The Lotus or Nelumbo are amongst the most beautiful and best known plants for the garden pond. They are not frost-hardy and only grow well outdoors in tropical and sub-tropical regions. In temperate areas, even where there is no winter frost, they are best cultivated with the protection of a greenhouse or conservatory. There are many different Lotus, some of which require a large pond, but others that are quite happy growing in a tub on the patio or balcony. Nelumbo nucifera is the famous Sacred Lotus. This produces beautiful pink blossoms on long strong stems amongst large, flat, plate-like foliage, which can be up to 6 feet tall.
The American Lotus, N.lutea is shorter, and much more cold-tolerant, but not quite as attractive. This has bright yellow blossoms amongst smaller plate-like foliage that is rarely more than 3 feet tall. There are many varieties of Lotus, amongst the favorites being the large-flowered, rosy-pink shaded creamy-yellow ‘Mrs. Perry D. Slocum and the more modest single, pure white ‘Claire’. ‘Angel Wings’ is also a single white, ‘Dawn’ delicate pink, and ‘Charles Thomas’, lavender-pink.
In warm areas, Lotus can be planted directly into the mud on the floor of a pond or else in aquatic planting baskets during spring or early summer. Plant the banana-like rootstocks just beneath the surface of the compost. When growing Lotus in a tub, add 2 – 3ins of water, and then as the juvenile foliage emerges, progressively add water. There are several good varieties for tub culture. The double-flowered, carmine, ‘Momo Botan’ and the ivory-white, edged pink Rice Bowl Lotus, ‘Chawan Basu’ are especially useful.
Depending upon the variety or species, Lotus will grow happily in 4 – 30ins of water. Feed with a slow release aquatic plant fertilizer once they are actively growing. During the summer, either support or remove any top-heavy foliage. As fall approaches the leaves fade. In cold winter areas where Lotus are temporary pond inhabitants, or when cultivated in tubs, the rootstocks are lifted. They are then washed and stored in damp sand in the cool for the winter months.
The propagation of named Nelumbo varieties is by division of their extensive banana-like rootstocks, each portion with a bud. This can be done during spring, although when the rootstocks are lifted and stored during the winter it can be undertaken at that time.
Nelumbo species can also be raised from seed. These should be sown individually in small pots in an aquatic planting compost and placed in a shallow bowl or aquarium maintained at a temperature of 75º- 80°F. The water should be an inch or so above the pots. Juvenile leaves float on the surface of the water initially, but as the plants develop they thrust up foliage in typical fashion. Pot the seedlings on regularly until they are large enough to be planted in their permanent positions.