Let there be lo­tus: easy-grow plants for pots & ponds

These sym­bols of spir­i­tual en­light­en­ment o er an ar­chi­tec­tural beauty and heav­enly fra­grance that few plants can match. ARNO KING ex­plains how to grow lo­tuses in ponds and pots

Gardening Australia - - CONTENTS -

Re­garded as the most iconic flower in the world, the lo­tus is renowned as a sym­bol of spir­i­tual en­light­en­ment, di­vine per­fec­tion and beauty, re­al­i­sa­tion of in­ner po­ten­tial, pu­rity, im­mor­tal­ity and re­birth.

Some lo­tuses are na­tive to Aus­tralia and are fea­tured widely in ad­ver­tis­ing for our trop­i­cal north, and all plant parts are edi­ble. Yet de­spite their pop­u­lar­ity in lit­er­a­ture, im­agery and per­fumery, many Aus­tralians con­fuse lo­tuses with wa­terlilies, and fewer peo­ple grow them in their gar­dens. I hope to con­vert you! Ev­ery­one has room for at least one lo­tus plant in their gar­den or on a ter­race.

Lo­tuses and wa­terlilies grow in wa­ter, wor­ship the sun and have large, round leaves, but the resemblance ends there, for lo­tuses are quite un­re­lated to wa­terlilies, and tax­o­nom­i­cally they are more closely aligned to mem­bers of the protea fam­ily, in the or­der of Proteales.

en­chant­ing qual­i­ties

Schol­ars have long noted how these plants, which are found along the still mar­gins of lakes and ponds, grow with their roots in the stink­ing mud, and rise above the wa­ter to the light, pro­duc­ing beau­ti­fully per­fumed flow­ers.

I love the ar­chi­tec­tural qual­i­ties of the leaves. They are a pale bluish-green, re­sem­ble green, up­turned um­brel­las and sway in the light­est breeze or clat­ter in the rain. Chil­dren are fas­ci­nated by the way wa­ter droplets roll around on them like beads of mer­cury.

Flow­ers ap­pear dur­ing the warmer months, and there is pro­fuse pro­duc­tion of flow­ers as the plant surges into growth. This is cause for cel­e­bra­tion in many cul­tures. Each flower lasts

2–3 days, clos­ing each night.

The ac­claimed per­fume changes through­out the day. In the morn­ing it has spicy over­tones of cin­na­mon and is loved by tiny bee­tles, but by the af­ter­noon it is pure lo­tus, an ex­quis­ite per­fume with hints of rose, which is al­lur­ing to both hu­mans and bees.

Flow­ers vary im­mensely and many cul­ti­vars are grown in Aus­tralia.

A mass of lo­tus blooms (Nelumbo ‘Perry Slocum’) stand­ing tall above din­ner plate-sized leaves.

These are prin­ci­pally cul­ti­vars of the sa­cred lo­tus (Nelumbo nu­cifera), but a few cul­ti­vars of Amer­i­can lo­tus (N. lutea) are also grown. Flow­ers range in colour from the purist white through to cream, yel­low, apri­cot, pink and the deep­est crim­son red. There are also cul­ti­vars with bi­coloured petals. I love the white cul­ti­vars with pink tips, or flow­ers com­bin­ing pale yel­lows and apri­cots.

Flow­ers may be sin­gle, semi-dou­ble or dou­ble, with some ap­pear­ing to have hun­dreds of petals. The blooms vary in char­ac­ter, as some have pointed or pinched petal tips while oth­ers bear broad and rounded petals.

As the weather cools, plant growth slows and the leaves start to die off. In my Bris­bane gar­den, the plants grow and flower well into win­ter, and they die down for only 1–2 months (some va­ri­eties main­tain one or two leaves). How­ever, in cooler cli­mates in south­ern parts of Aus­tralia, the plant may re­main dor­mant for many months. In the trop­ics, plants die down but may re­tain a few float­ing leaves be­fore surg­ing into growth with the warm­ing weather.

grow­ing tips

Lo­tuses grow well in lakes and ponds, but also in pots that are filled with wa­ter, with a sub­strate at their base. Af­ter work­ing for many years in South-East

Asia, I’m a sucker for grow­ing lo­tuses in pots, and al­ways keep my eyes peeled for large pots – 80cm x 80cm or larger, with drainage holes that can be read­ily plugged. There is a won­der­ful range of small and medium-sized lo­tus cul­ti­vars that thrive in these pots. There are also tiny lo­tus cul­ti­vars, called rice bowl lo­tuses, which do well in much smaller pots.

In a pot or pond, lo­tuses need a sub­strate to grow on – gar­den soil, par­tic­u­larly a clay loam, is ideal. Pot­ting mixes or

land­scape soils are not suit­able as they foul the wa­ter. I try to have at least 20cm soil depth, but this can be re­duced for smaller cul­ti­vars. I also put a few tiny fish – gen­er­ally par­adise fish – in each pot to avoid mosquitoes.

Lo­tus plants grow from white stolons (hor­i­zon­tal stems) that weave their way across the sub­strate sur­face and are an­chored by roots grow­ing at their nodes (leaf joints). In more tem­per­ate va­ri­eties, these stolons be­come swollen tu­bers that sur­vive the win­ter cold, and re­sem­ble a string of sausages. Trop­i­cal forms, how­ever, in­clud­ing our own na­tive lo­tus, gen­er­ally re­main as slen­der stolons.

The stolons and new growth are quite brit­tle and they are read­ily dam­aged when trans­plant­ing. To min­imise dam­age, it is best to pur­chase vig­or­ous pot­ted plants di­rectly from the nurs­ery at the start of the grow­ing sea­son and then care­fully place the pot­ted plant in your pond or pot, which will be filled with wa­ter and have a sub­strate layer at its base. Place the pot­ted plant in a de­pres­sion, level with the sur­round­ing sub­strate, so the stolons can head off hor­i­zon­tally and root into the sur­round­ing sub­strate.

If you ob­tain bare-rooted plants, be ex­tremely care­ful and do not cover the grow­ing tips with soil or dam­age them in any way. Your plants may be a lit­tle slow at first, but once they be­come es­tab­lished, they will grow vig­or­ously.

Lo­tus plants are very re­spon­sive to food. If they are fed with small quan­ti­ties twice monthly, they flower pro­fusely and pro­duce rich bluish-green leaves. Plants seem to pre­fer or­ganic fer­tilis­ers, and pel­letised chicken ma­nure is pop­u­lar with grow­ers. Wrap a hand­ful of pel­lets

in a sheet of news­pa­per or pa­per towel, plunge it into the sub­strate and cover. You will see the re­sponse within days. I have also had great suc­cess spray­ing the leaves with di­luted fish emul­sion. While beads of wa­ter don’t pen­e­trate the leaves, fish emul­sion is ab­sorbed when sprayed lightly. Plants in ponds re­quire less reg­u­lar feed­ing than those in pots.

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT Pink petals of Nelumbo ‘Red River’ darken to red on the edges; beau­ti­ful dou­ble-flow­ered N. ‘Ro­seum Plena’; N. ‘Xiao Bi Tai’ suits small pots; the petals of N. ‘Pale­face’ have darker tips; the pretty N. ‘Pink Bowl’.

The large, bluish-green lo­tus leaves look like up­turned um­brel­las; a beau­ti­ful lo­tus bud about to burst into bloom. FROM LEFT

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