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 Winter Care For Lotus

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The following suggestions for winter care of lotus are from members of the Victoria-Adventure email discussion list. Growing situations vary from zone to zone so you need to adapt accordingly.

Babs Ellinwood, Hernando, Florida, USDA Zone 9:

Here in Central Florida you can just leave your lotus in their regular environment. Don't panic because of wilted, browning leaves when the cold weather sets in. Most times unless the lotus are in ice covered, frozen solid containers they will be OK by just allowing them to acclimate to the water and air temperatures around them.

We run into a problem with lotus in winter because we get tooooooooo enthusiastic with the clippers and start removing leaves to make them "look good". This destroys the delicate balance that the plant has established to maintain the tuber in its beginning dormant state. Do not cut off your leaves. Let them shrivel and sag. Then it is safe to cut them off above the water line. You don't want water getting into the green stem and having it sucked into the tuber by the air channels. If this happens, you have just "drowned" your prize tuber.

We do cover our ponds with plastic if the temperatures are predicted to drop below 32°F. The plastic should not touch your plants, and a PVC pipe structure can easily be constructed to prevent that from occurring.  


Linda (Patience) Siler, Springfield, Missouri, Zone 6:

I cut the lotus that I have left over from the season back after the pads and stems have turned completely brown. I then drop them in the bottom of ponds that are at least 24 inches deep. For the ones I have growing in a bog area, I cut those back the same way and then mulch them over with bags of leaves. Then about a month before it's time to uncover them (usually about mid-March) I dump the old leaves over them. The rotting leaves feed the plants.

I pull the plants that are in the deeper ponds about mid-April and repot if needed. If I can't get to them on time I postpone repotting or dividing until the next spring. However I will cut the extra growth runners any time. I hate repotting or dividing when I see very active growth because it's so easy to break those brittle grow points, no matter how careful I try to be. I would like to do it earlier, but sometimes the weather is still just too cold to work in.

Sheila Tierney, Queensland, Australia:

Here in Southeast Queensland, I just leave them where they are when they go dormant until I see them start to shoot. Then I either fertilise those in pots or transplant the larger ones. 

Soni Forsman, Eagan, Minnesota, USDA Zone 4:

In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I drop the lotus to the bottom of the pond -- depth about 28 inches. This is our biggest pond with about 2,800 gallons of water. I do this the third week of October. By that time, they have been nipped by frost or freeze several times. All foliage has died and the wind has broken much of it. The remaining I cut back. This area of the pond is where I also winter some of my hardy water lilies. I have been doing this for at least five years and have been successful at least through last winter.

John K. Wyman, Durham, North Carolina, USDA Zone 7b:

I am speaking for myself as well as for Duke Gardens where I am a volunteer. At the Garden we have two 60,000 gallon ponds with at least seven 25-30 gallon lotus pots in them. We have been raising hardy lotus here for some time very successfully. We just leave them in the water for the winter but make sure the tops of the pots are about 5" below the surface of the water. The deepest freeze we've had here in the last 10 years was a 5" thickness of ice. Our lotus winter over in the pond as long as the tubers are considerably below the freezing ice. They do fine.

We must repot every two years and make sure we fertilize properly in the spring and summer. It is extremely critical that in the repotting process we do not break the growing tips - this is not easy. They must be handled with "kid gloves".

James Horne, Ontario, Canada, USDA Zone 4:

Basically I have two approaches: 1) letting the plants die off in the cold outdoors before draining the water and bringing in the pots to store in a cool room without artificial light supplementation; 2) bringing in the plants quite early in the fall and growing them indoors while gradually inducing dormancy. This second method allows a longer growing period and presumably more vigorous tubers. In either case I never remove leaves until they are fully brown and dead. That lets the plant maximize the amount of growth energy and sustenance it receives from each leaf.

The first method is the simplest and allows nature to basically take its course, and avoids letting the tubers freeze. Where I am, that means bringing the plants in around the end of October or early November. They have been exposed to several hard frosts by this time, but the pots and water haven't frozen with more than a light skim over them. Then the water is drained out and the "wet" soil pot is placed in a plastic container in a cool (50 degrees F) room without artificial light. "Wet" means that the soil has drained so no more water runs out, but it hasn't been dried any.

Before restarting in the spring I repot the tubers carefully, picking out the obviously dead/dying ones which tend to be dark and feel soft. The plants will start to grow when exposed to longer daylight cycles and warmer temperatures. This will happen naturally in a room with outdoor light. Once growth starts (around February in my area) I fill the containers with water to cover the soil again.
The second approach, bringing in the plants and using artificial light to grow them is what I do with most of mine. I do this especially with smaller weaker plants that didn't get well established in my short outdoor growing season. So bringing them in and letting them continue to grow is a good way to extend the season and boost the plants. But I don't want the plants to grow all the way through the winter without at least a short down time to recover. This is forced with gradually decreasing day length and temperatures. As that happens the growth of new leaves slows and they get fewer and smaller. Eventually forming of leaves stop, as the plant becomes dormant. These plants may still have leaves on them, but they shouldn't be removed, as they still contain significant resources for the plant.

Again I do any repotting/dividing and move the lotus back into warmer areas with better, longer light cycles in February to get them really going well before the summer comes and I can move them outdoors. This is done with grow lights on timers and moving them from cooler rooms to warmer ones. I have several rooms in my house that are kept either warmer because they are often used (or have a woodstove) or are cooler because they seldom get used, so they don't need to be as warm.
I have noticed that my indoor lotus respond very well to the Victoria Cocktail on a weekly basis while temperatures are over 75. Leaves are larger and stems thicker and stronger on plants fed the cocktail than on those that aren't. Details on the cocktail recipe and dosages are listed in Weakly Weekly.

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