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Water lilies add new element to the garden

A pink water lily shows its true colors in the middle of a pond on July 21. John Zvirovski / The Sun

The summer season brings many of us to the lakes within the region either to recreate, relax or just cool off from the heat. Most of these lakes are surrounded by trees with cabins, homes, massive estates and resorts. Some are open to the public, and some have more private access. On the lakes that we do have access for swimming and boating, we witness many different types of aquatic plant life that grows above the surface of the water. Common items that we are familiar with are the bulrushes, cattails and water lilies. Of these three, it is the water lilies that are the prettiest with their beautiful exotic flowers that look like a water orchid.

Water lilies grow naturally in waterways throughout the world. There are cold hardy varieties and the tropical ones. The cold hard selections develop beautiful blooms of white, yellow and pink. The tropical types have more electric colors that tend to radiate in the dark and also come in shades of blue and purple.

These herbaceous plants grow from roots called rhizomes similar to that of the iris roots. They grow from the sides and anchor into the soil of the water bodies. In the spring when the waters begin to warm, the leaves begin to grow and reach for the surface of the water. As the leaves rise that have a lance-shape appearance; once they hit the surface they uncurl to their typical round shape. Some are perfectly round and others have a notch in them. Some of these leaves can be around 6 inches across to as big as 3 to 4 feet with some of the tropical varieties. These very large ones tend to resemble garbage can lids flipped.

Most water lilies need a 50 degree water temperature in order to come out of dormancy and begin to grow. Tropical selections need a minimum of 70 degrees to start growing.   

Once the leaves begin to grow, they can take over a large surface area and six to eight weeks later the blooms slowly rise to the surface. Some of the blooms can have as little as eight petals whereas others can have over 25 per bloom. These flowers can reach up to 8 inches across in our regions and last three to four days. Some of the tropical varieties can be closer to a foot across.

Many home gardeners are getting more interested in experimenting with water lilies in their ponds or small water features. Their periodic blooms are enough to lure one’s attention and interest. I have dabbled in water lettuce, water hyacinth and lately the water lilies. They are all exotic to me and add a natural beauty to my water features.

Always make sure your plants are in water that is clean and aerated through a bubbler under water or small waterfalls or fountains to keep everything circulating. Never add fertilizer to the water for your plants as this will cause an algae to form and cloud your water. Chemicals should not be used as this will prove harmful to the plants and/or any other aquatic life you may have in your ponds.

During the fall season, if your water feature freezes solid in winter, pull the plants out of the water, trim off the vegetation and store them in a bag with humidity in a cool spot to keep them viable. If your water feature does not freeze completely the plant roots can be left in the water till spring where they will come out of dormancy and begin to grow through another season.

I love the exotic and beautiful blooms of the water lily as it adds one more element into my garden as a whole. I find a water feature completes the garden in some way and adds some pleasant sound at the same time while taking in the beauty and relaxing. If you want to try something a little different, give the water lily a try. You might just be glad you did.

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