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Did you ever wonder if you can grow a blooming size tropical waterlily in a 7 ounce Dixie Cup? Sure you can! When people see photos of my small above ground display pond with up to fifty individual tropical waterlilies in bloom they ask me, "How did you do that?"
My response is always the same. I grow them in plastic Dixie Cup drink glasses. This is quite usually met with a puzzled look as they try to figure out how a waterlily that is known to have a spread of up to 12 feet, requires so much space and usually a large pot can bloom in a container that only holds 7 ounces. The process is quite simple and, if you understand the art of Bonsai, you will quickly realize that all plants can be grown out in small containers maintaining the same characteristics of the parent only on a smaller scale.
When I start a new plant for the season, I begin with a fertile soil mix. Since I usually pot up many at once I mix a few gallons of soil at a time. The mix I use consists of two parts dark garden loam/topsoil, one part beach sand or play sand, a few handfuls of clay soil to bind the mix and a handful of granular slow release fertilizer usually in a formulation of 10-30-15. All the components are stirred together in a large bucket and all the Dixie Cups I need are filled and soaked to eliminate all air bubbles. Once the air is removed, I drain off the water from the cups and begin to pot up my new plants, consisting of tuber starts that I grow out in the method called "chain propagation" or with "viviparous starts". Sometimes I will have extra plantlets that have grown off the side of an established plant that I will pot up this way also.
I use an old pencil as a dibber to make a hole in the center of each cup of soil to make room for the new plant. I then use a method I learned from Rich Sacher where you drag the roots of your small plantlet over dry sand in what can only be described as Shake and Bake coating the roots with sand. The sand helps you get the plant into the hole much easier and you do not break any of the tiny fragile roots. Once all the plants have been potted up in their new cups I top them all with 1/2 inch of sand to keep the fertilizer from leaching out.
The whole process is standard for potting up a larger waterlily, you just need some patience because your plant material and pot are on a much smaller scale. As each plant is finished with the potting process, I place it in the pond with about one foot between the cups. Within a couple of weeks several decent sized pads are floating and you can usually see the beginning of a new bud on the rise.
In order to keep so many plants in such a small space you need to do daily maintenance by removing excess pads. I usually will keep between four and seven pads per plant once they begin to bloom, which allows the lilies to continue to bloom yet not crowd out their neighbors.
The wonderful benefit of growing these majestic lilies in such small containers is that you still get blooms but they will be smaller than from fully grown out plants. An added bonus to this method is you can almost always be guaranteed that a tuber will be formed on your new plant that can be used for future propagating. I would urge anyone to try this method whether you have plenty of space or not. You will find that, yes, you can tame the beast.