Water lilies are a beautiful addition to any aquarium. They provide food for your fish, help keep the water clean, and look great. My koi fish love playing among the lilies, given the shade they provide during sunny days.

If you plan on having them in your aquarium or pond, consider a few important things, as detailed in the sections below. While they look great, they can also be why your fish can’t grow to their full size or die.

Choose a container for the lilies, fill it with soil leaving 3 inches from the top, dig a trench ½ inch deep, then place the lily tuber into the trench. Add a ball of slow-release fertilizer to plant water lilies in an aquarium either in the foreground, midground, or background of the aquarium. 

Being a fast-growing plant, the water lily is one of the best midground aquarium plants you can have. Below, I explain everything from how much light they need, what kind of substrate is best for planting them, and even how often you should fertilize them.

A water lily

Can Water Lilies Grow Underwater?

You can plant your water lily underwater in your pond or grow it in the aquarium. However, these tropical plants will not survive in cold water temperatures. 

Water lilies can grow fully submerged in an aquarium. Lotus (Nelumbo) and water lilies (Nymphaea) can be grown underwater in a pond or aquarium. Both water lilies and lotus come from the Nymphaeaceae family of flowering plants (the water-lily family). Water lilies grow naturally on the edges of lakes with soil saturated by surface or groundwater.

Water lilies need intense light, so they will do best when planted in a shallow area where their leaves can reach the surface. Water lily plants have long roots which help anchor them to rocks and logs in the water.

If you plant water lilies directly into substrate or gravel, ensure at least 4 inches of space between the top of your soil and the water’s surface. They flower underwater, but they produce most of their flowers when exposed to the air at night. Like pothos in aquariums, they are some of the best-looking aquarium plants.

How to Plant Water Lilies in an Aquarium

Planting water lilies in aquariums is a great way to add beauty and health benefits to your tank. They are also easy plants for freshwater aquarium beginners and experienced aquarists alike as long as sufficient natural oxygenation and a light-proof tank are used.

The steps are as follows: 

1. Choose a container for the water lilies

Find a container at least 4 inches deep and large enough to hold the number of water lilies you want. Water lilies also come in various sizes, so choose one to fit your tank accordingly.

The lilies that fit into a smaller container can be paired with another plant like Amazon frogbit or jungle Vallisneria.

2. Fill the container to a level below its top

Fill the container with water up to 1 inch below its top. It helps to plant lilies in water at 60 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit and pH levels of about 7.0 (neutral). They do not like water with high nitrate (NO₃-) because it will cause algae to grow on their leaves.

3. Choose the right substrate

Aquarium substrates are typically made from gravel or sand. But there are advantages and disadvantages to both types. Gravel is easier to clean but requires more work than the latter. That’s because water lilies’ roots will not grow through it. 

Water lilies planted in sand or fine gravel require more frequent replanting as the substrate compacts over time. This substrate inhibits the growth of new leaves.

However, you can add aquarium gravel or pebbles onto the bottom of your container and then add some potting soil. Water lilies do well in soil-based planting mediums because the roots can grow through them. Be sure to rinse off any excess substrate from the leaves before adding them to an aquatic environment.

4. Plant your water lilies within 2-3 inches apart from each other

Plant your water lilies at a depth of about ½ inch. Water lily pads can also float, but you want them anchored down in the soil to avoid growing onto other plants or getting uprooted by water currents.

After planting your water lilies, ensure their leaves are completely submerged under the substrate. Add some aquarium water on top of the soil and turn your tank lights off. Water lilies should be left in darkness for about 12 hours to help them adjust to their new environment; then, regular lighting can resume.

How to care for an aquarium lily

Water lilies are an easy plant for freshwater aquarium beginners and experienced aquarists. The care is rather basic once they have adapted to your tank environment. Water lily care includes:

Light and oxygenLots of light and air
Fertilizer Low fertilization every 2 weeks
Water change25% weekly
Substrate Stir up monthly
Dead leaves and flowersRemove as they appear
Water lily care


The first step in caring for water lilies is ensuring their surroundings’ temperature does not fall below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, as it can kill them off. A good range is 60-85°F.

pH levels 

Water lilies must also be planted in water with a pH level between neutral and acidic. This is a pH of around 7 (neutral). Water lilies will not survive in water above an alkaline pH of 8 or 9 due to the lack of nutrients such as iron and manganese. These nutrients are needed for photosynthesis to occur.

