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How to split water lilies – Water Garden & Feature Q & A


Picture of a water lily.

Water Gardens & Features Q & A

Q: How do you split water lilies?

A: Whether they’re hardy, tropical, day or night bloomer, water lilies beautify decorative backyard ponds. Their vivid colors add a dash of drama in an otherwise green landscape, which is probably why you added them to the pond in the first place!

In the confines of an aquatic pot or plant basket in a decorative pond, water lilies can quickly run out of space and nutrients.

When those flowers stop blossoming and the leaves grow to excess, it’s a sure sign that it’s time to divide and replant the lilies. With a little know-how, splitting lilies is a chore that can be done in no time. Here’s how to do it:

1. Remove your overgrown plants from the water garden in the spring, sometime around March or April, when the water temperature starts to rise. Put on your waterproof gardening gloves, like the Aqua Gloves™, and carefully lift the plant to a work space and remove it from its container. You may need to cut open the basket, depending how pot-bound the plant is.

2. Next, wash off old soil and roots not attached to the plant. Split the crown of the plant with a sharp knife to cut through the creamy white rhizome, saving the youngest parts of the clump, typically around the outside edge, for repotting. Examine the rhizome for damage or signs of disease, like soft patches of rot. Cut those portions off.

3. Trim the long, coarse roots back to 4 to 5 inches. Line your new plant basket with landscape cloth or similar material and position three to five pieces of rhizome in the basket with their growing tips facing outward to help avoid competition as the crowns develop.

4. Fill in around the rhizomes with aquatic soil, like Microbe-Lift® Aquatic Plant Media, making sure the roots are spread well into the soil and the crown is sitting just below the soil surface. Gently press the plant in and compact the soil.

5. Finish repotting by applying a layer of gravel. This helps anchor plants, keeps the soil in the pot and deters fish from digging out the plants. Return the lily to the water garden taking care when positioning the
pot not to tip the lily out.

You can expect to divide your water lilies every few years or so, depending on your particular variety and growth rate. To keep you plants healthy and thriving between transplanting, be sure to fertilize regularly with aquatic plant foods, like TetraPond® LilyGro™ Tablets, Microbe-Lift® Bloom & Grow™ or the convenient Fertilizer Spikes.

POND TALK: How often do you split and repot your water lilies?

8 Responses

  1. I have never split them before, my first year for them to bloom – my second year to have them. Should I split them after they finish blooming this year?

  2. The first year we brought our water lillies indoors for the winter. Last year we left them in the pond (18″ deep….150 gallon preformed pond and they look better than ever this year. It’s good to know we can split them since the pots are beginning to bulge with roots!

  3. Here in the chicago area, I find them very hardy. I just cut them down in the late fall and they do just fine in 18-24″ of water

  4. […] How to split water lilies – Water Garden & Feature Q & A – Week Ending July 18th Water Gardens & Features Q & A Q: How do you split water lilies? A: Whether they’re hardy, tropical, day or night […] […]

  5. We have been considering starting to add some Water Lilles to our pond as we have a shelf around our pond that ranges from several inches deep to 2 feet before dropping off to 18′. Since they are a rather epensive plant to get started with, can you explain what to do with them so they winter over in our cold Wisconsin climate? We end up with at least a foot of ice on the pond over the winter. Do we take them out and bring them inside over the winter or what?

    • I too live in WI and have a small 90 gal. plastic pond. I have split my water lillies with success. Figured they would split just like iris do. I move my water lillies inside. I set the pot in water just to the neck/top of the pot. The leaves die off and the plant goes dormant. In the spring when new growth starts, and the water has warmed up a bit, I move them out into my plastic pond again. I do have a bit of advantage though, I have a cut out in my basement floor for a spring that always flows. Thats where I set my plants, so they do have slow moving water around them. I guess if you put them in an old aquarium and set the aeroator on a slow bubble it would be the same thing. You don’t want them to just set in stagnant water that would get slimy. I also don’t move them inside until about the end of October. Good Luck.

    • I live in wisconsin as well I leave my lilies in the pond all winter, however just to let you know that my pond shallowest part is only 5 inches deepest part is 4ft which is where the lilies are I keep a deicer in the pond to keep it open to release gases etc.. birds still enjoy my pumps stay in as well, but not running although I have left the waterfall on two years ago and everything was fine and very pretty iced over and then the snow. Trial and error that’s what I figure. Good luck with whatever you choose.

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