Water lilies – From Fertilizing to re-potting, what you need to know

Water lilies

Water Lilies

Hardy water lilies do well in a sunny Colorado pond.  Benefits of lilies in the pond are many. The shade they provide gives shelter to fish from predators (you can't eat what you can't see!).  The shade they provide keeps the pond cool and stabilizes the water temperature from fluctuations.  Ponds in sunny locations with little or no plant life may experience more algae.  Lilies help keep the pond in balance by  providing oxygen and using up nutrients in the water that feed algae as well as blocking some of the sun.


  • Plant in loam garden soil - not regular potting soil!
  • Use a fabric aquatic plant pot or a plastic pot with no holes.  14 to 16 inches is ideal.
    • They will grow directly in the gravel, but will float up if not anchored down and it can make cleaning out the pond or separating the plants later more difficult.
  • These plants grow as a "rhizome" and the crown should not be covered by the soil.
  • Put 2 or 3 fertilizer tabs into the soil for optimal flower color (Lilies come in a variety of colors!)
  • When first introducing a lily to the pond, put in in at about 6 inches depth, if possible.  Then, as the plant grows, lower it to 12 to 18 inches below the surface. One way to do this is to put a plastic pot under the lily pot to raise it up if you need to.


Dividing and re-potting
  • Every 2 or 3 years the lilies will need to be divided.  A plastic container will begin to bulge - giving you this reminder to this.  If they are not divided and re-potted, they will grow right out of the pot, or be root bound and produce less flowers.
  • Take the pot out of the pond and hose off the soil.  You will be able to see that there are different rhizomes.  You'll need to cut these into separate pieces, keeping the most healthy looking ones and discarding the others.
  • Re-pot the ones you are keeping, putting some gravel on top of the soil to weigh it down and put it back in the pond.
  • Lilies do well with fertilizer
  • Add fertilizer tabs every 4 to 6 weeks
  • Push them down in the soil so they are near the bottom of the roots.
  • Make sure to remove leaves when they die or turn yellow.
  • Sometimes koi will burrow into the gravel and soil of a lily and uproot them.  Try putting some larger cobble over the soil to deter fish.
  • If koi are eating your lilies you may need to offer them other plants to nibble on like floating hyacinth.
  • If you need to protect the lily plant from the fish, there are these specialized nets that float at the top to protect lilies. They are floating plant protectors by Nycon.

What to look for

  • When the leaves (pads) come out much smaller than they had been, the plant is going into dormancy.  Clip off all pads at the very base that are undersized.  Then pull out the tuber and find the nodes on them (sort of like a new  potato eye) and cut them off.  This allows the energy of the plant to be back on the big pads and flowers. Put tuber back in pot and return to water.
  • Are the tubers growing out of the pot or seem over crowded? Then remove a couple tubers.
  • Do you see a bud under the water and  are wondering if it will flower or it has already flowered, lift the pot out of the water and give a gentle but quick squeeze to the bud. If it squirts out water, it is dead, clip it off at the root ball.  If is firm and does not squirt water it will flower soon!

Lilies will go dormant during the winter.  Cut them back to about 6 inches above the root ball.  They can stay in the pond all winter and will come back in the spring.


Did you know when water is splashed on top of a lily pad leaf that it gets it wet...but when water is splashed onto a lotus leaf that it rolls right off as if it has been treated with rain-x? Yes! Sometimes before lotus plants get big enough to be obvious (their leaves rise out of the water) it can be a question if it is a lotus or a lily pad. Now you know how to find out - just splash some water!

Want to read more about pond plants?  There are a variety of aquatic plants!  Click HERE to check it out!