There are two main types of water lilies – hardy and tropical, and they both have their strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re planning to grow water lilies in your pond and don’t know which type to choose, this guide will give you an overview of the differences between hardy and tropical water lilies.
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HARDY VS TROPICAL WATER LILIES
Hardy water lilies grow well in USDA zones 4 to 11, and they can tolerate water temperatures between 50-80°F (10-27°C), so they’re perfect for regions with cooler climates.
Tropical water lilies are best suited to zones 9 to 11, but they can be grown in cooler areas as an annual and replaced each year or they can be overwintered indoors in a garage or greenhouse.
Tropicals grow best in ponds with a water temperature that is at least 70°F (21°C), but they can tolerate water temperatures up to 95°F (35°C).
Hardy water lilies have a shorter growing season than tropicals, but they start blooming earlier in the season.
Hardies come out of dormancy and start growing in the spring and continue through the summer until the first frost, after which they go dormant until the following spring.
Tropical water lilies have a longer growing season and can often bloom year-round in warmer climates.
Flower size and color
One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between tropical and hardy water lilies is by the flower height.
Hardy water lily flowers float on the surface of the water, while tropical water lilies have a long flower stalk that can reach up to 12 inches (30 cm) tall.
The colors of the flowers vary widely, but tropical water lilies have a greater range of colors than hardy varieties.
Hardy water lilies can be found in white, yellow and pink, while tropical water lilies come in vibrant shades of purple, orange, red, pink, yellow and white.
Some tropical varieties flower throughout the night, opening around 6pm in the evening and closing up around 10am in the morning.
Tropical water lily plants grow from a central crown, while hardies grow horizontally from a rhizome with numerous ‘eyes’ that can be divided to form new plants.
Leaf shape and size
The leaves of tropical water lilies have a scalloped edge and they’re often larger and thinner than those of hardy water lilies.
Hardy water lilies have thicker leaves with smooth edges. 
Hardy water lilies are able to survive colder temperatures and can overwinter in the bottom of the pond as long as the water does not freeze solid.
In very cold climates you may need to use a pond heater to stop the water freezing.
Tropical water lilies will not survive frosts or cold winter temperatures, so you’ll need to start the overwintering process before it gets too cold.
Remove the plants from the pond in late fall and cut off all the leaves and flowers so that you’re left with just the tubers.
Place the tubers in a bucket with some damp sand or peat moss and store at 50ºF (10ºC) for the winter.
Once the temperature has warmed up in spring, take out the tubers out of the bucket, pot them up and return them to the pond when the water temperature is above 70ºF (21ºC).
Hardy water lily plants can be purchased from most garden centers and nurseries.
Tropical water lilies may be harder to find, especially in cool climates areas, and may need to be ordered from specialty growers or online.
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So there are some of the differences between hardy and tropical water lilies.
Both types can make a great addition to your pond, but it is important to choose the right kind for your climate.
I like to grow a mix of hardy and tropical water lilies in my backyard pond so that I can enjoy the blooms from spring right through until summer.
Do you have a preference for tropical or hardy water lilies? Let me know in the comments below.