Water lilies are so beloved that some people have ponds installed in their yards just for the lilies alone. Their stunning blooms and the shading effects of their foliage make them the perfect fit for your summertime pond in New Jersey, but what do you do with them once winter sets in? Do you simply watch them die off, or can you preserve them until spring?
Well, it depends in part on what type of water lilies they are, and to some extent how patient you are. But there are certain things you can do to keep them safe until next spring – and certain things you should do for the benefit of your pond.
Let’s start with the basics.
Two Kinds Of Water Lilies Mean Two Different Care Methods
Water lilies are classified into two categories: hardy and tropical. The variety in your pond will determine how you care for them during the winter.
Hardy lilies have mildly fragrant flowers that float on the surface of the water as well as green, floating leaves, otherwise known as the illustrious lily pad. Hardy water lilies will go dormant so they can withstand typical New Jersey winters and bloom again in spring.
They’re day bloomers, and come in colors to complement just about any palette, from red to pink, yellow, white and even a delightfully surprising changeable variety that begins its blooming period as yellow then grows redder over its three- to five-day lifespan.
Tropical water lilies, on the other hand, are not able to withstand our winters. Their blooms are larger, showier and more fragrant, and they can bloom both day and at night, making them a true favorite in spite of their growing challenges. Day bloomers come in an even wider array of colors, including bright blues and violet, white, yellow, pink and orange. Night bloomers can be red, pink or white. Rather than floating, they grow several inches above the water’s surface.
Once you know which type of water lily grows in your pond, you can begin to care for them properly.
Caring For Hardy Lilies During Winter
Hardy waterlilies will let you know when winter is on the way. They are not fond of cold, so when fall weather sets in their leaves will begin to yellow and blooms will become less and less frequent.
When this happens, cut back the leaf and flower stems to about two to three inches above the base of the plant to help them transition to their dormant period. In fact, hardy lilies must have a dormant period, so don’t try to keep them blooming in a heated pond, either outdoors or in.
Hardy lilies can survive the winter as long as long as their roots don’t freeze. If your water lilies reside in a shallow part of the pond, they should be moved to the deepest part, or to a minimum depth of 2 ½ to 3 feet.
If your entire pond is shallow, you’re better off placing the plants in a bucket of water and bringing them indoors to a basement or garage so you don’t risk freezing. You can move them back outdoors after the ice has melted.
Caring For Tropical Lilies During Winter
Tropical water lilies, on the other hand, are not familiar with winter so they will keep blooming as long as the water temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it dips below that, they will begin to die off.
When it comes to caring for tropical lilies, you have two options. You can either treat them as annuals and let them die off, then plant new lilies come spring. Or, if you’re up for the challenge, you can try to winter them indoors.
Success with the latter method varies, but if you love your blooms and want to try your green thumb, you can bring them indoors in one of two ways.
The first involves leaving them in the pond until after the first frost. The cold water will cause the lilies to form tubers, which you can then place in a bucket or container of peat moss or wet sand and keep them at a temperature between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Don’t let them dry out and watch for mold, which is the likeliest culprit when it comes to derailing your indoor wintering plans.
In early May, check for sprouts. If you don’t see any, you can put the tubers in water near a sunny window to bring them out of dormancy. If your lilies survive and begin to sprout, you can acclimate them to the outdoors as soon as the danger of frost has passed and the pond water temperature reaches a consistent 70 degrees.
The second option is to try to keep them alive and blooming all winter. This method is also challenging, but can be a lot more fun if you’re lucky. If you’re planning to try this, remove lilies from the pond before first frost and place them in water in a warm, sunny location in your home. If you have a greenhouse or sunroom, that would be ideal, but otherwise, you’ll need to work a little harder to maintain a water temperature of at least 70 degrees.
If your lily makes it through the winter months, you can return it to the pond when the outdoor water temperature maintains a consistent 70 degrees. But even if your lilies don’t make it until spring, you’re at least able to enjoy them as a houseplant a little longer, and their blooms will bring radiant color to any winter day.
Water lilies are a pond’s crowning glory. They’re prized by water gardeners and gazers alike, and will proliferate with little effort. Taking a few pre-winter steps can help them return again in spring, and removing organic matter that can decay and throw off the balance of your pond is a necessary step as your pond enters the colder season.
If you have questions about caring for your pond plants, lilies or otherwise, let us know. Our professionals can guide you or maintain your pond all year long so you’ll be able to enjoy it to its fullest.