Planting and Care of Calla Lilies
About Calla Lilies
Calla Lilies are native to South Africa and hybridizers have created the summer blooming colored callas, which are sometimes Mini Callas, although they grow from 8 to 30 inches tall and the flower diameter can be from 1/2 to 3-1/2 inches. Callas come in almost every color- except blue!
Callas are grown in two different ways and it’s important to know what kind of calla you have so you know how to care for them.
GENERAL PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS
Growing the Evergreen species
Aethiopica varieties (Aethiopica, Aethiopica Childsiana, Aethiopica Green Goddess) are bog plants, meaning they like a soggy soil, or an almost constantly wet area to grow in. This Calla is grown as a rhizome and usually outdoors in the garden, and has sort of a fat long bulb looking like a sausage or a hot dog. Small bulblets grow along the side. The rhizome should be grown vertically, with the growing points pointing upward. Check the bulblets on the side- their pointed ends should point toward the sky. Plant 3-4 inches deep in full sun to partial shade. Keep the roots cool by top-dressing with mulch. The white flowers appear most often in winter or spring, although they may appear any time. Flowers can get up to 4 feet tall (rare) and up to 10 inches wide (rare). Usually the flowers are 2-3 feet tall and 4-6 inches wide.
Part 2- Growing the Colored hybrids
The colored hybrids are called Mini Callas because their flowers are shorter than Aethiopica. This is something of a misnomer, however, because some blooms can be quite tall (up to 26 inches) and quite large (up to 5 inches). In any case, these hybrids are summer growers- although they can be grown year around, especially indoors as a house plant and will bloom indoors during the winter months. If they are grown outdoors in the garden, they will bloom late summer or early Fall (depending upon which region you live in).
Colored callas love a sandy, well drained soil and full sun to partial shade. They can be grown equally well in pots or in the ground. Outdoors, plant the bulbs after it is warm, since the WORST THING for bulbs is cold + wet, they will ROT!
If you look at the bulb, one side should be wrinkly or smooth, and the other side should have some circles, with perhaps a tip poking out the middle of the circles. The circles are where the growing points come out. Some varieties have naturally large bulbs and some are small.
Plant the bulbs 2 to 3 inches deep and in colder zones (3 to 7) you will have to remove the bulbs before the first heavy freeze and place them at room temperature for a week or two, then plant them and leave indoors for winter blooming, with the growing point upwards. Even if you plant Callas upside down or on their sides, they should sprout and grow just fine, so don’t worry too much. Callas like the sun, but they want their roots to be cool. Mulch the top of the soil if possible to keep the roots cool.
Once you plant the bulbs, give them a little water and then WAIT until you see a leaf start to poke out of the soil, and then you can give them a little more water. If you water them too much before they start growing, they will rot.
If you plant the bulbs in fresh potting soil, you can start fertilizing once all the leaves are open with our Spring Power
Grow mix once every two to three weeks (see the section on fertilizing). Avoid ammonium based fertilizer, they can lead to reduction in quality. Calcium and micronutrients will give you good healthy plants.
If you grow colored Callas outdoors but get no flowers, you will have test your soil. Look for your nearest Extension service or ask a local garden center for help.
Soil should be pH 6.0 to 6.5. Too high a growing temperature can also lead to a lack of flowers, and heat stress can occur at 75 degrees. Plants grow best at 65 degrees day and 55 degrees at night. Remember, these are optimal growing conditions. Warmer conditions require a bit of shade to keep the soil cooler. Remember, mulch helps keep the roots cool.
Part 3- The Bloom
The Calla Lily flower (correctly: inflorescence) has two parts- the little member sticking up in the middle, or spadix, and the colored (or white) wraparound part, or spathe.
The flower lasts a very long time, either on the plant or in a vase. Some varieties are better suited to be cut flowers, but they all can be used to some extent. It is very important to change the water every day. Using a preservative in the water is best: here is a home recipe I have developed over the years that works:
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon household bleach (kills the stagnation or slime in the water without harming the bloom)
2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
1 quart lukewarm water
After your plant blooms, the flower will start to close and turn darker and sometimes turn green on the outside. If you go out to your garden and see a tightly furled green bloom, you’ve probably missed the actual blooming. At this point you can cut off the flower or leave it on to form seeds. Enjoy the beautiful foliage for the rest of the summer, though! The leaves are quite lovely, and some of the spotted ones look almost like stained glass.
Flame, 3 days old Flame, older (gets darker) Flame, ending (darker, and sometimes gets spots) Flame, ended (flower starts to close, outside turns very dark, leaves still nice and green) Captain Kloon closing-
turned green and flower closed up. Leaves are just beautiful- can almost see through it.
Cutting the dead flower off will allow the bulb to start building up for the next year. Make sure you leave the leaves, they provide the nutrients to let the bulb grow and reproduce. Forming seed takes a lot of energy from the plant, so if you want the biggest bulbs next year, cut the dying flowers off.
A bulb has a set number of flowers it will put up, it isn’t like other plants you “dead-head” to have continuous blooms. Different varieties have different amount of blooms- some have only one or two, some will have six or more.
Fertilize the calla lily plant lightly every two to four weeks from late February through early November. Use our Power
Grow Fall Fertilizer blend incorporated into the soil or potting mix at the time of planting. Then follow with another small dose on top of the soil or potting mix two to three weeks later. Follow with our Spring Power Grow mix at the six week level and just before the plant begins building its’ bloom stems. Be very careful when using liquid fertilizers, especially indoors. You can very easily burn the foliage. Never apply the fertilizer directly to the root system as this will cause root burn.
Part 5- Calla Lily Pests
Bugs don’t really affect callas. Occasionally you may see some aphids on the leaves or near the blooms. These can easily be brushed off or treated with an insecticidal soap.
Diseases: The worst disease Callas get is soft rot and Erwinia. Erwinia is a common organism in the soil, but it will rush in and attack if the calla starts to get rot. Callas rot because 1) they have been overwatered 2) they are overstressed due to their roots getting too hot.
Soft rot is terrible to see- you might have a group of lovely plants and flowers, then suddenly they turn mushy at the soil line and topple over. If you dig the bulbs, they have a terrible odor and are soft and squishy too.
Our Callas are grown to be disease free. However, through-out their lifetime, they may develop some diseases. After digging and splitting your callas, I recommend discarding diseased bulbs so you don’t spread the disease– but in some cases the bulb may be saved. Dig the bulb and rinse it off. A hard spray from a garden hose will do. The rotted areas will come off. You may also cut away the rotted areas then dust it with a fungicide such as Captan or dip the bulb in Cleary’s for no more than 5 minutes. Dry the bulb until all the exposed areas (where the rot came off) have a callus and feel firm.
If you still feel soft areas, cut them away and repeat the drying. As long as you still have a growing tip, you may be able to save the bulb. Once the bulb is completely dry and firm, you can replant and hope for the best. Again, don’t water until the leaves start to show. If it is close to fall, you may choose to simply store the bulb until the next growing season or bring it inside for winter blooming.
Once rot attacks a garden area, it may wipe out the entire crop. If you are sure that rot has infected your bulbs, dig them at once and use the method described above.
Part 6- Lifting bulbs or leaving in the ground?
In USDA zones 8 and 9, you can leave Callas (both hybrid and Aethiopica) in the ground year around. In cooler zones, they should be dug in the fall. For the colored callas, their leaves will start to turn yellow and die. Dig the bulbs and let them dry for a few days. Remove any foliage left and pull off the dry roots.
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