All You Need to Know About Water Lilies

Water lilies are classified as deep-water plants as even the smallest ideally want at least 15cm (6in) of water above their rhizome with most, apart from the smallest lilies, thriving in 30-60cm (12-24in) of water.  Larger vigorous varieties, such as the only native water lily, the Alba, and the Attraction can tolerate deeper planting. 

Water lilies come in two types: hardy and tropical.  Whilst tropical lilies tend to be the more spectacular species, having flowers up to 12 inches across and multiple blooms open at the same time, they have a similar range of sizes and colours to hardies: their main differentiation and the best way to tell if a Waterlily is a tropical is their leaves -rather than the smooth edges of hardy varieties they have highly toothed edges, looking as though they have been cut with scalloped scissors. 

Only hardy lilies can survive outdoors in the UK over winter and these are the only ones we sell.  They are hardy to -15C or more and as long as they are covered by at least 15cm of water they will survive even the hardest winters as long as the rhizomes don’t freeze solid.

Hardy water lilies grow from underground swollen stems call rhizomes.  They send up long stems (petioles) to the pond surface which open into lily pads (leaves) that vary in size according to the cultivar.  On adult leaves, these stems are capable of stretching up to several inches over a few days, which helps the lily deal with variations in water depth and is why they can cope with being moved from shallow to deeper water.  The stems of the flower buds can also extend in the same way provided the flower has not started to open.  The lilies take in oxygen through stomata on the upper surface of their pads.  As they age over a period of a few weeks the leaves gradually yellow and die and are replaced by new ones. 

Lilies generally flower from June to September although red varieties may bloom a few weeks earlier and carry on flowering later in the season than other cultivars.  Pinks are usually later bloomers than other colours.  The flowers often only bloom one at a time and will open in the morning and close mid to late afternoon -a shame if you work during the day as you’ll only see them at weekends!  Flowers will close and die back after a few days, sinking below the surface.

Hardy lilies come in a variety of sizes from the smallest Pygmaea lilies with their delicate fine stems, small pads 8cm (3in) across, small (intensely coloured) flowers 2.5-5cm (1-2in) across with a spread of around 30-40cm, to the largest such as the spectacular Gladstoniana whose pads grow up to 30cm (12in) across, with flowers up to 17cm (7in) and spread up to 2.5m (8ft), and anywhere in between.

Most lilies don't have much in the way of scent, however, the Odorata cultivars, such as Firecrest and William B. Shaw, have been bred to create water lilies with an intense fragrance.

We try to grow and stock a good variety of colours and sizes to cater for most requirements for any sized pond.  If there is a particular lily you are interested in that we don’t stock don’t hesitate to call as we may be able to source it for you.  Always be careful to ensure the lily you are interested in is appropriate to your size and depth of pond or lake (see links below) and if in doubt please call or email us for advice.

Please click on the following links for further useful advice and information about Water lilies:

Ideal Growing Conditions for Water lilies

Why isn’t my Water lily flowering?

Planting Water lilies

Planting depths for Water lilies

Planting density for Water lilies

Feeding Water lilies

Re-potting Water lilies

Maintenance of Water Lilies

Water lily pests and diseases

Our Water lilies by size

Our Water lilies by colour

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