Not only are lotus flowers absolutely gorgeous in landscaping, but their roots are also edible. With a sweet, crunchy taste, these rhizomatic tubers are popular in Chinese and Japanese dishes. You’ll soon learn how to grow lotus root for your own table because that’s our topic today!
If you’ve ever done yoga, you’re probably familiar with the sacred lotus. This peaceful flower isn’t just a pop culture icon; it’s an important spiritual symbol in Buddhism and Hinduism. It also happens to be a beautiful, aquatic plant that you can grow in your own backyard, with a little advance planning.
The lotus plant is super easy to grow but it’s different from your traditional greenery. As an aquatic plant, it’s right at home in backyard ponds or containers of water. That means we’ll be changing up the soil, fertilizer, and even the pot. In this article, we’ll cover all the specifics to get your lotus plant off to a beautiful start!
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Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Lotus, sacred lotus, Indian lotus, Chinese lotus root|
|Scientific Name||Nelumbo nucifera|
|Days to Harvest||5-8 months|
|Water:||Submerged in at least 12” of water|
|Soil||Silty clay; fertile|
|Fertilizer||Balanced aquatic plant fertilizer|
|Pests||Aphids, red spider mites|
All About Lotus
Nelumbo nucifera is an herbaceous perennial that’s native to Asia. It can grow year round in zones 4-10 or as an annual anywhere else. Usually planted in the spring, it produces pink and white blossoms in the early summer. Later in the season, lotus tubers and seeds can be harvested for food or replanting.
In the right conditions, Chinese lotus plants are very low-maintenance. They’re even considered a noxious weed in some parts of the US, particularly the midwest. The lotus tubers, which are actually rhizomes, spread quickly through shallow water. If you don’t keep the rhizomes in a container, they could easily take over a whole water feature.
The lotus plant is in the water lily family. However, unlike the frog-bearing lily pads we’re all familiar with, lotus flowers and leaves are emergent. This means they grow above the water level instead of floating. The entire plant, when planted in a container, usually reaches 3-6 feet tall and spreads 3-4 feet wide.
The cup-shaped leaves can grow up to 2 feet across. The flowers rise above the leaves and are about a foot in diameter. These fragrant blossoms only open during the day and only last for 3 days each.
Perhaps the most bizarre part of this plant is the fruit formation. The flower gives way to a round, scalloped platform bearing several small fruits and later seed. At first glance, it looks like someone stuck the end of a watering can right in the flower. When dried, the platform resembles a wasp nest.
There are a number of lotus varieties out there. Some of our favorites are the peony-like ‘Chinese Double Rose’ lotus and the ‘Mrs. Perry D. Slocum’ lotus, which changes color each day! For those not fortunate enough to have a private pond, many varieties can be grown in a container indoors. We recommend the ‘Chawan Basu’ or ‘Momo Botan’ for small-scale growing.
Planting is one of the most time-consuming parts of growing lotus. But, getting your lotus plants set up is far simpler than it seems.
When to Plant
The typical growing season for lotus plants is March to October. Of course, this depends on where you live since there should be no chance of frost. If you live in a warm area, like Zone 10 or 11, you can plant in mid-fall and harvest in the spring.
You can also start growing lotus in a pot before the weather warms up. Once the frost is gone, they can easily be moved outside.
Where to Plant
If you take one thing away from this article, know that lotus root should absolutely be planted in a container. When planted directly at the bottom of a pond, the lotus tubers will spread like crazy. They’re hard to control – especially since you’d have to drain the pond or go swimming to access them. Growing lotus in a pot sunk in the pond ensures they stay put. It’ll also be much easier to remove the plant from the pond for harvesting or overwintering.
For each lotus root, choose a large container that’s at least 10 inches in diameter with no drainage holes. Save yourself some trouble and get a container with sturdy handles as you’ll be moving it quite a bit!
If you’re not going the pond route, use a large, water-tight container. Many gardeners have used a barrel or even a trash can. For growing lotus indoors, choose a large bowl or decorative pot.
How to Plant
Now that you have your container and location, let’s get our hands dirty. Fill the container about ¾ full of the proper soil – we’ll go over more on that in a few minutes. Mix in water until the soil has a muddy consistency.
