Nothing instills a sense of serenity into an outdoor space like a water feature. And nothing evokes a sense of the exotic like lotus flowers in a garden pond. If you’re looking to create a tropical paradise in your backyard, you’ll find that these stunning blooms are surprisingly easy to grow.
Lotus flowers are considered sacred in many cultures, and this is no surprise. They provide both beauty and food in parts of Southeast Asia. Part of its appeal is that it grows in fetid swamps, only to thrive and become a breathtaking flower and source of food.
Introduction to Lotus Flowers for Garden Ponds
A garden pond offers a peaceful focal point for your garden while providing a habitat for wildlife. Even a small container pond provides visual interest and a water source for birds and insects.
Many home gardeners choose to install in-ground lotus ponds for their beauty, but they can also improve drainage in the garden. When situated in natural low-lying spots in the landscape, these ponds catch excess rain and help prevent soil erosion.
Understanding the Different Types of Lotus Flowers
The lotus plant is categorized into two separate species: Nelumbo lutea and Nelumbo nucifera.
American Lotus, Nelumbo lutea
It may surprise you to discover that the U.S. has a native lotus species, Nelumbo lutea. This species grows wild in North American wetlands. If you’re growing lotus flowers for your garden pond, however, these may be the easiest ones for beginners. Native species always have an advantage since they have evolved to live in local conditions.
The American lotus grows up to 6 feet tall and produces leaves as big as 40 inches in diameter that have rippled margins. The American lotus flower runs from pale cream to bright yellow and produces distinctive seed heads that look like shower heads.
The roots of American lotus offer habitat for small invertebrates, which then provide a food source for fish. It often invites aquatic animals like beaver and muskrat, who eat the rhizomes. In large ponds, it may become overgrown and require cutting back to prevent the water from becoming stagnant due to eutrophication.
Growing American lotus in your garden pond does have some pros and cons.
- Seed heads provide food for wildlife
- Fast growing
- Thrives in freshwater ponds
- Resistant to most plant pests
- Hardy in USDA zones 2 to 11
- Only comes in one color
- May not be suitable for small or container ponds
Asian Lotus, Nelumbo Nucifera
When most gardeners think of Lotus flowers, they think of Nelumbo nucifera, commonly called “Sacred Lotus.” This species is native to Southeast Asia and India, and scientists in China have identified 16 haplotypes of this species in the wild.
However, you’re most likely to find cultivated varieties bred for specific characteristics when shopping for plants. You’ll find varieties in white, yellow, pink, red, and lavender. You’ll also find single and double bloom varieties in sizes that range from 2-inch “micro” lotus flowers to 12-inch blooms.
Asian Lotus, or Nelumbo nucifera, requires warm temperatures and will only survive a long winter if it already has a well-developed root system and remains submerged deep enough to prevent freezing.
Otherwise, it will require protection from the cold. It’s particularly well suited for container ponds that can be moved indoors during cold weather.
Once established and in deep ponds where roots are far below the waterline and protected from freezes, however, it’s hardy in USDA zones 4 to 10.
Asian lotus, or Nelumbo nucifera, has its own list of advantages and disadvantages
- Large variety of color and bloom size to choose from
- Grows well in brackish water
- Some varieties are salt tolerant
Is less hardy than its American cousin,
If you’re still not sure which type to choose, consider a hybrid variety. Horticulturists have created crosses between the American and Sacred lotus. Some varieties to look for are ‘Perry’s Giant Sunburst,’ ‘Louise Slocum,’ ‘Patricia Garrett,’ and ‘Perry’s Giant Sunburst.’
Lotus Flowers Pictures
The Chinese Double Rose lotus flower can grow up to three feet in height. Because this is one of the smaller lotus flowers, they can be grown in water in a three-gallon container.
The “Empress” or Alba Striata are great flowers. They are a whitish bloom with gentle strokes of pinkish colors on the edges of the petals. These plants can grow up to five feet tall in perfect conditions. The empress lotus flower bursts into a wide white rose-shaped blossom when in full bloom. As all plant life will, the Lotus flower will increase the oxygen in the air. It is also a great way to enhance your garden pond and/or landscape design with a water plant that best suits your personal taste.
Mrs. Perry D Slocum flowers are multi-colored. On the first day they appear pink, on the second day they are pink and yellow, and by the third day of blooming, they are a creamy, flushed pink color. The Mrs. Perry D. Slocum lotus flower grows to about four to five feet in adequate conditions and will decorate your already relaxing garden pond with a burst of colorful, fragrant allure.
