Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Dwarf Lotus

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Got a yen for white tulips in August?  Grow 'Baby Doll' lotus.  Tiny flowers, at least for a lotus.  And lots of them, over months.  My 'Baby Doll' started blooming in July and is promising to go right through October.  Try getting that performance out of tulips. 

 

Plus, when you look down into the flower, 'Baby Doll' is so not like a tulip.  Pollen-laden staems curl around the base of the central yellow cone—on point—with just three translucent little eye-ball things in it.  These are the pistils, each developing into one seed.  This flower's a three-seeder.  'Baby Doll' flowers, in general, are four-seeders; there just isn't room for more.  Each full-sized lotus flower has room for about sixteen.

 

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'Baby Doll' is planted in a plastic dishpan that's sitting deep down in a garbage can of water.  Yes, 'Baby' herself wasn't cheap, but the dishpan and the garbage can couldn't be cheaper. 

 

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And yet, combine the prosaic elements here—the dishpan, the garbage can, regular top-ups of water to keep it full—with just the one wild-and-cool element—a dwarf lotus—and the entire Summer is now unprecedentedly interesting. 

 

Can I top this next Summer?  I'm thinking all I need is more garbage cans, more dishpans—and the "red" lotus, a dwarf pink lotus, a full-sized pink lotus, and the pink-and-yellow one, and...

 

 

Here's how to grow this pint-sized aquatic perennial:

 

Latin Name

Nelumbo 'Baby Doll'

Common Name

Dwarf Lotus

Family

Nelumbonaceae, the Lotus family.

What kind of plant is it?

Hardy aquatic flowering perennial.

Hardiness

Zones 4 - 11. This aquatic perennial's tuberous roots colonize the soil at the bottom of earth-bottom ponds, or the soil in containers fully submerged in lined ponds.  The stems of the leaves can reach the surface of water that's nearly two feet deep—and then continue upward, above the water, a few inches or even a foot farther.  The roots don't tolerate frost but the tubers and roots are hardy anywhere the water above the soil is deep enough that the pond's surface-ice doesn't freeze all the way down to the soil, and yet is not so deep that their leaves can't reach at least a bit above the water's surface to get the full sun they need to grow and flower: From the frost-free tropics of Zone 11, then, all the way down to the seriously-Wintered Zone 4 of Northern Vermont and Canada.  Few plants, aquatic or terrestrial, have such a world-wide versatility.

Habit

Spreading, with strongly upright leaves and flowers.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

A clump two or three feet across and, from the soil level, not the surface of the water above it, two to two-and-a-half feet tall.   Full-sized lotuses that are planted directly into earth-bottomed ponds can spread their long roots and banana-like tubers outward by many yards a season, season after season. 'Baby Doll' is much more restrained, and happy with its roots confined to just the soil in a dishpan-sized plastic tub; you can use an actual dishpan if you want, or a black plastic tub specifically for water gardening.  It will be only a foot or so tall above the water's surface.

Texture

Dense and tropical-looking.  The round bluish leaves, held above the water, are unique to lotuses.   They grow thickly enough to cast the water beneath them into full shade:  Lotuses are peerless "groundcovers" for ponds.

Grown for

its rarity: The usual-sized lotuses—magnificent and even mesmerizing beasts, to be sure—are overwhelmingly everyone's first choice in a lotus, not least just because they are so huge in leaf, overall size, and, of course, in flower.  Only after you've gaped your fill at full-sized lotuses could the diminutive charms of a dwarf lotus have any appeal.  These are plants, then, that by definition classify you (whether you like it or not) as a jaded sophisticate, at least when it comes to lotuses.

 

its size: A regular lotus is big in all aspects: It can grow in water five feet deep and more, the leaves can project up out of the water three feet and more, the leaves can be well over a foot in diameter, the plant can spread to cover (literally) an acre, and the flowers—ah, the flowers!—can be a foot across.  Dial down all of those characteristics by 70 percent for 'Baby Doll', whose leaves are six inches across, a foot at the absolute most, on stems a couple of feet tall tops, and with flowers three to six inches across and seed-pods that (at least for me) only seem to develop three seeds instead of the dozen and more of the full-sized.  'Baby Doll' is very happy in a dishpan-sized container that could be fully submerged only a few inches deep in a ten-gallon galvanized tub.  You could easily use that ten-gallon tub itself as the planting pan for a full-sized lotus.

 

its foliage: Lotus-like, just miniature: Six inches across or just a few inches larger, on stems that rarely rise over a foot out of the water.

 

its flowers: More like white tulips than peony-like lotuses: Three inches across, maybe more.

Flowering season

July into Fall.

Culture

As for any lotus: any heavy soil, full sun, and submerged in still fresh water that's deep enough that it's at least a few inches to about two feet above the top of the soil.

