Tropical Water Lily Farming
If you are looking for the Aqusafe fertilizer results Click Here.
I'm a very small operation but have found great success working with my hobby and something I enjoy, I'm very lucky, maybe even blessed.
Like the tropical water lilies? So do a lot of other people and they are easy to propagate and raise to selling size. Tropical water lilies account for the largest part of our profit here at Tadege Land. They are not difficult to raise but do require some space for tanks and some preparation. I'll start out with the growing and dividing and work my way to the grow pond builds, which can be built surprisingly inexpensive. The last 2 I put in were 8' X 4' X 18" and the total cost for both were under $100. So lets get started.
Choosing The Water Lily
I am in S. Florida in zone 10 so my choice was to grow the tropical, this is a good choice if your weather will permit it, they are more expensive plus less available to most people. All the lilies or should I say pots that are suppose to have lilies in them at the box stores like Home Depot or Lowe's are hardy lilies. The reason being is that most of the country is not in a tropical zone and I assume that the box stores buy for every location from one supplier, God knows that a store manager would never take it on himself to buy for his area.
To be honest I really don't know much about the hardies although I have a couple around that I don't even know where they came from. From here on out any lily mentioned will be a tropical lily. Actually I'll only be scratching the surface of information on water lilies, there are volumes written about them, no shortage of information on the web, so give it a search sometime when you have a couple of extra hours.
Tropicals come in just about every color you can think of, they can become extremely large in a large container and multiply fast, I have gone through 100's if not 1000's of plants from my first lilies I got years ago. You can look through the pictures at my Tropical Water Lily page.
There are both night blooming and day blooming. In Florida the night bloomers are the more desirable but I grow both. Night bloomers open just after dark and remain open till late morning, on a cloudy day they can stay open all day. Most people like night bloomers because they match the owners work hours. You get off work and you can sit on your patio and enjoy the blooms well into the cool evening. If I were going to only raise one kind it would be a night bloomer. Start with whichever you like, you'll be expanding your farm when you find out how easy these are to grow and market. I don't even fool around with flea markets, swap shops or any of that junk, but there will be a market wherever there is traffic so it's something to think about. I only open 8 hours a week, just the weekends, and sell mostly online with shipping, click here for my hours and address. If you build a web site people will find you when they do a search and you'll make sales. Click here to see how I built this web site for FREE. Now lets get down to the actual planting.
Tubers, Plants, Pots And Soil
When you order mature lilies they will for the most part come with a tuber, the only place I have ever received a plant from that didn't is Texas Water Gardens, although they were nice plants, the tubers have been removed when you get them from there, not that it matters if you are just looking for a plant for your water garden, but if you order a plant with a tuber you'll not only have a growing plant for your personal water garden, you'll also have a tuber for starting your own start up plants.
When your lily arrives you'll want to separate the plant from the tuber if it has some good root growth. This is very simple, simply grasp the plant and roots in one hand and twist off the tuber. The plant is ready to put right into your personal water garden for your enjoyment. Want more information on planting the plants, click here.
Now take that tuber you removed and place it in a container (5 gallon bucket) filled with water, throw in a couple of water lily fertilizer tabs and give it 2 weeks, you'll start seeing small start up plants sprouting out of the tuber, as soon as they have some root growth, about 2 weeks, you can remove them in the same manner as the large plant and put them into a container for growth. You'll want to label everything as you go along so you'll know what plant is which (I buy sharpie markers in the 6 pack, they never run out of ink before you lose them), you'll get more money for a named plant than an unknown. Throw some red cherry shrimp in your grow out ponds, they eat the mosquitoes and can be sold at a very nice profit, click here to see the "Red Cherry Shrimp Farming" page.
As you can see there will be no shortage of starter lilies. There are even lilies called vips that sprout new plants right on the older floating pads, but I consider them to to invasive to even deal with. 1 tuber can make hundreds of new plants every couple months and the tuber continues to grow larger every month, fantastic isn't it. Don't remove them until you are ready to plant them, sure you can just float them in water but the tuber will make even more plants when you remove some and you'll run out of room. Just let the starters continue to grow on the tuber and form better roots until needed. Only time will tell how fast you can market these, but if you run short it will only take a week or less to have more on your tuber.
