A Gardening Journal

Today in the Garden of a Lifetime: Coiled Roots of The Potted Lotus

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst root coil with hand from inside 2015 11 17 640

 

Fall is mild so far, but hard frosts are inevitable. I grow pots of lotus in tubs, not deep in-ground pools, so they need to be brought into protection for the Winter: The tubers of these aquatic perennials don't tolerate freezing.  

 

When I lifted this pot of 'Perry's Giant Sunburst' up out of the water, the entire mass of soil was a couple of inches above the rim. I tipped the root mass out of the container to see why. The plant had been only a small starter tuber in the Spring, but new tuberous rhizomes—legendary in their territorial ambitions—had formed all Summer. They had raced round and round the base of the container in their quest for deeper, wider soil.

 

These thick, coiling, deep-growing rhizomes are produced in preparation for Winter. This suggests, incredibly, that, despite their number and obvious mass, they didn't begin to form until later in the season.

 

In the picture below, you can see some of the underground sections of the more slender—and even more rampant—rhizomes that elongate in chains many yards long. They form all season long, and are the advance troops, the scouts. The ones in the picture are just roiling around in the soil mass; others have jumped ship, racing up out of the container into open water in hopes of locating other areas of soil in which to root. But each potted Nelumbo nucifera is set in an individual water garden vessel, such as a galvanized washtub or a thirty-gallon garbage can, which affords only an inch or so of clearance around the pot. These potential "escapee" lengths of slender roots can only speed around the inside of the tub's perimeter. 

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst root coil with hand from outside 2015 11 17 640

 

The black tub is in the background of the shot below; in front is the frantically-coiling root mass tipped out of it, upside down. Considering the bulk of the roots, let alone the many leaves and flowers they have produced, the small volume of soil itself is shocking: Three to five inches deep, about eighteen inches across. Aquatic plants have total access to all the water necessary for maximum growth. As long as they receive all possible heat and sun—and no small amount of fertilizer—their soil is the least important ingredient for success.

 

Nelumbo nucifera Perrys Giant Sunburst root coil overall B 2015 11 17 640 

 

In early Spring, I'll carefully uncoil the tubers and divide them: The only thing better than having 'Perry's Giant Sunburst' at all is having several colonies of 'Perry's Giant Sunburst'.

 

But there is late Fall and Winter to get through first. Lotus is very comfortable with a long dormant season provided the colony is kept cool (but above freezing), wet, and dark. I placed the black pot over the root mass, tipped everything rightside up, and lugged the container down into the basement. There the lotus will snooze until mid-March, in a galvanized tub of water just deep enough to ensure an inch or two above the soil surface.

 

 

Here's how exciting Nelumbo nucifera 'Perry's Giant Sunburst' is when in flower.

 

Here's how exciting this iconic aquatic perennial is when "just" in leaf and in bud.

 

Here's how to grow Nelumbo, as well as a look at its massive and alarmingly vigorous chains of rhizomes when they are uncoiled.

 

Here's a look at the fireworky starburst of pink and white roots formed at the tip of each new rhizome that has raced out of the soil into open water.

 
 
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