How to handle it

Lotus are so spectacular (and often so easy) that it's hard to imagine that any garden would be without them.  They are (usually) so vigorous that you can even grow them as annuals, albeit expensive ones.  

 

Their tubers are banana-like in both shape and size, and are at the ends of lengthy round roots.  If you buy from a mail-order supplier—which is what I'd recommend; they'll have the largest assortment—you'll get just one tuber and some of its attached root.  The growth point will be at the non-root end of the tuber.  Not to worry: Like a dahlia, that one tuber can produce a full-sized and fully-blooming plant in only a few months.

 

Growing your lotus in a plastic tub that's submerged in water: Plant the tuber shallowly, on its side, in a dishpan-sized plastic tub of heavy soil.  Don't use potting soil, which is so fluffy it would just float away when you submerge the plastic tub.  Leave the tuber's growth tip exposed.  (I always think of the angle—or what I imagine the angle—of the Hindenberg blimp as it descended to its crash-landing in New Jersey.) 

 

Don't fill the tub to the top with soil; leave an inch so you can spread a layer of small gravel over the soil surface (not damaging the tuber's growth tip, mind you).  The gravel will keep the soil from washing out of the tub as you, next, submerge it a few inches deep in water.  If you need to use drinking water that's been chlorinated, let the water sit around for a couple of days first so the chlorine evaporates.   If you need to use well water, which can be chilly, indeed, let it sit around for a few hours first so it's warmed to room temperature.

 

Regardless of the severity of the weather at the surface of the water they grow in, lotuses are hardy almost anywhere where their roots don't get hit by frost.  That said, they're at their most vigorous in warm water and warm soil.  So I think it's best not to submerge the tub right away down to its ultimate depth (which would usually be whatever it is when the tub is sitting right on the bottom of the pond).  With just an inch or two of water over the tub to start, the sunlight is stronger and warmer, which helps start the tuber into growth more quickly. 

 

Have some sort of ad hoc platform in place, then, to rest the plastic tub on while the young plant develops.  This can be as simple as a couple of bricks or a wide-mouth terra cotta pot that you rest (right-side up) on the bottom of the pond or water-garden container.  

 

After two or three of the small starter leaves have sprouted, you can lower the tub (carefully) to its "mature" depth.  Yes, the starter leaves will be "drowned"—fully submerged—but the subsequent leaves will know to grow all the way up to the surface.  Only after the young plant has a half dozen leaves lolling around on the surface, just like those of water lilies, does it then decide to grow leaves that leap up out of the water entirely before unfurling.  

 

Because lotuses are such sun- and heat-lovers (as are all water-lily-like plants), be sure to site your plant to get the maximum of both.  Not only does the sun enable the plant's leaves to photosynthesize, the sun's heat warms the water to help the overall plant (including the submerged roots) grow all the faster.  

 

With lotuses, more is more: The blue-green leaves themselves are dramatic, and, of course, the flowers are the epitome of stupefying luxury.   It isn't possible, ever, to have too many lotus flowers, but it's very often possible to have not nearly enough of them.  The only way you have a hope of getting deliriously close to having too many lotus flowers is by having all possible lotus leaves.

 

Fertilizer is the secret sauce you need.  Order fertilizer tablets from a water-gardening website and poke them down into the pot as directed (usually by the half-dozen) when you plant the tuber and monthly during the growing season.  Unless your water garden has trouble with algae, don't hesitate, in addition, to dump in a capful or two of fish-emulsion fertilizer right into the water a couple of times a week.  It would be difficult to over-feed a happy lotus, and fertilizing at least a bit is the prime way (plus full sun) to make a lotus happy in the first place.

 

Check on the water level of the container or the pond regularly, so the lotus is continually submerged during the growing season.  It's fine if the water level fluctuates a few inches, which may well happen over the course of a week if you're growing the lotus in that ten-gallon washtub and you forgot to top it up for a few days.  But you don't want the lotus's planting tub to "breach" the surface of the water because of evaporation, let alone to actually dry out.  Lotuses have a lot of foliage, which means they're transpiring a lot of water.  Give them the water they want.

 

Don't hesitate to groom the plant during the growing season, clipping off leaves that have started to fade. The flowers, however, mature to very exciting seed pods, so you'd normally leave those to mature: they dry beautifully.

 

To grow your lotus directly in an earth-bottom pond: First, remember that full-size lotuses will totally colonize your pond unless it has portions where the water is too deep: more than six feet to be safe.  ('Baby Doll' is much slower and shorter, but I wouldn't trust it "on the loose" even so.)   If your entire pond only has water within a lotus's depth-range, your lotus will soon fill the entire pond.  The colony will look marvelous and probably bloom beautifully, but people won't see any actual open water.  Your pond will cease to look like a pond.

