Chinese Bowl Lotus – Zhou Jingsong

This is the article I wrote which has appeared in Lily & Fin, Adventures in Water Gardening September/October 2015.

Bowl lotuses are surging in popularity throughout modern China. As the Chinese population shifts from a rural life to the high rises of the booming cities, private space for gardening is rare. Today most gardens are on the balconies of their new apartments. Plants such as bowl lotus are perfect for these smaller urban gardens. Bowl lotus are simply a mini lotus which is grown in small containers: 7 inches (18 cm) to 11 inches (28 cm) in diameter. The smallest or mini lotus may be grown in rice bowls only 4 inches (10.0 cm) wide!

While the history of lotus culture dates back about 3,000 years in China the exact date of the beginning of bowl lotus cultivation is uncertain. During the past 30 years there has been an explosion of new cultivars of lotus in China and the rise of the bowl lotus can be witnessed during this period. For the past 28 years, the annual Chinese Lotus Exhibition has showcased and awarded superior varieties of new lotus, including bowl lotus.

There are dozens of companies and individuals growing and perfecting bowl lotus throughout China. One of the premier hybridizers is Mr. Zhou Jingsong from Jiangyong town in Hunan province. The 41 year old Mr. Zhou has a degree in Agronomy, taught biology and is currently the principal at the Jiangyong Middle School. Mr. Zhou is captivated by the beauty of the mini lotus. His goal is to perfect growing techniques, the plant hardiness and the flower quality so this culturally important plant may be enjoyed by families throughout China.

In 2010 Mr. Zhou purchased over 900 lotus seeds from the internet from Shuqian and Muyang in Jiangsu province. Unfortunately these were inferior seeds and produced weak plants, with very few flowers. It was frustrating to loose the entire season to such poor quality seed but this set back inspired Mr Zhou to become more committed and more determined to successful lotus production. He created the brand name He Ying Rong Xi Zhai (荷影容膝斋) for his lotus creations. ‘Rong Xi Zhai’ is the name of the school he studied at as a child and ‘He Ying’ translates into taking pictures of lotus – his favorite pastime.

During spring of 2011 Mr. Zhou purchased lotus seed from a professional bowl lotus company. That year he planted, weeded, fertilized, pollinated, recorded data on over 2,300 pots of lotus. His efforts produced outstanding results with over 60% of the plants flowering and a harvest of over 500 lotus seeds that season. His confidence rose as he saw his bowl lotus thrive and prospect for an unknown but exciting future from his fresh lotus seed.

The seed produced some exciting new varieties the following year. A golden lotus eventually named N. ‘Gold Autumn’ caught his eye. Plants which flowered early in the season and were prolific bloomers earned the names of N. ‘Stunning #1 and N. ‘Pink Make Up #1’. He eliminated the pots of poor bloomers or plants which were too large to be classified bowl lotus but still his nursery had over 2,000 pots of lotus. Mr. Zhou’s experiences encouraged him to write “Bowl Lotus Seed Cultivation Techniques” and “Bowl Lotus Technology”.
In the spring of 2013 Mr. Zhou was promoted to principal of the middle school. Reluctantly he was forced to down size his nursery to only 300 bowl lotus. He gave his surplus lotus to family and friends who admired his creations. With fewer but superior plants, Mr. Zhou focused on growing them in smaller pots only 4 inches (10 cm) in diameter and 2.75 inches (7 cm) high. The 2014 season saw new, mini hybrids created and many of them growing in 4 inch (10cm) bowls. He has recently completed the final draft of ‘Mini Lotus Cultivation Techniques’. Mr. Zhou will improve his bowl lotus by selecting plants which have outstanding color, bloom early in the season and are prolific flower producers. He will continue his cultivation experiments, perfect his planting techniques and share his results in future publications. Mr. Zhou’s passion is to create superior bowl and mini lotus and to make them available to families throughout China and beyond. The lotus is such an important piece of China’s rich history it is vital it continues to be part of life in modern China as well.

Quick Growing Tips for Bowl Lotus:
• Ideally, plant tuber in pond mud or heavy garden soil, in small pot (6 to 8 inches) without holes.
• Plant with growing tip in shallow soil (3 inches) with cut end angled out of the water
• Maintain only 1 inch (2.54 cm) of water above the soil
• Provides at least 6 hours of sun
• Keep warm during growing season
• Provide good air circulation to avoid aphids
• Fertilize every 2 weeks
• Remove any algae or nuisance duckweed
• Prune dead leaves and dead flowers as that will encourage leaf production and extend blooming season
• Keep cool and moist for winter dormancy; do not allow a total freeze of tuber.

Mr. Zhou’s favorite bowl lotus:
N. Stunning lotus is a double pink bowl lotus. Stunning is spectacular because of petal count 120+ and it’s deep pink edge to its petals. It has a large flower and it is a good bloomer.
N. Purple Fairy #2 is an outstanding single petal, red bowl lotus. At times the petals will take on a purple cast to them. Purple Fairy 2’s 4 inch flower is held high on its 10 inch flower stem. This bowl lotus is a good bloomer.