I use 6" pots for the starters right up until the time they are sold. Plastic 6" pot cost 50 cents new, I always have them in stock, you'll get tired of hunting for used ones. The biggest problem with them is the bottom holes, you'll need to cover them up so the dirt and fertilizer doesn't go out the bottom, not only that but the plant roots will run crazy all through your grow pond if they are left unchecked. I use a heavy metal tape to cover the holes on the inside of the pot. You'll read in places to just put in a sheet of news paper to cover the holes, but let me tell you, the roots will go through it like, well, wet news paper. I then fill the pot 3/4's of the way with just plain top soil, very cheap for a 40 pound bag at Home Depot, about $1.20 at this time, then just slide a fertilizer tab down 4" along the inside of the pot, poke a small opening in the soil center and insert the starter lily to the crown in the hole and mash the soil back up tight against the plant roots, presto you just planted your first lily starter.
Do the fertilizer tabs make a difference? These 2 lily grow ponds are side by side, both were planted in 6" pots, lighting is the same as is the soil, the difference is the fertilizer tabs. The lilies on the left received 1 fertilizer tab each, on the right no tabs and it's easy to see the difference after just 2 weeks, that's right, these plants came off the tubers just 2 weeks ago, I told you they grow fast. I'll keep this updated as time passes, I had the same thoughts when I bought the tabs. I don't carry or sell products I don't use and endorse. I'm also wondering if it will effect the time needed for the first blooms, we shall see, the tabs are 10-20-10 and fish safe, you can get more information on them by Clicking Here.
Something unexpected happened while I was running the test on the aquasafe fertilizer tabs. Not only was it easy to see the difference in growth, the pads were much thick and bigger when they are just coming to the water surface. These grow out ponds are very new and unseasoned, no algae growth, even the one with the test tabs, but what I did notice, not really notice it sticks out like a sore thumb is that when tadpoles got into the ponds as they always do, the lilies with the tabs showed no problems with them, this can't be said about the plants without fertilizer, the tadpoles made short work of the pads even before they hit the surface. This will not be as big of a problem as the ponds mature and get some algae and I would of never noticed it in an older pond. Take a look at the next picture, without a doubt a lot of difference. The picture doesn't show it well but all that is left of the pads is the veins. Bummer, ain't it. If your grow out pond is new, keep the tadpoles out or add some algae for them or use the tabs. I will always continue to use the tabs, very inexpensive, fast growth and larger plants in the least amount of time.
I also have a friend that has a fish pond with a single lily that has noticed the same thing. Her lily has never done better and blooming since adding the tab. Now to the real question. Does the thicker pads stop starving tadpoles (not really starving, they get plenty of leaves and flowers from vines and trees here) from eating them or is there something in the fertilizer that is distasteful to them? I don't think I'll ever have the answer to that one but the tabs saved the lilies from the tadpoles and fish and they are fish safe, who knows? Some of the 3 week old starter lilies I lifted out have buds on their way up. I'll take some more pictures on the 15th, that's when I'll be adding the second months fertilizer tabs, they will probably already be in bloom by then. It will be interesting to see just how much growth in just the first month. The poor plants the tadpoles got will take some time to make a come back, still no fertilizer but I'll toss in some algae to give the plants a break and the tadpole some food.
Lilies are very strong plants and transplant very easy, I have never lost even one, unless something ate it and just about anything will eat them, turtles, tadpoles, snails and fish, hell the bugs are the least of the worry. Set your potted plants in your grow pond and you are on you way. Don't crowd your starter plants to much, they grow incredibly fast and will need at the very least a foot of room on each side, 2 feet between plants. In my 4 X 8 foot grow ponds I only put in 10 at a time. I also have a holding pond where I just use cement mixing trays filled with dirt, no fertilizer added, that I stick extra plants into for some slow growth but not to extremes. Did I happen to mention, these starter plants will be in bloom in 5 weeks or less, they sell very fast in bloom. I was going to save this for the marketing part of this article, but if you get caught with a lot of starter plants and no room, sell'em. I list mine at my web site and also on ebay, $5 each for walk in customers, and 3 for $15 at ebay plus $10 shipping, they are very light at this size and even 3 will ship for about $5. I sell about 10 sets of these a week at ebay alone with almost a $20 profit each set, you do the math, very easy to pack and ship, more on that later. I post ads at 11 different sites at this time and always looking for new places. If I knew someone local that liked to do flea markets and yard sales I would supply everything except the transportation and split 50/50 with them. You may find enough people to do this that you'll never have to actually do any selling or shipping.
Selling, Packaging and Shipping.