Light and oxygen

Water lilies also require a lot of light and oxygen. So, ensure enough lighting near the water surface to receive their needed amount of sunlight and CO₂. Avoid setting up your tank near heating or cooling vents since this can affect the temperature around your water lilies. 


Make sure you do not over-fertilize them. Over-fertilized plants can cause algae problems because algae take away vital nutrients from your other plants and can attract springtails. Water lilies do not have a high nutrient demand. As such, you can use half the amount of fertilizer recommended for other plants.

Water lily care also includes:

  • Changing water weekly (25% of tank volume).
  • Feeding their roots once every 2 weeks with fertilizer for aquatic plants according to package instructions. 
  • Stirring the substrate up once every month with a clean spoon to prevent nutrient buildups and rotting leaves.
  • The removal of dead leaves and flowers as they appear.

These tips must be strictly adhered to, as water lilies are quite sensitive to changes in their conditions. 

Benefits of planting water lilies in aquariums

The benefits of planting water lilies in aquariums are many and include the following:

  • They beautify your fish tank, home, office, or business.
  • Provide a cozy environment for the fish to swim and hide.
  • Purifying the water quality through photosynthesis. 
  • Create oxygen bubbles inside them that provide you with cleaner air at home. 
  • Provide hiding spots where fish can feel safe and secure against predators.

Tropical water lily plants have leaves with beautifully intricate designs, making them a lovely addition to any living space. They help in goldfish care and other pet fishes you may introduce into your aquarium.

Best water lily varieties for aquariums

The water lily is a beautiful flower native to tropical waterways worldwide. They come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. However, some varieties tend to be better suited for aquariums than others. 

The following list includes six of the most common water lily species that can make a wonderful addition to your aquarium:

1. Crown Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

The Crown Water Lily is one of the larger water lilies. It can grow to be over 20 inches in diameter. This variety has somewhat bigger leaves than other varieties, and they are also slightly thicker. It usually grows quickly, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy its bright colors.

2. Cherry Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

Another large variety is the Cherry Water Lily, which can grow to around 18 inches in diameter. The leaves are also larger than other varieties. They also have a unique color pattern that will make them stand out from most other plants in your aquarium.

3. Petite Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

The Petite Water Lily has a naturally symmetrical shape that makes it stand out from other water lilies in your aquarium. It is also relatively small and easy to care for, making it an excellent choice if you want something simple. Its flowers can be pink or white with yellow centers. However, I’ve seen more pink than white flowers in it.

4. Parrot Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

The Parrot Water Lily has beautiful flowers that can be white or green with red centers. However, they are most commonly found in bright yellow and orange colors. The leaves of this plant tend to grow outwards rather than upwards, which makes it unique.

5. Amazon Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

The Amazon Water Lily is another large lily, given its large, thick leaves and bright flowers with red centers. It is easy to care for and will grow quickly in most water conditions. In fact, it can be quite invasive in some cases. Be careful not to let it overrun your aquarium.

6. Water Lily (Nymphaea sp.)

The Water Lily is one of the more popular varieties due to its beautiful flowers and ease of care. It can grow relatively tall (between 3 inches and 1 foot high) and thus may not be suitable for all aquariums. But if you have enough space in your tank, this water lily will add a splash of color. 

Picking one of these lilies depends mainly on the amount of space you have in terms of the size of the aquarium at your disposal. If you can, you can have several varieties in the same aquarium for variety.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can water lilies grow in just water?

Dwarf water lilies can grow in large containers of at least 1 ft (30cm) depth without necessarily being in a pond or large water body. The hardy types of water lilies are the best for this since the tropical breeds need frost-free conditions and warm water during winter.

Is water lily good for betta fish?

Water lilies are good for betta fish since they provide oxygen and beauty for the fish. They also provide hiding areas if the betta fish have predatory tank mates.

Can I put water plants in my aquarium?

You can add aquatic plants in your aquarium to provide oxygen and liven up the looks of the fish. They also provide hiding, sleeping, resting, and breeding places for aquatic life.


Washington State Department of Ecology. Native Plants for Aquatic Gardens and Aquariums.

Michigan State University. Do not take aquatic plants from a lake or stream.

University of California. Aquatic Gardens, Not Aquatic Pests: How to Pratice Responsible Water Gardening.

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