Northeastern USA

Louis Belloisy is a helicopter pilot
and an avid water gardener. He
has devised some clever ways
to extend his growing season.
Read his profile by clicking here.

 Growing
Tropical Waterlily Seedlings in the Basement

by Louis Belloisy
Click images to enlarge

Living in northern Connecticut’s USDA Zone 4½ poses a problem for those of us who like to raise and grow tropical waterlilies. Our summers are much too short; the growing season usually lasts only three months -- June, July, and August. For three years in a row I have successfully grown tropicals from seed using 45-gallon plastic containers heated from beneath and using artificial light. The time period from sowing the seed until first bloom usually takes seven months.  
When I cross two plants, I cover the (hopefully) fertilized flower with a piece of black* panty hose to keep the bugs out and to prevent the seeds from being disbursed if the pod should burst before I pick it. I pick the pod when it feels just right and place the pod in a jar of distilled water. I keep the pod-laden jar on the kitchen counter for about ten days. Then when the pod bursts, of course, all the seeds are confined within the jar.

I shake the jar once a day until all the seeds settle to the bottom. Next I clean out the debris and change the water a couple of times. After that I filter the seeds through a white coffee filter and allow the filter and seeds to dry on a shelf for about a week. I then store the seeds in an old pill bottle with a small desiccant pill. I’ve had no problem using this method to sprout seeds that had been stored for three years. 

I usually sow the seeds in the middle of October. This provides plenty of time for them to grow to sufficient size. It typically takes about two weeks for the seeds to sprout and then another two weeks for the pads to surface. After a few more weeks, I pick through them to identify the ones that look most interesting. These I repot into four-inch pots for further growth.

Around the middle of March, when the sun starts to get high in the sky, I move the seedlings temporarily to a small greenhouse with a heated tank. There they stay until it’s time to put them outdoors-- usually around the first week of June. I have four outside ponds of various sizes where they spend the summer. In the fall I encourage my choice plants to form tubers and dispose of those that I don’t particularly like. 

Let me explain a little about my basement tanks. I wrap my tanks with fiberglass insulation to keep in the heat. I have three 45-gallon plastic tanks that are heated from underneath, each by a heavy rubber foot warmer measuring 24 inches by 48 inches. They only use around 60 watts of power, which is reliably sufficient. Each one has a thermostat for maintaining the water at a constant 80 F. degrees. I also keep submersible heaters for standby in case the pad heaters fail. I have had two of the pad heaters for ten years.

The warming pads had never failed until one of the thermostats did in December 2005. I had gone away for a few days and upon returning I discovered that the thermostat had stuck in the full hot position. The water temperature was well over 100 F., 107 F. to be exact. All the pads had been cooked and I thought that I had lost them all.

But lo and behold, a month later each pot had a little tuber the size of a kidney bean and they are all sprouting again. This demonstrates Mother Nature at her best -- allowing me to accidentally force my tropicals to tuber!

The lighting consists of a homemade light using three 2-foot grow-fluorescent lights of 40 watts each. I keep them on a timer for 16 hours a day. The warmth of the water is stable even though the basement temperature dips as low as 45 F. in the dead of winter. Evaporation is only a small problem. I keep the tanks partially covered to slow down the loss of water and also to keep in the heat. I add water at least once a week to keep its level up to a comfortable depth.
The tanks measure 22 inches deep. I keep the water level around 6 inches above the rim of the pot for a total of 10 inches of water. Why heat any extra water for no benefit? During winter I keep growth to a minimum using a 12-guage hypodermic needle to dispense a stingy amount of liquid fertilizer directly into the root zone.  
* Why black? I have found that the extra heat that the black fabric affords the bud speeds up the pod's growth. I can't say that's scientific -- just a good country boy's gut feeling.

See the Spring/Summer Results of Lou's Hybridization in
Journal Issue 1.3

WGI ONLINE Journal 1.1 Table of Contents

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