Feeding water lilies is as easy as understanding that water lilies are greedy feeders!
If you want blooms, you have to feed.
There is no other way to write this other than to say that I ran an experiment to see what would happen if I didn’t feed a lily while it was in a small water garden.
The answer to the question was “nothing”.
The leaves came out but I only saw one tiny bud all summer. It developed into a small flower and that was all I got all summer. Let me repeat, feeding water lilies is only mandatory if you want blooms. 🙂
First A Word of Caution
The word of caution is not to start feeding water lilies too early in the season if you are using the tablet form of plant food. All it will do is feed the algae. Wait until the water warms up and the first few leaves have hit the surface of the water.
Then feed to maximize leaf and bud production.
Option #1 Use Commercial Pond Pellets
The first method is to use commercial pond pellets. These work very well and grow a great plant. I’ve used them for years.
Feed monthly for the best results.
Remember this plant is greedy. I would generally use 4 pellets a month, one in each quadrant of the large lily pot. I would shove them down as far into the pot as I could with my finger and then cover the hole back up so the disintegrating fertilizer pellet would stay in the soil and not melt out into the pond itself (where it would feed the algae and not the lily.)
But each brand is different so please follow the directions on your label.
Option #2 Use Compost This Way
The second method is one I got from an old gardening book and has something to recommend it. First thing in the spring when you divide your water lily (you did divide it didn’t you) you empty all the soil from the pot at the same time.
Pack an inch of compost into the bottom of the lily tub (this works only with tubs that do not have holes in them) and I do mean pack it down.
Wet the compost thoroughly and tamp it down so that it becomes a compacted layer. Ensure there is at least an inch of packed-down compost and then refill the pot with soil and plant the water lily.
Feeding water lilies becomes very easy as you don’t do a darn thing. The water lily roots will penetrate down to the compost and the plant will take off – giving you the largest leaves and flowers you can imagine.
The only downside of this is that sometimes the compost can leach into the water (if you aren’t using a heavy clay soil in the lily pot) and you might see a bit of brown algae develop. This is quickly cleared up in the spring with oxygenators as soon as the water warms up but there is sometimes a bit of fertilizer leaching into the water.
Pots with holes in them are not suitable for this technique as the compost leaches into the water to feed the algae and not the lily.
Note: Because the lilies are going to grow very quickly using this system, they can usually be divided every year and new compost added to the pot.
Even if the lily is not divided, it should be dug and new compost added to the pot. You’ll find there’s shrinkage from the degraded compost.