You can sell your lilies as small starter lilies, I post these as "3 Pot Luck Starter Tropical Lilies" and go on to say they have roots and a number of pads. Be sure to include a picture so you don't get hell for shipping small starter lilies like you said. These are shipped bare root with no pot or soil, if you dig them up from your holding pond just rinse the roots well, also look for snail eggs, people hate snails. The reason I use "Potluck" is that I have a lot of unknown lilies that show up, either from blooms that have went to seed or whatever, and I'm not sure what they are, so it works out good for me, this may never be a problem for you if you dead head the old blooms, ya right. I roll up the 3 plants in a coil, and wrap them with a half sheet of wet newspaper and shove them in a plastic bag. I use fish bags but zip lock will work fine, I also sell the 9 X 15" bags that work perfect, $10 per hundred. I put a little pond water in the bag and then let the excess drain out before I close up the bag. Fish bags can be rubber banded or just use a knot. I use the #4 USPS free box for shipping, crumple up a sheet or 2 of newspaper for some protection from the postal workers, put in the bagged lily, another sheet of crumpled paper and tape the box shut, put on the shipping label and stop off at the post office on the way to the pub.
I post at my web site, ebay, Craigs, other auctions and anywhere else I can that is free. Print up some business cards on your computer and leave them everywhere, I have a list of free sites to post your ads somewhere on the website but I'll have to look for it and put the link here later.
People really like to buy water lilies that have buds or blooms on them, although these should be removed before transplanting they seldom are. Watch your plants in your grow out pond and when you see a small bud down at the base it's time to start selling them as blooming plants and start another one starter in its place. Depending on the named plant they can range in price from $15 to $50, the market is competitive so you'll have to watch what others are charging, but don't under cut to much or people will think you are selling junk. Don't believe a $50 water lily? I just ordered one from S. Africa and you can bet when I have blooming plants from it I'll make my investment back on the first sale then its all profit from then on.
Most of my larger mail order lilies are in the $15 to $25 range. I package them the same but you'll need a larger bag, the 1 gallon to 3 gallon freezer zip lock bags will work. I use 14" X 20" fish bags. I bag each lily separate and mark the bag with a sharpie marker before I put the plant in as to what lily it is. I ship these in the free medium size flat rate box from USPS, $10.40 postage at this time for all you can stuff in, about 4 or 5 plants max. I don't discount prices on multiple orders but I don't raise the shipping for extra plants, I charge $12 for total shipping for up to 4 plants. I ship these larger lilies bare root, I just dump them out of the pot and rinse the roots off with the hose. Package, add the postage label and down to the post office. For more in depth instructions go to the shrimp farming page and look for shipping, it will explain about printing postage online, PayPal payments and a lot of useful information that I am not posting here, I may copy it to this page later or not. Seems to really drag out and slow down a good story, go hunt for it, lol.
Building Your Grow Out And Holding Ponds
I'll be just running through this fast here, these are built the same as my no dig water garden. Click Here for the plans. The biggest difference is the size and an inexpensive 6 mil liner. These are 4' X 8', makes it easy to reach in to the center without going into the water and unless you are planing to grow these huge before selling them there will be plenty of room for 10 to 15 plants in 6" pots. I used land scape timbers, they are 8' long and you'll need 15 for each tank, 5 per side. I use the full length on the sides and cut the remaining 5 in half for the ends, watch Home Depot ads, you can sometimes get these for under $2 each, half price. Always on sale when you don't need them but they seem to have a sale about a week every month, it's worth the wait. I use the log cabin style stacking and only toe nail the ends on each layer. Don't think about putting these at ground level in a hole, you'll get very tired of bending down that far real fast, not to mention how fast you'll get tired of that shovel. These are lined on the insides with whatever the cheapest plywood is available and screwed on with 1 1/2" drywall screws, every timber about 2 feet apart for the screws, ties it all together very strong. I just throw unfold old cardboard boxes on the bottom, helps stop weed from growing up through the thin liner.
No pump or filters, although I have given some though to a CO2 set up for faster growth, not really needed and I'll probably never get arount to it or want to lay out the money. Mosquitoes will find there way in, but so will the tad poles and that solves that problem, or you can use mosquito fish, they can live anywhere, I would choose red cherry shrimp over the fish so I have another product to market. I use the very inexpensive 6 mil construction black plastic for the liner, it's thin and will probably only last a season or 2, but I have found that after the second season I have spilled enough dirt and crap in the pond that I need to clean it out any way, so I just pump out the water and drag the liner, dirt and crap out in one shot. I just use 1" X 4" wood for a top cap installed with screws. By the way, if you do get a small leak in the liner don't get crazy and do anything rash, when the water gets a little low just toss is some clumping kitten litter and refill the pond, the litter will clog up the leak, this is for real, I've even used it in fish ponds that I couldn't find a slow leak and it's a never fail, will even work in glass tanks but muddies the water for a day. Maybe someone should pass this information on to BP, although that spill is nothing to joke about but the Budweiser has kicked in, sorry.
