The first floating leaf should appear at the surface of the water in 6 to 12 days after planting, a total of 12 to 24 days from sprouting. It seems to us that seedlings that develop at a rate slower than this have a much lower chance of survival. Water temperature of 85F (29C) or higher seems critical along with good light. Some nutrients must be supplied at this stage.
It is at the first few floating leaves stage that most of us struggle with Victoria babies. We too have experienced the "melt" (where the leaves disintigrate), the "burn" (where they just look fried and die off -- an example of "burn" at the left) and growth that is too slow to sustain the plant. Poor air circulation can invite fungus problems.
We believe that the "melt" of Victoria leaves is caused by an extreme sensitivity to hard water, not a factor with tropical waterlily babies. We stress again the need to make 25% water changes in the aquarium or tank twice weekly.
We believe the "burn" is from excessive nutrients. Growth where the leaves remain the same size or get smaller, or where new leaves are not produced fast enough to sustain the plants, is caused by inadequate or inappropriate nutrients.
As mentioned before, we plant in plain once-washed dune sand with one teaspoon of peat in the bottom of the 3 ounce Solo cups with holes when the seedlings have hastates and first roots. The use of peat has made an enormous difference in seedling survival. Our Initial Experiments With Peat & Peat Works A caution here -- don't wait too long to plant at this stage, especially if the babies are in baggies. If they start to "melt" at all in the bags, they are goners.
We have developed a special nutrient package that is extremely successful with Victorias at all stages but crutial for seedlings. It includes one of two biostimulants, extra nitrogen, iron and magnesium, organic fertilizer and Pondtabbs.
For Cocktail recipes, rates and schedules see "Weakly Weekly"
For more about biostimulants see "Our Adventure 2001 - Roots"
When the first floating leaf reaches the surface we give 1/2-1cc of our "Baby Cocktail", repeating every 7 days. This is injected into the soil (sand) in the cup (pot) with needle and syringe. We use a 10cc or 12cc syringe and 16 gauge needle available from most feed stores, some veterinarians or some pharmacies.
We consider Victoria seedlings to be "over the hump", fairly certain to survive, when they have made about four floating leaves, each increasing in size from the previous one. When the seedlings produce leaves more rounded than arrowhead-shaped and their stems thicken, they are ready to be boosted to larger pots, for us 4" plastic ones lined with newspaper or 8 ounce plastic cups with holes poked in the bottom. Depending on the plant itself, light and temperature, this takes place in 4 to 8 weeks from sprouting. We again use our dune sand with one tablespoon of peat in the bottom and feed 1-3cc of the Baby Cocktail weekly. More details
When we see roots looping up out of the soil in the 8 ounce cups it's time for the next increase in pot size. They go into 6" round pots with holes lined with newspaper. We peel away the plastic cup and set the root ball in the bottom of the new pot, filling around it, so that we can add soil as the plant grows vertically. More details We feed Baby or Graduate Cocktail weekly. Through both of these stages we try to keep the plants at 82-86F (28-30C) water temperatures. Once the plants are established in their new pots, water temp can be decreased, for the hybrids especially. At 70F (21C) they will continue to increase in size. If left in these smaller pots, the plants stall in their growth, remaining about the same size, desirable in some cases. More details Once they are given more space, the plants resume increasing their pad size.