Sunday, March 7, 2010

Planting Water lilies in Container

You don’t have to own acreage or spend a fortune to enjoy a water garden. By pairing small or dwarf plants with interesting containers, you can have a little bit of paradise right on your patio or balcony.

Many water lilies bear flowers 6 to 12 inches wide and spread 12 square feet or more. Fortunately, they also come in much smaller sizes, and certain standard varieties will dwarf themselves in a confined space.

There are two categories of water lilies: the tropicals and the hardies. Hardy water lilies are bred for cold tolerance and do not perform well in hot climates. Tropicals prefer water temperatures of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Anything that holds water can support a water garden. If you’re putting a garden on a balcony or deck, remember that water weighs 10 pounds per gallon. Terra cotta pots can be sealed with polyurethane spray or multi-surface sealer. Plug drainage holes with plumber’s epoxy, a softened candle stub, or other impermeable material. Chemicals and alcohol residues in wooden half-barrels can kill aquatic plants and animals. Line wooden containers with heavy duty plastic or seal.

A 15-25 gallon container is perfect for a small water garden. A dwarf water lily can inhabit a smaller container happily, although it isn’t wise to go below 3 gallons 5 inches of water over the crown is optimal. The larger the pot in which the lily is planted, and the larger the area the leaves have to spread, the larger the flowers and leaves will grow. Ample room also promotes the production of more flowers, and greater water volume provides better insulation from temperature extremes.While a blooming water lily can make a stunning display by itself, marginal, oxygenating and floating plants add interest and make it easier to achieve an ecological balance.

Marginal plants are those which grow at the edges of water bodies. The optimal amount of water over the roots varies with each species. Set them on bricks or concrete blocks inside the container to attain the proper growing depth.

Many highly aggressive floating plants are banned in Florida. The tiny floating plants duckweed and azolla, both native to Florida may hitchhike in on other plants. They reproduce aggressively, but are easy to skim off, and make good compost.

One water lily, one or two marginal plants and an oxygenating plant make a good start for a large tub. Oxygenating plants retard the growth of algae by releasing oxygen to the water and absorbing excess nutrients. Floating plants and water lily leaves help control algae by depriving it of sunlight. You may opt for a more lushly-planted, instant-effect water garden by adding more marginals, but be careful not to overcrowd the water lily, and be prepared to thin and repot the marginals as they grow.

Leave at least one quarter to one third of the water surface free of plants, both for esthetics and to allow sunlight to reach the growing tip of the lily.Planting
Plant water lilies in a pot; water gently to dislodge air pockets, and submerge the pot in a larger container, or plant directly in the container itself. Tropical should be planted in the center of the pot in 4-5 inches of the closest approximation of heavy loam soil you can get.

Do not use pure sand or potting mixtures containing peat or vermiculite. Neither provides enough structural stability for good root development, and peat and vermiculite will float. Peat also may make the water too acidic. Generic kitty litter is sometimes suggested as a potting medium, but it can compact around the roots, and it becomes a slimy mess once soaked. Like sand, it offers no nutritional value. Well-composted manure or compost can be added to the soil, but they may make the water dark.

Be sure not to cover the growing tip of the water lily ! Former executive director of the International Water Lily and Water Gardening Society Paula Biles cites “PTD” disease - “planting too deeply” - as the main killer of water lilies. After planting the lily, place a 1-inch layer of pea gravel over the soil to stabilize the plant and help keep the water clear. Do not cover the crown with gravel.

Start potted bare-root plants with about 2 inches of water over the crown, or just enough water to float any healthy leaves. Gradually increase the depth as the lily grows. Protect from the most intense sunlight until the lily is at the proper depth.Some Good Mediums
Plastic mesh pots, terra cotta or plastic pots, or even oil-changing pans are suitable for growing aquatic plants. Line mesh or standard pots with newspaper before adding soil to keep it from washing out. By the time the newspaper disintegrates, the roots will have established themselves enough to hold the soil.

It can take a good 6 weeks for the container garden to stabilize. Don’t be alarmed by initially dark water or even an algae bloom. It should clear up. Water lilies need full sun to flower, but here in southwest Florida they likely would appreciate a few hours of shade or dappled light during the summer.

Water lilies like still water. The water garden does not need a recalculating pump if no fish are added. Fish vastly complicate water garden ecology, and also destroy many aquatic plants. Maintenance consists mainly of trimming yellowed or dead foliage, scooping out excess floating plants and keeping the water topped up.

Water lilies are heavy feeders. For best flowering fertilize regularly with specially-formulated aquatic fertilizer tablets. Re-pot in fresh soil once a year, dividing if necessary, or when root growth makes it difficult to push in fertilizer tablets.