Can Water Lilies Grow in Moving Water?

Water Lilly

Last week I visited a beautiful water garden, where I saw lovely water plants such as iris, hyacinths and of course, water lilies. Having always found water lilies beautiful, it made me curious whether these plants grow best in still water or in moving water. So I read up a bit.

So, can water lilies grow in moving water? Water lilies can indeed grow in moving water, but they will not thrive, as the flowing water will weaken their roots and may cause uprooting and impact flowering. However, in gently moving water, such plants can grow, but not as well as in still water.

Thus, while water lilies can manage to grow in moving water, it is not a good idea to do so, as they grow best in still water. Growing water lilies in moving water will only serve as a waste of time and efforts as they will never grow and flourish as well as they would in still water. While moving water can generally be understood as such in a contained water garden, it also includes fountains and waterfalls which could splash the plant, and these are not conducive for the growth and development of water lilies.

Factors Affecting Growth of Water Lilies in Moving Water

Water lilies are much loved by water garden enthusiasts. These plants provide a distinct beauty and class to the water garden and are known to flourish throughout the year, except perhaps in tough winters when the water freezes. There are generally two categories of water lily- hardy water lily and tropical water lily. While the tropical water lily produces beautiful colorful flowers, it is relatively hard to grow except in a select few tropical locations, and hardy lilies are hence preferred. Hardy water lilies are low-maintenance and only require certain factors such as adequate sunlight and fertilizer to truly flourish.

But when it comes to water, water lilies grow differently in moving water than in still water. Here are some factors that explain if water lilies can grow in moving water, and why still water is better for the same-

  • If water lilies must be grown in or around moving water sources, ensure that the plant is not placed directly below or at the source of the water flow, such as the waterfall or fountain. The continuous splashing of water from these sources may drown the plant and damage the leaves, so the water lilies must be at a distance from the movement of water.
  • Water lilies grow better in still water as there is no disruptive force acting against their roots. These plants are not meant to withstand the heavy force of water flow against their roots, which are strong enough to keep them in place but not powerful enough to withstand uprooting due to water pressure. By nature, the water lily’s requirement is not related to having a strong root system, and hence they don’t have a very firm root structure. Moving water can easily cause partial or full uprooting over due course of time, and it may not be possible to re-grow the plant as it was by replanting.
  • Water lilies enjoy a constant temperature to thrive in and to bloom flowers. In moving water, this becomes an issue since the temperature fluctuates due to the undercurrents. In still water, this is rarely a problem as due to the lack of flow, water temperature remains constant and does not hamper the growth of the water lily in any way.
  • Since much of the water lily plant is submerged below water, the stems of the plant act as ventilation shafts that are able to transport oxygen to the parts below water. Moving water can cause an obstruction in this oxygen flow process, and is hence not as suitable for water lilies as still water is. In still water, the water lily can breathe perfectly as the part above water is not splashed or disturbed by moving water, and thus it can give oxygen to its stem and roots as well.
  • Most water lilies flower in the summer season, and for this to happen properly, they need still water or at most, very gently moving water. In rapidly or regularly moving water, flowering becomes comparatively difficult for water lilies, rendering moving water less suitable for these plants. Since much of the aesthetic value and beauty of the water lily comes from its lovely blooming flowers, moving water is not the best option to grow the plant as these flowers will bloom less in that environment.
  • Similar to flowering, shedding and growing new leaves is another process affected at least partially by the still water, or moving water, whichever is present in the garden. Through the seasons, water lilies are given to shedding old leaves and growing new ones, and in moving water, this process can slow down and be adversely affected. Water lilies are able to shed and re-grow leaves easier in still water.
  • There is a difference in water quality, oxygen and nutrient content in moving water. In still water, there is very little mixing of substances due to lack of movement. This helps the water lily plant absorb all the oxygen and nutrients it needs, and give them out as well. But in moving water, the levels of oxygen, as well as pH value, keeps changing, which is likely to negatively affect the water lily and its health in the long run.
  • Water lilies have roots that can extend to the bottom of the pond- provided the pond is fairly shallow, as very deep water is anyway not suitable for such plants- and thus, have access to enough water to sustain itself and its various parts. Although the leaves of the water lily plant have a waxy coating to repel water, moving water can still overwater the rest of the plant and cause it to suffer. This problem does not occur with still water as there is no chance of excess moisture due to water movement.
  • The rhizome, or the growing point of the water lily, is an important component of the water lily, as it helps maintain the plant and enables it to grow properly. In moving water, there is danger of the rhizome getting covered by too much soil, water or gravel, which can then stunt the growth of the water lily. Still water ensures that this does not happen, unless the rhizome has already been covered too much at the time of planting.

Some Care Tips for Water Lilies

  • Lilies do well with proper sunlight. These plants should not be kept in shade, as they will grow and bloom optimally in bright sunlight. When water lilies are being planted in still water, it should be ensured that only around one-third of the water surface is covered by these plants, to allow sunlight to filter through to the submerged plants. Certain water lilies grow well even in shade, but it has been observed that they grow the best in sunlight.
  • If you are growing water lilies in a pond, it is a good idea to keep a certain variety of fish as well, that will protect the water and plants from insects that could chew through the plants. In turn, the fish would also benefit from the water lilies as the plants purify the water. Goldfish are a good option for water lily ponds but steer clear of koi carp as they can dig through the roots and may end up damaging the plant.
  • Loamy soil is the most appropriate for planting water lilies, particularly clay loam. Hardy water lilies should be planted towards the corner of the potting area and will need fertilizer every month or so. Tropical water lilies, meanwhile, should be planted with the roots covered lightly, and soil and gravel covering the entire area except for the growing point. It is advisable to stay away from planting material containing pesticides, and soil mixtures containing peat, vermicide.
  • It is recommended to grow water lilies in containers even within the pond. This is so that the plants don’t spread by themselves all over the surface and end up obstructing the entire pond like weeds. Growing them in containers will allow more control and will help you replant them when needed; in case they are planted in moving water.

Related Questions

What are some threats to the growth and health of water lilies?

A major threat to water lilies in home ponds is caddisfly infestation, as these insects like to use water lily stem and lay eggs in the pond. Aphids are similarly harmful to lilies. The use of algaecides should also be avoided as they can weaken water lilies over time.

What are the benefits of growing water lilies in home ponds?

Water lilies are highly beneficial to the health of the pond as they filter water very well, absorb pollutants without getting impacted, and are known to absorb heavy metals as well. Water lilies are also excellent oxygenators. They are also used in herbal medicine to cure many ailments.

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