 

Planting your lotus in a container isn't any help because the fast-growing roots are entirely capable of exploring outside the pot (i.e., growing out into the water itself), and then determining that there's all kinds of open mud to colonize if they just grow downward six inches, too.

 

Dwarf lotuses are easier to handle because they won't grow into water deeper than a foot, two at the most. 

 

Also remember that if your earth-bottom pond was constructed—i.e., excavated where there wasn't a pond before, and the excavated hole lined with heavy clay to enable it to hold water—you can't plant lotuses in its "earth" bottom.  The roots would quickly grow through that clay to the native soil beneath, causing your pond to leak and empty.  Only plant lotuses in earth-bottom ponds, then, that are naturally occurring.

 

If after all of these caveats you still do want to grow your lotus in an earth-bottom pond, plant it at the shallow end (which will be the warmest and the sunniest for those first leaves), and let it wander into deeper and deeper water on its own.  Be sure, though, to plant it deep enough that, even if it doesn't migrate into deeper water that first summer, any winter ice won't get so thick enough—and therefore deep enough—to freeze the tubers.

 

Lotuses over the Winter: As long as the roots and tubers are safe from frost, let alone the thickening ice, your lotus that's growing in a container or directly in an earth-bottom pond will rest out the cold months happily in chilly but unfrozen Winter water. 

 

For containered or earth-bottomed lotus in sufficiently deep water, you don't need to do anything in the Fall but wait until Spring for them to resprout.  If you grow your lotuses in a planting pan that's submerged in a comparatively small above-ground water-garden container, though, you need to remove your lotuses from it and to store your lotuses in a frost-free spot.  The entire container itself could freeze solid in serious cold, killing your lotus outright.   If you have the greenhouse or interior space, you could move the entire water garden indoors for the Winter; lotuses will grow year-round when they can.

 

If, like me, your greenhouse in Winter is cheek-by-jowl already, you'll want to store your lotuses dormant.  Let them experience a real frost (but not a water-garden-as-ice-cube freeze) so the foliage is killed and the plant understands that it's now time to settle down for that long winter's nap.  Then lift the plastic planting tub out of the water garden or pond. 

 

Clip off the dead leaf stems, and turn the pot gently over so the mass of soil, root, and tuber tumbles gently out.  Hose through it to expose the roots and tubers, and store those somewhat like you would dahlias: in some sort of loose "medium" (potting soil, wood shavings, vermiculite) in humidity but not actual muddy-and-dripping moisture.  The plastic planting tub is great for this: Put a layer of the medium across the bottom, then gently coil the roots and tubers atop it, then gently bury them with more medium.  Check on them regularly through the winter, sprinkling with water if they seem to be shriveling. 

 

If you have the extra warm-and-sunny greenhouse space in March (but who does?), plant the tubers as you did originally, and bring them into growth in shallow water.  Ten-gallon galvanized washtubs (you get them at Agway) come in handy here: They're big enough to hold the plastic planting tubs, and deep enough that those tubs can be submerged in those first few inches of water that young lotus plants enjoy.  And they aren't so terribly big that they hog your greenhouse.  This is often the best way to "overwinter" tubers: shorten the Winter.

Downsides

If you can't just let your lotus overwinter in a deep-enough pond (natural or man made), or keep it green and growing in a frost-free greenhouse or porch, overwintering the tubers dormant in your basement is oddly tricky.

 

Lotus aren't easily controlled in natural-pond settings; alas, there are no "clumping" lotuses to plant instead.

Variants

Even if you garden acre after acre, you're unlikely to have more than a half-dozen lotuses.   But two, three, or four?   Most definitely.   There's a pink-flowered dwarf as well as the pure-white 'Baby Doll'.  Full-sized lotuses have even more variation in flowers, from white to yellow to pink-and-yellow bicolor to pink and deep pink.  (Despite salesmanship, there isn't a truly "red" lotus—yet.)

 

The thrilling foliage always looks about the same, though, cultivar to cultivar.   So unless your collection of lotuses is in bloom, they'll all look like just more of the same lotus.  Ah, to have a lotus with variegated foliage, or foliage that's purple or chartreuse.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By snipping free a tuber and some of its connecting root, in Spring, from the rest of the root mass.

Native habitat

There are two species of lotus.  Most named cultivars, e.g., 'Baby Doll', are complex hybrids of both.  Nelumbo nucifera is native to tropical Asia, but, as seen in the lotus capitals on temple columns in ancient Egypt, has been grown in tropical Africa for thousands of years.  N. lutea is native to southeast America and the Caribbean. 

 
 
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