older leaves, so that the new root system has a chance to develop.
  4. Having pruned the tuber to the desired size, the next step involves placing the hardy water lily in a suitable container, having already filled the pot with an aquatic potting soil. It is best to place it against the wall of the pot rather than in the center of the pot. To encourage faster growth, I would recommend that you add a couple of aquatic fertilizer tablets; push them through the soil down to about half way down the pot. Pack the tuber firmly into place, with some more soil. This will help to keep it in place for the fifth and final stage. Cover the soil with a layer of pea gravel which will prevent fish from damaging the roots and will also prevent the soil from floating away. Make sure that the crown of the tuber is not covered.
  5. The fifth and final stage involves putting the lily into your fish pond or water garden. Gently lower the container, containing the tuber into the water, up to a depth of 12 inches (30 cm). You will probably notice dirt residue mixing with the pond water; this is normal and will soon settle on the pond floor. Once you have positioned it in place, leave well alone, until you have noticed between 5 or 6 leaves developing. Once this happens you can now place it in deeper water if need be; dependent upon the species and the depth of water preferred.

Benefits of Water Lilies in General

Lilies are an excellent addition to a pond because they naturally help with gas transfer and water purification. They also offer shade and protection to fish, and they provide visual interest. They can also help combat algae. Lilies also prevent excessive water evaporation. They often have flowers that bloom all season long.

When choosing which water lily to go with, you have to consider where you live, the size of your water feature, and what aesthetic you are looking for.