How to Plant a Waterlily: Mistakes to Avoid

Waterlilies come in a variety of colors and are easy to grow, making them a favorite choice among water gardeners. However, there are a few mistakes you can easily avoid if you want gorgeous, prolific blooms throughout the summer season. And if you don’t have a pond, no worries! You can grow these beautiful blooms in containers.

Nymphaea 'Detective Erika' - how to plant a waterlily


Repot Waterlilies from the Garden Center

The biggest mistake most people make is to leave the waterlily in the pot it came home in. Most garden centers that sell aquatic plants will place waterlilies in pots that are too small. The excited homeowner gets home and places the pot at the bottom of the pond and then wonders why the lily doesn’t perform well.

Waterlilies need a pot at least 14″ in diameter. Just like your common houseplant, waterlilies need room to grow or they’ll become root bound. It’s easy to transfer your potted waterlily into a larger container and doesn’t take much time.

Gather together your supplies:

Fill the bottom of the lily planter about 1/4 of the way with pond planting media. If using annual pond plant fertilizer, sprinkle that layer of soil with the fertilizer, following the suggested amount on the packaging.

Next, carefully remove the waterlily and the soil from its original container and place in the lily planter. Use the Aquatic Pond Plant Media to fill the gaps around the sides. If you’re using plant tabs instead of an annual fertilizer, press them into the soil around the edges of your waterlily and cover with soil. You’ll need to add more plant tabs throughout the summer.


Finally, add large river rocks to the top of the soil. This keeps the soil from leeching into the pond and also deters curious koi from rooting around in the soil and disturbing the plant.

Carefully lower the newly potted waterlily into the pond at the proper depth shown on the waterlily’s plant tag. Taking a few minutes to repot the waterlily from the garden center will result in showier flowers and lily pads.


planting a waterlily for a pond


Watch our short video for a visual tutorial on repotting waterlilies:

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Instructions for Planting Bare Root Waterlilies

If you purchased your waterlily online, chances are your ordered a bare root lily. The planting instructions are similar to an already potted waterlily, with a slight variation.

Plant the waterlily in an aquatic planter approximately 14” x 7” in size using a proper aquatic potting media. Pour a generous amount of potting media into the aquatic planter. Place the waterlily rhizome at a slight angle (about 45-degrees) with the cut end deeper in the soil and placed at the edge of pot, with the growing tip projecting 3/4” above the surface of the soil. Waterlilies have voracious appetites and will perform best if well fed so be sure to fertilize them.

You’ll then want to cover the top of the soil with washed gravel or small pebbles so the soil doesn’t escape into the water once you set the aquatic planter into your pond or decorative container. Layer the rock or gravel about ½” thick. It’s helpful if you use black or dark gravel so that it’s not easily visible in the water. Now that your waterlily is properly planted in its aquatic planter, you’re ready to place it into pond.

If you’re putting your lily into a container instead of a pond, choose a decorative container specifically designed for container water gardening such as a Patio Pond. That way, there’s no hole to fill in the bottom of the decorative container and you don’t have to seal the insides to eliminate seepage. Choose a container at least 12 to 15” deep with a diameter of 24 to 36”. Fill the decorative container with water before placing the waterlily in its aquatic planter into the container.

Carefully place the fabric planter with your waterlily into the pond or decorative container, slowly lowering it at an angle while the bubbles escape. Tilting the waterlily in its aquatic planter while lowering it into the water-filled decorative container will avoid turbulence.

A Proper Home

Make sure you give your potted container waterlily a proper home. Waterlilies need a minimum of 6 hours of sun. However, they will perform optimally in an area that receives at least 8-10 hours of direct sun. A few shade-tolerant waterlilies will prosper with as little as 4 hours of sunlight.

Aquatic Pond Plant Supplies
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