How to Plant a Water Lily Garden
You don't need a Monet-size pond to make an impression with water lilies. Tuck one or two in a pot for a patio water garden. Here's how:
Buy a Container
For once in your gardening life, avoid drainage holes! Choose a watertight container (such as a ceramic pot, half whiskey barrel or galvanized tank) at least 18 inches in diameter.
You can grow any water lily in a pot; they self-adjust to the size of the container. Some lilies are day bloomers, while others open at dusk and close mid-morning. If you like, pair water lilies with common rush or dwarf papyrus for height. A great online plant resource is William Tricker in Independence, Ohio. Founded in 1892, it's the country's oldest water garden supplier.
This goes fast because the plants stay in their nursery pots underwater. Stack bricks along an inside edge of the container to be a shelf for the accent plants. The tops of their pots should be flush with the water surface. Fill the container with water. Place the lily in its mesh pot on the bottom, so its stem is submerged and the leaves float. (You may need to raise the pot on bricks if the stem is short.) Add aquatic plant fertilizer tablets and mosquito dunks, which are toxic only to mosquito larvae.
How to Maintain
Remove dead leaves and floating algae weekly. Each month, overflow the pot with the hose to keep things fresh and full. Replace dunks and fertilizer as directed. Even hardy lilies won't survive in a pot, and overwintering is fussy; plan to compost everything in fall.
Annuals or Perennials?
Some water lilies (such as 'Arc-en-Ciel') are hardy in large ponds in Zones 4–8, but you'll find more exciting colors if you buy tropicals and treat them as annuals.