Overwintering Tropical Waterlily Tubers

The following tips have been contributed by members of the Victoria-Adventure email discussion list and represent experience in a number of hardiness zones.


Lou Belloisy, Morris, Connecticut, USDA Zone 5:

As the water in the pond gets down to about 50 degrees, I remove the plant and wash the soil from the roots, putting the tubers (if there are any) in a labeled jar of water. I then wash the tuber with tap water, shake off excess water and roll the tuber in CAPTAN fungicide powder. I soak some sphagnum moss in cool water and wring out the moss to get rid of the excess water. I place the tuber in the middle of a large chunk of moss, put it in a plastic baggie and seal. I keep the baggie in the basement where it is a constant 50 degrees F. I have read that the sphagnum moss prevents fungus and rot. It appears to me that it in conjunction with the Captan, the tuber stays rot free all winter.

Lou Belloisy Photo
For me the tubers are put to sleep in the latter part of September. I usually check the tubers a few times during the winter to make sure there is no rot and to make sure the moss is still damp. In late February or early March I restart the tubers in my greenhouse. I float the tubers in warm water (75-80 degrees F) so they can produce small plants. I then take the babies off the tuber and pot into small cups.

Rich Sacher, New Orleans, Louisiana, USDA Zone 9:

In the tropics, tropical lilies grow as perennials. They form large, long tubers which eventually fall over, and the tip re-roots into the soil. They can creep along for years this way. I have seen tubers two feet long and five inches in diameter!

Most people want to get lots of flowers from their lilies, so they give them big pots and lots of fertilizer...and at the end of the season, they have a large, single tuber, which may or may not survive indoors, unless kept warm. (As a child, I overwintered my big tropical lily tubers in my heated tropical fish tank! They only had underwater leaves, and the fish would pick at the tubers and keep them clean.)

To make tubers which are hard and small (the sizes of dimes, nickles or quarters!) you need to starve and cramp your lily so it will not bloom very much, and it will go dormant early in the season...but by then it should have the small, hard tubers which can overwinter easily in damp sand (or clean water) at 55-60 degrees farenheit. These small tubers are valuable because one can often get them to make many new plants when they start growing in the spring...whereas a really big tuber which has overwintered will usually still be only one plant.  

Rich Sacher Photo

Billy Bates, New Albany, Mississippi, USDA Zone 7:

Last year I feel as if I tried to pull tubers too early. I was pulling tubers the day before our first frost. I still had large amounts of growth on the plants. This year, I have let it frost a couple of times and the temps are slowing dropping into the 40's at night and getting to be in the 30's this coming up week (late November 2003).

I take the pots of plants out of the water and wash all the dirt off the roots over a large strainer (to collect smaller tubers that may not be felt due to all the dirt). I have found that the smaller tubers seem to be the easiest to overwinter and seem to be much more viable in the spring. I then wash them really well and dust them with CAPTAN (to help prevent fungus) and place them in damp sand in plastic ziplock freezer bags
for winter storage. I place them in a special refrigerator that we have set at 50-55 degrees. I check them often throughout the winter to make sure that the sand is just damp enough. The key factor is to make sure that they stay damp (NOT WET). I add enough water to the sand that, when I push my finger into it, it just makes and indention in the sand without pressing out water. I wait until the water temps are around 70 before starting them in the spring.  

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

I bring in my tropicals when the nighttime temps are constantly in the upper 40's. I un-pot them and store the tubers either in damp sand, sphagnum moss, or in distilled water. We keep the greenhouse at a minimum of 55 degrees F for the orchids' sake. I used to leave them in the pots but had huge losses. Because of lack of bench space I had to keep them on the floor of the greenhouse which can drop into the 40's at night. There is a big difference in bench warmth and floor warmth, plus the plants started to attract

Kit Knotts Photo
slugs and other insects that I would not tolerate in the greenhouse. I have learned to dust the tubers with a good fungicide before storage, and use clean sand, live sphagnum moss, and change the water about every 2-3 weeks if stored in a jar. I repot them about mid-April, leaving them in the greenhouse until about the first of June. Night bloomers go outside about 2 weeks later. I have had very few losses storing them in this manner. 

Marie Fisher, Memphis, Tennessee, USDA Zone 7:

To winterize my tubers, I let the plant go all the way dormant if possible (watching the
weather). I roll them gently in Captan fungicide, place in baggies in about 3/4 cup of just plain damp sand, then store in a tub on north wall of the house in dark closet where temperature is maintained at about 60F. I have about a 95% success rate. At the end of April I start tubers off again in tiny pots in a heated pond in the greenhouse. I let the plants develop a good root system. As the weather gets warmer, I pot them bigger and put on a shelf in the pond starting out, gradually lowering them as weather gets warmer and the plants larger.

Winterizing Tropicals With Tips for the Rest of the Year
by Bob Meyer, Tolono, Illinois, Borderline Zone 5-6

Growing Tropicals From Tuber - by Kit Knotts | Overwintering Tropical Waterlilies - by Rich Sacher

Also see Sean Stevens' Tuber Propagation and Propagating Viviparous Tropicals
Sean's Ponds & Patio Garden / Tutorials

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