The lotus flower called “Momo Botan” is a deep, brilliant pink, and produces double blooms. Older flowers are able to stay open through the night. The blooming season of this wonderful flower will last longer than the average blooming seasons of other flower blossoms, including lotus flowers. These plants can also be placed in a small container in your garden pond.
The “Lavender Lady” is another lovely member of the family of lotus flowers. These, as their name indicates produce dark, lavender-colored blossoms with a tinge of pink. These beautiful flowers grow to become five to seven feet tall depending on the stability of their conditions.
Another beautiful lotus bloom is called the “Green Maiden”. Its sequential pattern of color transformation goes from pink to yellow to a cream color. The final blossom looks as though the tips have been dipped in a bright, yet subtle pink, and the yellow can be seen more closely from the center of the bloom. These blooms can grow up to three feet in your garden pond.
Another wonderfully named lotus flower is the “Frankly Scarlet” lotus flower. These are dark pink and a very impressive, colorful, and alluring addition to your pond. These plants can grow to be up to six feet and produce multiple, single blooms.
Single white blooms can also be beautifully decorative in your garden pond, to add that extra splash of life to your landscape. These flowers are called the “Alba Grandiflora” otherwise known as the “Asiatic”. This lovely, cup-shaped lotus flower can also grow up to five feet in good conditions.
Identifying the Top Garden Pond Plants
Lotus flowers are often confused with other blooming aquatic plants, particularly water lilies. This line is blurred even further when these plants are commonly called “lotuses.”
Two examples are the Blue lotus, (Nymphaea nouchali) and the Egyptian Lotus (Nymphaea nouchali var. caerulea), both of which are water lilies.
Water lilies are also blooming aquatic plants, and they often produce a flower that is very reminiscent of the lotus.
Water lilies belong to the Nymphaeaceae family, and while the lotus flower rises above the surface of your garden pond, water lilies float on the surface.
Lotus plants produce thin, delicate leaves, while water littles have sturdier stems and thick, waxy leaves.
The flowers can look similar, but water lilies have thick, waxy petals that are pointed. Lotus flowers are rounder and softer.
Most interestingly, water lilies produce their seeds under the water, while lotus plants produce seed pods at the top of the flower stem as the bloom matures.
Factors to Consider When Choosing Lotus Flowers for Your Pond
One of the key concepts behind creating a successful garden is understanding the origins of the plants you choose. Knowing the parameters of their natural habitats allows you to best provide the optimal conditions where they will thrive.
So, the key question is “where do lotus flowers grow?”
American Lotus Native Habitat
Native Americans intentionally propagated the American lotus as a food source, and it is now considered native throughout the Eastern United States. It thrives in freshwater marshes and along the shores of lakes and rivers.
Sacred Lotus Native Habitat
The Sacred Lotus is native to Asia and Northeast Australia. These stunning specimens thrive in tropical conditions in freshwater lakes, rivers, and ponds. They can also adapt easily to brackish water and marshlands near saltwater bodies.
How to Grow Lotus Flowers for Your Garden Pond
These beauties are simply irresistible, and if you want to grow lotus flowers for your garden pond, you can choose between seeds and tubers.
How to Grow Lotus Flowers from Seeds
Starting lotus flowers from seeds will take longer than growing them from tubers. However, starting from seed is often less expensive.
Another key advantage is that you can grow healthy, well-developed seedlings over winter that will be ready to plant out in your garden pond once the water temperature reaches 70°F.
Growing Lotus from Seed
It can take up to two years to get a blooming plant from seeds, but the process is simple and easy.
- Scarify the seed pod by either using a file to remove part of the shell. Alternatively, you can nick them with a razor or use a hammer or nutcracker to crack the shell.
- Place your lotus seeds in a container of warm water. Keep them in a warm, sunny spot, and remember to change the water every two to three days.
- Check regularly for germination. It should take about 7 to 10 days. You’ll see a green sprout emerging under the shell where you nicked it.
- Once your seeds have developed a stem of about 4 to 6 inches long, it’s time to plant them in some soil where they’ll find nutrients.
- Get a shallow container, about 6 inches deep, and fill the bottom with a mixture of compost and topsoil. Don’t use potting mix, as it is too light and may float. You want a heavy, clay-based soil. You can also purchase a specialty mix made exclusively for aquatic plants that will remain in place when submerged.