The easiest way to grow the lotus flower is from rhizomes, so we’ll focus on that method. Lotus tubers grow in end-to-end sections (they look like sausage links made from potatoes). Your tuber should have at least one section with a strong shoot. The tip of the shoot can be fragile, so be careful not to break it off.
Place the tuber in the mud against the side of the container. The shoots should be pointed up. Cover the rhizome with a bit of mud so only the shoots are poking out. Then add at least an inch of water (it doesn’t have to completely cover the shoots).
You can now move the potted lotus plant to your pond. Settle the container in a shallow part of the pond where it’ll get lots of sunlight. There should be at least a foot of water above the top of the pot. In about 2 weeks, you’ll notice leaves below the surface.
The hardest part is over, so now we can just focus on keeping our lotus plants happy. Here are the care requirements for these beautiful plants.
Sun and Temperature
Most of your lotus may be underwater, but the large leaves need lots of sun. Like any sun-loving plant, make sure your lotus plant gets 6-8 hours of full sun every day.
During the summer, lotus grows and blooms the best in 70-80° F. Once the temperature drops in the fall, the lotus roots will overwinter in the mud as long as they don’t freeze. In most areas, ponds don’t freeze past 3 or 4 feet deep, so the roots should be fine. However, you may want to move the container to a deeper part of the pond during the winter, just in case. You can also just bring the container into your shed or garage and change the water as needed.
We have great news: you won’t ever forget to water this plant! Since the China lotus root is completely submerged, your only responsibility is monitoring the water level and quality.
As we mentioned, your lotus plant should be under at least 12 inches and up to 24 inches of water. In water features, use a pump or agitator to keep the water fresh, aerated, and moving. This keeps the pH balanced and wards away surface pests like mosquitoes. Lotus usually grows well with water-dwellers, though koi have been known to nibble at it.
If you’re growing lotus in a container, top off the water level as needed. You should also make sure to change the water every year.
We may be growing these tubers in mud, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the soil quality. The lotus tuber needs rich soil with plenty of organic matter. However, regular potting soil isn’t going to cut it.
Potting soil is usually very light and loamy, causing it to float to the top or cloud when submerged underwater. Other growing mediums like peat, coconut coir, perlite, and vermiculite will also float. To keep everything in place, we need a heavy soil with a silty clay texture.
You can buy pond plant soils that are meant for water lilies. Alternatively, make your own by blending 4 parts loamy or clay soil to one part of composted, aged cow manure. When mixed with water, the soil should become thick mud.
When the first aerial leaf rises above the water, it’s time to start fertilizing. For best results, apply fresh nutrients every month until winter. Use a fertilizer that’s balanced and meant for aquatic plants. The easiest way to apply fertilizer underwater is to use fertilizer tablets. Just press them into the mud and they’ll quickly release their nutrients.
Please use good judgement when choosing a fertilizer. It should ideally be organic and safe for aquatic life. Some fertilizers may contain chemicals that will encourage algae growth, so do some research before you buy.
Unless your lotus root is being used in a sound aquaponics system, don’t rely on fish to provide nutrients for it. If you want the young lotus to grow well, it needs fertilizer.
Pruning will keep your Chinese lotus root just like new. Throughout the growing season, clip off any yellow leaves and spent flowers. Since even dead stems will take in oxygen, always clip them above the water level. If you need to relocate the container to a different part of the pond for winter, move it before pruning the dead leaves. Make sure to throw out or compost the debris instead of leaving it in the water gardens.
If you’re growing lotus root as a perennial, repot it every 3-4 years with fresh soil. If the lotus root has filled the entire container, you’ll need to divide to propagate them or use a larger pot.
As you can guess from our planting method, lotus root is mainly propagated by rhizome division. The roots continuously grow links of tubers that can be cut into multiple plants. Since they grow so quickly, you can take cuttings for your friends and still have enough to fill out your water garden!
At the beginning of the growing season, when new shoots show up on the tuber, cut the links apart. In order to grow a new plant, each section must have at least one intact growing tip. Please be careful not to break them!
This plant can be grown from lotus seeds, but it’s an unreliable method. A lotus seed can be viable for thousands of years thanks to its long dormancy period. Unfortunately, this means the seeds can be very difficult to germinate since they may not be ready. Unless you have a lot of patience and time every year, it’s best to ditch the seed and plant the root.
