When the average person is asked to visualize a "Water Lily", most likely they envision a Hardy Water Lily. With their soft, muted colors and serene leaves floating on the water, Hardies are the star of the water garden. Unlike their bold, blazing Tropical cousins, Hardies are able to winter over right in the pond during winter. It is hard to imagine a water feature without one!
Overall, Hardies are pretty easy to grow- they are a little less demanding than the Tropicals in some respects. Whereas Tropicals pretty much require full sun, many Hardies can get by with 6 hours- though full sun is always the preferred exposure. In some instances, morning sun with afternoon shade might work better- this would be the case with many of the dark red colors. Our strong Texas Sun has the ability to "melt down" these flowers a bit. The reason is pretty simple. Dark colored flowers simply absorb a great deal of the solar heat generated during the summer months. The more modern reds, often created by Southern breeders (Strawn and Landon are good examples) are much more resistant to this particular issue. It is hard to believe but a great number of the Hardies we enjoy today were also enjoyed by people in the late 1800's!
Hardy Water Lilies have a very complex lineage- many species have been crossed and re-crossed. Often some of the ancestors of our Hardies are from very Northern latitudes along with some that naturally bask in the Southern sun belts. What this means for you as a grower is that certain varieties will pause growing and blooming during the hottest times in the Summer. They do not shut down, just slow down- in fact, you might say they look "tired". They resume their normal activity when the temperatures moderate. Yellow Hardies tend to be least likely to show this trait- one of their ancestors (the one that introduces yellow color) is a Southern native.
Fertilizing your Hardy is important- without regular fertilization, your Lily will sulk. Blooms will be infrequent and leaf growth sparse. Since the cost to do this is low, there is simply no reason to ignore this easily accomplished task. Most people use a tablet designed for aquatic plants. These are easily purchased online, from me, most home improvement stores and garden centers. Depending on the strength of the tablet, once a month or once a season is all that is needed. You just push the tablet as far into the pot as your finger will reach. Kind of plug the hole back up with soil if you are able. That's it! The number of tabs depends on the size of the plant and pot. Follow instructions on package or get in touch with me. Insert the last fertilizer tablets sometime in late August. You want the plant to essentially run out of nitrogen as the season winds down. This will help your Lilly prepare for dormancy.
Potting up your Hardy is very similar to directions provided on the Tropical page- in fact, they are the same except for one very important difference. Unlike the Tropicals (and most plants you would put in a pot) you do NOT center the plant. Your Hardy has a growth point, the spot where all leaves and blossoms emerge from. This is easy to see- it will be at the end of a rhizome (specialized root structure) creeping along the top of the soil. Sometimes there are multiple growth points but you will probably notice they are all aiming in one general direction. When repotting your lily, off-set your plant to one side, allowing these growth points to continue their creeping habit. It is very common when you pull your Lily out of the water for service to see these growth points have "jumped" the edge of the pot and are trailing roots- looking for the bottom of the pond! This is a good indicator that it is time to start thinking about a new, larger pot or, perhaps, division. Just because you see this going on, it does not mean you HAVE to repot, it is just telling you that it is a good time to consider it. Most people go a couple years between repotting but some very vigorous varieties do well with a yearly overhaul. It is best to remove most of the old soil from your Lily prior to putting it into its new pot. Unpot your plant, get the garden hose and blast away. Early spring, as new growth is commencing, is a good time to do this but anytime during the growing season is acceptable providing you do not do this to late. You want your plant well established before winter sets in. There is one exception to the "off center" planting. If your rhizome looks like a Pineapple, you can go ahead and place it in the center of your pot. There is a percentage of varieties that have this root style; they have a somewhat different growth style.
The depth you grow your Lily will be determined by whatever your pond or tub allows and by the variety of Lily. Hardies vary in their ability to handle depth. Some can grow in quite deep water (6ft) but most are not comfortable at those depths. Since artificial garden ponds are almost never that deep (18-30 inches is common) you will not really need to worry about being too deep. On the other hand, many people do not have a pond in the truest sense. Instead, they have a tub or barrel on their deck. When growing in a confined space, it is easier to grow the more dwarf varieties. There are many to choose from. Most all large Hardies will adapt to small environments but a small, dwarfish Lilly would simply get lost in a large pond.
Now, if you have a natural pond on your property, you can grow a great many varieties if you choose to do so. You will simply plant them directly into the bottom of your pond, skipping the whole pot thing. I will mention at this point that this is only acceptable if your pond is a constructed one, not a natural body of water or a large, shared and managed body of water. It is generally illegal to introduce aquatic plant life into these types of environments. It is a good policy too.
Wintering your Lily is pretty much something you will not need to worry about. As the days shorten and temps drop, your Lily will prepare itself for dormancy. Leaves will yellow and blooming will halt. Cut off any leaves that you are able to reach and pretty much forget about your Lily until next spring. Providing the water does not freeze solid (thereby freezing the actual plant) you will be fine. Here in this area of Texas and Louisiana, at best all we will get is a scum of ice on any water feature- for just a few hours at that. So, in other words, no worries.
Your Lily will be growing and possibly blooming when you purchase it. Just place it in your pond or tub, if the leaves do not reach the surface, they will do so very quickly providing it is not way deeper than they were growing (say 6 inches or so). If the depth of your pond is greater, adjust the depth gradually- place them on a block or something, giving them time to adjust as you go deeper.
On last thing I would like to mention about your Lily. If you have a splashing fountain or something such as that, you MUST situate your plant away from this. Lilies "breathe" across the top of their leaves, unlike terrestrial plants who "breathe" mostly under their leaves. This is what gives a Water Lily the ability to live in a submerged environment. If water is continually splashed on the leaves of your Lily, believe it or not, it will drown! So...keep the leaves dry, ok?