- Once your lotus plants have several sets of leaves and have developed a tuber, you can plant them out in your garden pond.
Read on to find out how to plant Lotus flowers from tubers.
How to Plant Lotus Flowers from Tubers
Established tubers make growing lotus flowers for your garden pond easy and satisfying. Tubers contain the energy your plant needs to develop leaves and flowers in one season.
Lotus tubers look like thick roots or long, skinny potatoes. They should have growth tips on them that look like pale arms reaching out for light. Don’t purchase lotus tubers without growth tips, as this may indicate that the tuber has been stored improperly.
To grow lotus flowers from tubers, you’ll need a shallow container at least 12 to 18 inches deep and 24 inches in diameter. You’ll also need heavy soil and garden compost. You can also choose potting soil made specifically for aquatic plants that will remain at the bottom of the container.
One of the key elements to successfully growing lotus from tubers is temperature control. Only plant out your tubers if you can guarantee that the water temperature will remain above 70°F. This is critical, as tubers in cold environments may rot before coming out of dormancy.
Once you’re ready, the steps for planting are simple:
- Place 3 to 5 inches of your prepared soil in the bottom of the container
- Carefully place the tuber on the soil with the growing tips facing upward
- Cover the tuber only with a layer of the growing mix while ensuring that growing tips are not covered or broken
- Carefully add warm water to the container, filling it just as high as needed to cover the growth tips. If you are planting a lotus that has already developed leaves, cover just enough to float the leaves
- Add water as needed as the plant grows and the water evaporates
Tips for Maintaining Healthy and Beautiful Lotus Flowers in Your Pond
Growing lotus flowers in your garden pond is relatively simple:
- Plant tubers in late spring and early summer when temperatures are sure to remain warm
- Place your plants, and your garden pond, where they will receive at least six hours of sunlight a day
- Only fertilize lotus plants once they have developed a full set of leaves, then feed monthly during the growing season. Do not feed when plants are dormant
- Use an aquatic plant fertilizer designed to remain submerged. An NPK ratio of 10-14-8 is considered ideal
Protect the roots from freezing in cold weather by moving container ponds indoors. You can also use a basket pot for aquatic plants that will allow you to remove the plant from your outdoor pond before winter and keep it in a smaller container indoors.
Common Problems with Lotus Flowers and How to Solve Them
While lotus plants are pretty hardy and resistant to pests, you may experience issues and wish to resolve them quickly before your plant suffers.
A few common problems include:
Die-back sometimes occurs at odd times in the growing year. After a growth spurt, the leaves may turn yellow and sickly looking. This is because the tuber has exhausted its nutrient supply and needs to recover. This occurs at the price of the current foliage, but it’s a natural part of the plant’s growth cycle.
Although most lotus plants stand up well to garden pests, no plant is completely immune. Lotus flowers may attract aphids, which can damage the plant and can prove unsightly.
In most cases, washing aphids off of the plant with a garden hose is your best solution. While many gardeners like to use neem oil for aphids, the heavy oil from this treatment is not suitable for lotus plants.
You may find ants involved in an aphid infestation. Ants are known to “farm” aphids in order to collect the sticky sweet “dew” they produce on the surface of the plants. Ants will protect the aphids against natural predators, such as ladybugs. In this case, treat for the ant infestation. Organic commercial or homemade formulas made of sugar and boric acid in ant traps are often effective.
Other common insect pests you may find on your lotus flowers are leaf miners, water lily beetles, fungus gnats, and caddis worm. Since your garden pond is a haven for wildlife species and beneficial insects, the best remedy for these pets is to remove any affected parts of the plants as soon as possible.
In cases of severe infestation, organic bacteria-based pesticides, such as BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) or Spinosad can reduce pest pressure.
Final Thoughts on Lotus Flowers and Other Aquatic Plants
Environmental experts are clear about the benefits of ponds as wildlife habitats in residential areas. The more land we convert to human use, the more we need to provide pockets of nature both for wildlife and for our own mental health. Lotus ponds check both of these boxes.
Before adding lotus flowers to your garden pond, shop carefully and consider the benefits each variety offers. And since many aquatic plants can become invasive if uncontrolled, you may need to make sure that the plants are legal to grow in your region, as well.
Both species of lotus flowers are a beautiful and beneficial addition to your garden design, and they’re probably a lot easier to grow than their delicate beauty implies.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2019 and has been completely updated.