Keep in mind that lilies want lots of sun, so give some though on where you put them, mine are not in the ideal place but I am out of room. There are some lilies that will do well in partial shade, I don't have any and even with filtered sun my plants do well under the intense Florida sun. They would probably bloom earlier with full sun.
My holding pond is built the same except the plants are not potted. By sheer luck 6 concrete mixing trays, the black plastic tubs available at Lowe's or Home Depot, very inexpensive, fit length wise in the 4' X 8' tank with about an inch between them, two wide and 3 three deep. I fill these with just plain top soil, nothing else. Each tray is for a different plant type. The holding tank is for extra starter plant and I just shove them down in the soil until I need them for the grow out tank or sell them online as starters. I really crowd these, sometimes that 4' X 8' tank can have as many as 250 plants. The largest ones are removed first and they just keep rotating, it's a never ending supply. There is something to really be said about a product that self replenishes, just doesn't get any better. To top that off, no pumps, filter or electric and very little food!
Another thing about tropicals over hardies is that they will not winter over in zones much lower than 8 and sometimes not even there, I wasn't sure they would make it through this last very cold winter here, the pads faded away but as soon as it warmed up they made a come back. Anyway unless your northern customers are very ambitious and dig their lilies they will be back for more next spring, and if you add a new color or type of lily even 1 time every 3 months you'll have a large selection in no time. Even if you intend to grow your farm in a northern zone you may be better off with tropical lilies, just order tubers or start up plants very early, as soon as frost warning are over.
You'll need some 5 gallon containers or larger to hold water in, you can just float the starters for weeks, they won't like it and will grow very slow but you'll have some to replace as you sell. Always keep a good supply, this is only a strong summer season business, although if you live in the south you can sell local on Craig's list or at flea markets and such, I just don't have the time to drag my ass down to a flea market every week, I'm old, come to think of it I probably didn't have time when I was young either. You'll want some very small pots or containers if you sell direct like this, people are not going to be ready for a large plant (have some impressive pictures of the blooms and maybe even cut a bloom or two for display) but if you pot small starters in 2" pots they can just plant them in a tub. Styrofoam cups tend to float, maybe try thin plastic cup, whatever is cheap, I also stock the 2" X 2" X 3" small starting pots, 50 for $10. If you sell on locations like flea markets or garage sales make sure you take some magic bagged up water lily soil (top soil, under 2 bucks for 40 lbs at Home Depot, mix in a little kitten litter clay to make it look special) to also offer for about $3 a gallon, don't forget to have the fertilizer tabs for sale also, when you get one on the hook make sure you land the whole fish .. The beers really kicking in now, it was good enough for Hemingway, it's good enough for me.
This is actually about all I can see that you'll need to get started in this easy and profitable business. In my closing I'll post all I stock for your new business, contact me if you need something else or have an idea, I'm always open to new thoughts, mine from time to time get a little crazy, but you probably already know that.
I'll just be adding what I use and what I can supply here, stop by or email and let me know what you need, I'll check for the cheapest shipping and I'll send and invoice back for your approval. By the way, I'm also building a page for my bog type plants, if you have any room left you may want to take a look when I get it posted. I'll have the traditional water plants but also some that are not seen often, I don't even know if they will sell but there are probably enough people already selling the traditional plants and people will buy whatever is different that the neighbors don't have (be sure to include your business cards with any order that you send out, nothing is better or cheaper than word of mouth). If you are going to order from me try to get everything at the same time, I can cram a lot of junk into a flat rate box and save you shipping expense.
6" new plastic pots, 10 for $5, the box stores will kill you with their prices.
25 Fertilizer tabs per pack. Suitable for resale, 5 packs for $25. My retail is $8 and $3 shipping per factory pack and they sell very well. Check out my ebay feed back to see how many I sell (tadege2u).
9" X 12" 2 mil shipping bags, 100 for $10.
2" X 2" X 3" plastic pots, 50 for $10. Used but in great shape, what I use here. Perfect for flea markets, garage sales, almost anywhere there is walk through traffic.
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If getting old means growing up, then I'll have nothing to do with it.