Gardener Morgan reaches into pond to tend to waterlily plants at Naples Botanical Garden
Photos: How Our Gardeners Give Every Hybrid Waterlily a Chance to Shine

Naples Botanical Garden
September 9, 2019


Early in the morning, while you’re taking your first sip of coffee or hitting the snooze button, Morgan Jones and other Horticulture staff at Naples Botanical Garden have nearly finished a day’s work.

Recently, Morgan tended to the specimens of the New Waterlily Competition in the Grove while Aquatic Areas Manager Danny Cox and Aquatic Areas Technician Matt Herrman attend the International Waterlily and Gardening Society 2019 Symposium in France by applying some lessons in aquatic gardening.

Aquatic Areas Manager Danny Cox demonstrates Waterlily care to Gardeners at Naples Botanical GardenGardener See, Gardener Do

Danny trained Morgan and some of our other gardeners on staff to tend to the water features. There are several large ponds in different areas of the Garden, so this called for an all-hands-on-deck approach to covering the Aquatic Areas usual work while Danny and Matt traveled to the symposium.

Morgan was assigned to cover the competing waterlilies, according to Danny’s best practices. It is an important task, as all of the specimens need proper care to flourish and compete fairly. She gave us an inside look at what is needed to maintain a level playing field with more than twenty hybrid waterlily species.

Gardener Morgan checks clipboard for waterlily plant notes

Head Count

First, Morgan takes note of the condition of each plant and any significant changes in growth. She references each hybrid’s categorized name and number, like a role-call of sorts. Her notes on each plant include the last date the plant flowered and whether it was recently fertilized.

Morgan’s favorite waterlily is one with peach-colored petals.

“You don’t see a lot of peach-colored plants in nature, and that makes it unique,” she said. “The color is a result of dominant and recessive genes being prominent, because it was hybridized from other plants.”

Click here for our quick lesson on Waterlily Hybrids 101.

Gardener Morgan places a fertilizer bead at the base of each waterlily plant

Out With The Old, In With The New

Once all plants are accounted for, Morgan feeds aquatic plant food tablets to plants that are in need of nutrients, if they have not received any recently. Aquatic plants receive extra nutrients through special food tablets that can be placed at the base of their stalks. The tablets release nutrients over time, encouraging new growth and blooming; plus, they are safe to use around fish and aquatic life.

Deadheading old flowers is another horticultural practice used to encourage growth of new blooms, rather than seeds. You simply remove spent flowers from the plant, and new plant cells begin forming to create new growth. In the case of waterlilies, many of the old flowers that need to be deadheaded are already submerged underwater. Searching for them with her hands, Morgan is practically swimming in the dark waters of the New Waterlily Competition pools.

For the New Waterlily Competition, deadheading can be help our gardeners tally the number of blooms from the week before. A waterlily hybrid can earn more points in the competition if it blooms more often than the others. The number of blooms per contestant in the competition this year ranges from 2 to 3 flowers a week, which is typical, up to 5, which is unusual!

Gardener Morgan squeezes flower buds that are underneath water to double-check that they are spent, and in need of pruning.

The Squeeze Test

When Morgan feels the stem of a waterlily that she suspects needs to be removed, its condition is not always in plain sight. She can determine the approximate growth stage of flower buds by gently squeezing them. Older flowers feel weak and wilted, and will squirt water out of the buds when squeezed. New buds will not squirt water, because the sepals (the sturdy parts of waterlilies that form the bud and protect the petals) feel airtight.

Once Morgan is sure that she’s found a wilted, spent flower, she follows the stalk of the plant down to the bottom, and removes it with special clippers, or her hands. She does the same for lily pads that have wilted away or look in less-than-great condition. Doing so not only encourages new growth, but helps maintain good water quality for the other plants.

If you haven’t seen the New Waterlily Competition specimens yet, there are blooms yet to come! Visit before the end of November to see these plants at their peak.

Gardener Morgan at Naples Botanical Garden Thank you Morgan, for guiding us through best practices and competition care! Later this Fall, we will invite our guests to vote on which waterlily should be added to our permanent Water Garden collection. Check back soon to cast your vote! ∎

Questions? Email us at, or read the Garden FAQ.
Due to the nature of the competition, some details about the specimens in the New Waterlily Competition will not be disclosed until judging is finalized in the fall.

Return to the New Waterlily Competition Homepage