FAQ - Plants - Directions for Planting Lotus
Lotus are among the trickiest of all of the water plants to grow, although given proper conditions, they are vigorous to the point of being nuisances. There is a lot of information out there in the world on this subject, much of it incorrect. There is so much mis-information, in fact, that many well intentioned, enthusiastic people fail repeatedly and eventually give up in abject despair. What follows is an honest discussion of Lotus culture.
First, a description of the plant. Lotus are related to water lilies, obviously, but just as obviously, there are significant differences. The important difference is in the root system. Instead of the rhizomes of the hardy lilies and the bulbs of tropical lilies, lotus produce elongated tubers that roughly resemble bananas. This is what you receive when you purchase a lotus plant. It is the condition and treatment of this tuber that determines your success or failure.
In preparation for growing lotus, you first need to chose a location. It should be sunny, preferably without flowing water, and it should be proportional to the variety of lotus to be grown. Do not expect Perrys Giant Sunburst to grow in a hatful of soil. Large varieties require large (25-50 sq.ft.) areas of a pond, or tubs of at least 45 gallons capacity. Neither should you expect a dwarf variety to show to its best advantage in a very large setting. If your area is limited, choose a small lotus. If the plant is to be grown within a pond, it needs to be contained. You should find the largest, roundest container that will fit in the space available. Lotus plants produce long runners over the course of the season and have the capacity to run away from their pots. For this reason, give the plant the deepest pot that you can. This minimizes the chance that the runner will jump over the top of the pot. Also, it has been said that the deeper the soil, the healthier the plant. The pot should be arranged so that the top of the container is 6- 12 below the surface of the water. Any less and the plant will tend to tip and blow over, any more and goldfish and koi might move in and tear the whole thing up, which nobody wants.
Using amended soil, fill the container to within 3 or 4 of the top. If you are growing the plant in a free standing container, fill it about halfway with soil. Cover the soil with 2-3 of sand, and slowly fill the container with water. If the lotus is in a container within a pond, and there are koi or goldfish present, use a little less sand at first, follow that with at least 2 of black lava rock and cap that with the rest of the sand. We hate to do this to lotus, but we also hate to see them get dug up by fish.
When the soil, etc. are in place, lower the tank into the water. Instead of putting the tuber into the soil as many sets of instructions would have you do, we always set the tuber ONTO the substrate, embedding it slightly in the sand and weighing it down with stones. We then allow the plant to essentially plant itself. The growing plant will instinctively turn downward into the substrate and will use it to its own best advantage once it is in. Burying the tuber into the soil from the beginning almost inevitably dooms the tuber to rotting because of bacterial activity in the soil. This is especially true if you follow the instructions that recommend that you use manure in your soil.
This is also where the condition of the tuber comes into play. Many companies send tubers that are not sprouted, either in leaf or root. We always try to ensure that the plants have sprouted both roots and leaves. This ensures its viability, and helps to assure its success by getting it over the first big hurdle, that of sprouting roots and beginning to grow in earnest before the decay from the cut end catches up with the growing tip. There will almost inevitably be decay in the cut end of the tuber. It is just a matter of the plant using the strength that it has stored in the tuber before the bacteria do. Stronger, pre-sprouted plants have the best chance of doing that.
The first several leaves will float. These are followed at some point by emergent leaves. This is when we begin to feed the plants with fertilizer tablets if we need to at all. New soil may not require supplemental feeding for the first season, whereas second year plantings will require feeding. We use Gro-Power tablets, 12-8-8 at first, followed by 3-12-12 to force flowers. We like to add a full 12-8-8 and ½ of a 3-12-12 tablet for each new standing leaf for particularly vigorous growth. It is possible to overfeed them, and you should stop feeding them as they begin to go dormant.
Dead leaves would be removed about 1 above the water line. Every two or three years, pots should be re-worked, i.e., emptied, cleared of dead tubers, get new soil, etc.