Growing Water Lotus

Learn how to add exotic flair to your garden with a striking water lotus.
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The creamy white blossom of a lotus not only is dramatic but also fragrant to boot.

The creamy white blossom of a lotus not only is dramatic but also fragrant to boot.

The creamy white blossom of a lotus not only is dramatic but also fragrant to boot.

Few plants lend a more exotic touch to the garden than the water lotus. Its dramatic leaves and fragrant blooms strike a dramatic pose in any pond or water feature—so much so that often all that’s needed is one plant to enjoy the full impact.

Lotuses are close relatives to the water lily, and there are two different species – the North American native, Nelumbo lutea, and the other found in Asia, Nelumbo nucifera. Within those species are many varieties, ranging from ones that grow two to six or eight feet tall and others with leaves ranging from three inches to three feet wide.

Even more dramatic than the wonderful scale of their foliage is their flowers. They’re formed from a pointed bud that emerges from a stem two to six feet tall, unfurling a fragrant blossom in white, cream, yellow pink or red that can extend up to a foot wide!

Perennials, lotuses require lots of sunlight—preferably five to six hours a day—and heat to perform their best. Avoid placing them near moving water, which can harm their leaves.

If you’re growing lotuses in a pond, maximize their size and frequency of bloom by potting the plant’s tuber in a shallow container that’s at least two feet in diameter and without drain holes. Using a garden soil with a low organic content—a mix of sand and clay is best—plant the tuber about four inches deep, leaving room for the soil to push upward as the tubers and runners fill the container. Set the container in the pond so that the top of the soil is two to four inches under water. Taller varieties of lotus can grow in water up to 18 inches or deeper, while dwarf varieties do best in water two to 12 inches deep.

In winter, lotuses can be left in the pond so long as the tubers are protected from ice. In cold climates, move the container to a deeper part of the pond, then move it back to a more shallow area in spring.

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