Guide to Water Lillies in the Garden

Water lillies are some of the most beautiful aquatic plants you could wish for, although careful consideration is needed to choose the correct type for your garden pond.


The four size categories of water lillies

Water lillies are grouped into four broad categories by their size/growth characteristics – dwarf, small, medium and vigorous.

For the smaller pond or domestic garden, vigorous water lillies are normally considered excessive due to high spread rate and higher maintenance needs.

As rule of thumb, allow for water lillies to cover no more than 50% of any water feature.

The two varieties of water lillies

Water lillies are the royalty of the water garden pool, and fall into either Tropical or Hardy varieties.

Care should to be taken to purchase only from reputable suppliers, with a heritage of producing blooming and beauty water lillies that will continue to grow and flourish once in your garden pool or pond.

General criteria to identify the variety of water lillies include:-

  • Aroma – strong or none?
  • Number of flowers – single or many?
  • Pads – different margins/colours or single?
  • Night blooming
  • Wintering – perennial or annual?
  • Viviparous pads – many or none?
  • Location of flowers – on stems, or on water?

Choosing water lillies for your garden pond


A typical spread of water lillies can grow to around 2-3 feet over the pond surface, although ‘pygmy’ water lillies often spread to a lesser degree. Extra large water lillies can be obtained that will spread wider than 2-3 feet also.

Sunlight requirements

Determine the amount of sunlight needed, as most will need between 4 and 6 hours a day, although certain types of water lillies can need less sunlight.

Blooming characteristics

Tropical water lillies produce more blooms than the Hardy, as well as more flowers over the course of the summer.

Growth rates

Water lillies grow rapidly during the Summer months, whilst Hardy water lillies tend to have slower growth when summers are particularly hot. Night blooming water lillies are often the most extravagant growers.

Planting depths

Planting depth can differ greatly between types of water lillies, so ensure you check you have sufficient depth in your pond or water feature.

Colour changeability

Take note that different types of water lillies can change colour of leaves during the season, e.g. yellow to pink to red.

Water lily pads

Water lillies can be also be identified by different features on/around the pads, such as :-

  • smooth or entire margin around pads e.g. Attraction
  • mahogany pads – e.g Red Flare
  • mottled pads – e.g Leopardess
  • multiple coloured pads – e.g Arc-en-Ceil
  • pink margin – the rare Pink Lily
  • serrated margin around pads – e.g. Antares
  • speckled mottled pads – e.g. Bagdad
  • strikingly mottled – e.g Pink Sapphire
  • wavy margins

Types of water lillies for your garden pond

  • Attraction Water Lily for ponds
  • Charles de Meurville Waterlily
  • Classic Red Waterlily – Nymphaea Escarboucle
  • Colossea Waterlily
  • Fabiola Nymphaea Waterlily
  • Hermine Waterlily
  • Indiana Water Lily
  • Nymphaea Albatross Waterlily
  • Nymphaea Almost Black Waterlily
  • Nymphaea Darwin Hollandia Waterlily
  • Nymphaea Denver Water Lily
  • Sioux Water Lily – Copper Red
  • Wanvisa Water Lily
  • ‘Barbara Dobbins’ Nymphaea Water Lily
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