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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

Click here

Wintering Water Lilies in Central & South Texas


Question:  How does one preserve water lilies through the winter? I will have a heater in the pond but is there anything else I should do?


Answer:  I can always tell when fall is approaching as this question becomes the most popular question that I answer.  And you will LOVE the answer!  Do nothing to your water lilies.  Do nothing with your water.  There, how easy can that be?


Seriously though, water lilies go dormant in the winter.  The joy of water gardening in central and south Texas is that our winters don't get cold enough to have to do anything to protect our plants or fish.  YES!  If you lived way up north where you'll get snow and your pond can freeze over, that's a different story.  For the average winter in our area, the plants will fend for themselves.


Both hardy and tropical water lilies will do dormant.  In fact, in the coming weeks some hardy water lilies will shortly begin slowing down their new leaf growth.  Be sure to snip off the dead leaves, cutting the stem all the way down to the dirt level.  You do not want to leave the spent growth in the pond as they will cause water quality problems.  If we have a cold enough winter, all of the lilies will be dormant and you'll have buckets of mud.  Simply leave them in your pond. 


For the average winter, that's all you need to do.  If it gets cold enough for a long enough time, and that's a very big if, your tropical water lilies might not come back in the spring.  But that's the exception and not the norm.  Come spring time and no new growth has started, do NOT give up quickly!  New growth can be delayed by a late cold spell.  I've talked with many people who thought their lilies, especially their tropical ones, were dead only to have new growth a few weeks later.  In the rare instance of a lily actually not coming back, then we look at it as an exciting opportunity to get a new plant in the pond.


Depending upon your winter's temperature, not all of your plants will even go dormant.  Here in San Antonio, I have one hardy water lily, Clyde Ikins, that has not gone dormant in several years.  It does not bloom during the winter, but it does keep green leaves.


As far as your pond heater, the only reason to use that is if you own stock in your electrical company.  It is cost prohibitive to use a pond heater, especially when it is not necessary in Texas.  Your plants will go dormant as Mother Nature intended.  Your fish, whether they are goldfish or koi, will adapt to the cold water as Mother Nature intended. 


There are some people who keep tropical fish, such as cichlids, in their pond.  Tropical fish will die if left outside, even in our warm winters.  They bring those fish inside and the fish spend the winter in an aquarium.  (This is true also for the plecostomus.)  I don't know the temperature tolerance for all tropical fish, but I believe that plecostomus need to come inside when the water temperature gets below 60 degrees. 


(On a side topic, do not feed your fish once the water temperature hits 50 degrees.  Their metabolism changes and they are no longer able to process the food.  Feeding them could actually kill them.  Stop feeding them until spring time when the water temperature is consistently above the minimum.)


It is far more cost effective to bring in your tropical fish and over-winter them in an aquarium than to pay to heat the pond.  I'm not even aware of pond stores in Texas who sell pond heaters.  Perhaps in far north Texas, but not from Dallas on down.


With all of that said, the only thing you DO need to be careful of is in the rare occasion of extended below freezing temperatures that you do not allow the pond to freeze over.  If the pond freezes over, gases in the water will not be able to escape and your fish will die.  With our winters, the ice will not be thick but it will still prevent the gases from escaping. 


Water garden stores do sell deicers for this purpose.  Rather than heating an entire pond, they only keep a small area warm.  That area is to allow the gases to escape.  This unit should only be used to prevent the pond from freezing solid, which would only be when temperatures will be below freezing for a while.  (IMPORANT:  If you discover that your pond is frozen over, do NOT forcibly break open the ice.  The resulting shock waves can kill your fish!  Heat a pot of hot water and HOLD THE POT OVER THE ICE until the ice melts.)


Happy pondering!


Duane Eaton,  Pond Planner (