Growing a Hardy Lotus

Nelumbo nucifera

With large, bold leaves standing high above the water, the lotus gives us a midsummer treat, fragrant colorful blossoms sometimes reaching twelve inches across.  The first leaves float on the pond’s surface like a water lily.  As summer approaches, the emerging leaves are held well above the water, setting the stage for the summertime display.  In July the flower buds begin to develop until the flowers burst forth for an eight-week spectacle.  The heady fragrance carried through the garden is a bonus to the stately flowers.  As each flower begins to fade, the petals drop off, revealing the exotic seed head, a common component of dried floral arrangements.

The ultimate size of a lotus is determined not only by the variety itself, but also by water depth, soil volume and fertility. This hardy perennial will give years of enjoyment when provided with nutrition and space.  The plant should be given ample soil to allow full development.  The new plant should be placed in a ten-gallon or larger pot (except small varieties) as shown on the illustration.  Care should be taken when handling the tuber to keep the growing point intact and protruding through the soil surface when planting.

The best soil is a heavy clay loam that will anchor the tuber as it develops.  A light layer of gravel is recommended except where the growing tips are.  Care must be taken to avoid obstructing the new growth.  After planting, the lotus should be placed in water four to ten inches over the soil surface.  Once the lotus is established, it will grow well with twelve to eighteen inches of water over the soil the year round.

Planting in soil bottom or natural ponds is not recommended due to the invasive nature of the lotus.  Spreading roots may travel thirty feet or more in a single season!  Pruning or containerizing will not control the size and spread of the lotus.

Bare root lotus tubers are shipped in March and April while still dormant.  After planting, wait until a new leaf is floating on the surface before fertilizing.  Using fertilizer tablets, place two three inches from the pointed growing tip for the initial feeding.  Wait about four weeks and feed again at the rate recommended on the label of the fertilizer.  Feed every six to eight weeks until August to encourage large leaves and flowers.

Do you want a lotus and don’t have room in the pond?

Sink a pot of lotus into the ground beside the pond or anywhere else in your gardens.  A lotus planted in a ten-gallon pot will over-winter in Zone 6 when buried in the ground to the rim of the pot.  Use as large a pot as possible or build an extra pond with rubber liner to accommodate the plant.  Fill up to two-thirds full with soil, leaving the rest of the space for water.  Control mosquito larvae by floating a Mosquito DunkÒ in the water each month or put a goldfish or two in the water if there are five gallons or more. 

Winter

For the winter, care is simple if the top of the pot is already six to twelve inches below the water level. Simply leave the plant at this depth.  Bowl lotuses will be shallower, and should be put deeper after going completely dormant in November. This protects the roots that have buried themselves at the bottom of the pot by fall.  Place pot deeper in the water if it is not deep enough after removing dead leaves from the plant.  Wait until the plant has gone dormant before trimming.

The Lotus will remain dormant until after most other aquatic plants are growing.  In mid April, the first leaf spikes emerge from the soil and grow to the surface, forming floating leaves once again.

How to Care for the Pre-potted Lotus

When you purchased a lotus, you may have noticed it was grown as a miniature pond, two or three inches of soil and eight inches or so of water.  After you get the plant home, refill it with water to the top until you are ready to place it into your pond or if you use it as a patio plant. 

For the rest of the season, this plant cannot be repotted.  Dividing during the growing season will result in loss of the plant.  For the first season, the plant will be put into the water garden so that the rim of the pot is about an inch under the water.  Fertilize with three or four tablets this first summer every six or eight weeks.  Remove yellowing leaves throughout the summer and fall.  After the lotus goes dormant in November, drop the plant to the bottom of the pond for the winter.  In late winter, no later than the end of March, pull the plant out of the pond.  Gently invert the plant and let the root ball rest on your hand and remove the pot.  Place the plant on the ground and get the pot the plant was in or a larger one if desired, then fill with seven or eight inches of good quality topsoil.  Put the root ball back on this new soil and fill around it to eliminate space around the rim of the pot.  Add gravel if desired, but be careful not to obstruct any growing points. 

Water the newly potted lotus to saturate the soil before putting it back into the pond.  Very slowly lower the pot back into the water and position it at the correct growing level of about a foot of water.  While lowering the plant into the water, tilt the pot to let water in one side first to avoid muddying the water.

Repotting the plant to give it more soil will delay further repotting for another two years.  Occasional repotting in future years will give you years of enjoyment from your lotus.

Winter Care

For the winter, care is simple if the top of the pot is already six to twelve inches below the water level (Bowl lotuses will be shallower, and should be put deeper after going completely dormant in November).  Simply leave the plant at this depth.  This protects the roots that have buried themselves at the bottom of the pot by fall.  Place pot deeper in the water if it is not deep enough after removing dead leaves from the plant.  Wait until the plant has gone dormant before trimming.

The Lotus will remain dormant until after most other aquatic plants are growing.  In mid April, the first leaf spikes emerge from the soil and grow to the surface, forming floating leaves once again.

Article supplied by Springdale Water Gardens.