Harvesting and Storing
If you’re feeling adventurous enough to harvest some lotus root, we’re here to help! Here’s everything you need to turn tubers into a meal.
Wait until the flowers fade in early fall to start harvesting. Retrieve the pot from its watery home and clip back the stems. Then dig up all the rhizomes and set aside any you want to plant next spring. The rhizomes are viable for at least 50 years, so you can hang onto them for a while. Just keep them in a cool, dark place until they’re needed.
For the roots you’re going to eat, give them a good wash and keep them in the fridge. As long as they’re kept cool and in the dark, they’ll last all winter. There are several lotus root recipes out there, such as stir-fried lotus or crunchy lotus chips. The seeds are also edible and excellent in curry.
As mentioned, lotus roots can be stored long-term in a cool, dark place for over a year. However, the harvest tastes best when used within a few weeks of harvesting. Alternatively, you can slice and dry or dehydrate the lotus root for a tasty snack later on.
Because they’re used in water, you shouldn’t encounter many problems with your lotus root. However, you need to be on the lookout for some potential issues.
Lotus plants are prone to chlorosis, which is when the leaves turn yellow. This is usually caused by over or under fertilizing. Water pH imbalance can also be to blame, so make sure to change the water every year for a standing water pot. Use an agitator in ponds to keep the water habitable. Leaves affected by chlorosis may not recover, but you can prevent the rest from yellowing too.
Water lilies are generally good with pond animals, but koi have been known to nibble at the plants and disrupt the soil. If your koi are being troublesome, try moving the plants to the very edge of the water and blocking them off with rocks to divide the plants from the fish. It also helps to fill the pond with lots of plants so the fish won’t repeatedly pick on just one.
Unless there’s something really wrong with the water, you likely won’t have many pest problems. Any issues you do run into will probably be minor pests on the leaves and flowers.
Aphids seem to be a problem anywhere, even near water. Though they usually don’t cause fatal damage, these pests can transmit diseases to the plant. Large groups of aphids will suck the life out of a plant, causing it to yellow and wilt.
Spider mites may also attack your lotus plants. These pests will spin ultra-fine webs on top of the plant and cause yellow patches on the leaves. They can be harder to get rid of, so you’ll want to take action early on.
The best pest control we can take advantage of here is beneficial predators. Fish and frogs will both feed on insects, including those pesky aphids and spider mites. You can even shake the plant or spray it with the hose so some of the pests fall into the water.
If you don’t have any wildlife on your side, insecticidal soap or neem oil will also take care of these pests. Since we’re working in water gardens though, be sure any pesticides are safe for the water supply.
Finally, there is one pest that most people who have a water garden have come to dread: mosquitos. They breed in slow-moving or stagnant water, laying their eggs on the water’s surface. Consider applying a mosquito dunk or other BTi additive to reduce the mosquito population. While these pests don’t prey on your plant, they are quite happy to feed on you instead!
Since it’s in such a moist environment, the lotus plant can develop rot. Some lotus varieties have been bred to withstand rot, but it could still happen.
While lotus rots are not common, they appear to be becoming a bit more so as time progresses. Recent studies have found that many of these rots can be linked to Fusarium fungi, specifically Fusarium incarnatum and Fusarium tricinctum.
These fusarium species are not as common in the United States as they are in their native China, but can be found as fungal pathogens on maize, rice, or sorghum. People in an area where any of these crops are commercially farmed should keep a watch out for symptoms of what is being referred to as lotus root disease caused by these pathogens.
If the leaves of your lotus start developing visible browned edges and wilt, it likely is suffering from Fusarium incarnatum. Fusarium tricinctum tends to be darker and more damaging to the root itself.
Currently, there are no prescribed solutions for the treatment of these two strains of fusarium, but a treatment that is applied to alleviate other more common fusarium wilt symptoms may be beneficial. Trimming off damaged portions of the plant and disposing of them (not composting them) is also recommended.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can I grow lotus without soil?
A: Not quite. Lotus plants need something to anchor it at the bottom of the container. It also needs plenty of nutrients, which are most easily accessed from organic matter in soil.
Q: Can lotus grow in just water?
A: You can sprout the seeds in water, but mature lotus should be grown in soil.
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