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GUIDE TO GROWING ZANTEDESCHIA (CALLA LILIES)
About Calla Lilies
Calla Lilies are native to South Africa.
There are seven species which grow in colors of white, yellow, and pink.
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
Part 1- 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 plant is grown as a rhizome, a 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.
Growing point by fingers
2 bulblets on side
Growing point by index
Part 2- Growing the Colored hybrids
The colored hybrids are called Mini Callas because their flowers are shorter
than Aethiopica. I think 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 the breeders claim they can
be grown year around. Who wouldn't love growing these??
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. 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 people say to look for a bulb
with the most "eyes" to give you the most flowers. In my experience that
isn't necessarily true-I once was disappointed to get a 1 inch diameter bulb-
until it put up 9 flowers! Some varieties have naturally large bulbs and
some are small.
Plant the bulbs 3-4 inches deep, 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. This is important.
Mulch the top of the soil if possible.
|Top of bulb, with many "eyes"
or growing points
|Bottom of bulb, looks flat, often
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, guess what?
That's right, ROT.
If you plant the bulbs in fresh potting soil, you shouldn't need to fertilize,
but if you feel the need, you can start fertilizing once all the leaves are
open, and fertilize with a 200 ppm solution once every two weeks. Avoid
ammonium based fertilizer, they can lead to reduction in quality. Long
term release fertilizers can have the same effect. Calcium and
micronutrients will give you good healthy plants.
If you aren't sure about the soil in your yard, or you grow colored Callas every
year but get no flowers, you might want to have your soil tested. 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
Part 3- The Bloom
The Calla Lily flower (correctly: inflorescence) has two parts-
the um, 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 cutflowers, 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 from the wholesaler Florabundance:
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon household bleach
2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
1 quart lukewarm water
Back to the garden: 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.
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
Part 4- Seeds and growing from seed.
If you want seeds, leave the flower on the plant as long as possible. You can
peek inside of the spent bloom and you should see the start of a berry shaped
fruit structure. The longer you leave the flower on the plant, the bigger the
fruit structure will grow. I always leave mine on until fall, or until the
flower stem (petiole) has completely wasted away- at that point you know no
further nutrients will make it to the seeds. The berry structure should start
out green, and most of them will turn slightly yellow, some do stay green.
You can pull one of the berries off the structure, and roll it and pinch it
between your fingers and at least one seed should pop out. Plant the seed in
moistened potting mix and just cover it with a very small amount of the potting
mix. Keep moist, and you will have baby callas sprouting in no time!
If the berries are already shriveled, you can just plant them without taking the
seeds out, I've had good success both ways.
I start my baby callas in the winter (although you can start seed whenever you
have it) , and then transfer them into the ground in the spring when I plant my
other bulbs. They should be slightly bigger than a pea at that point. By the
end of the summer you should have a small bulb. It will take about 2 years or
longer, depending on your growing conditions to get a bulb to flowering size.
NOTE: The offspring may not look
like the parent flower!
|Sprouting Seeds in
|Transfer seeds to pots
(or start them there)
|Time to plant in the
garden! See the baby bulbs?
Part 5- Calla lily diseases
Diseases: Bugs don't really affect callas. Occasionally you will see some
aphid type creatures on the growing points before you plant the bulbs. These
can easily be brushed off.
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.
Breeders 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. 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.
I've read that once rot attacks a garden area, it may wipe out the entire crop.
This has happened to me and another grower I know of. It seems logical to stop
watering once rot starts, but don't do it! If it is hot, the unaffected bulbs
could become stressed from overheating/lack of water and fall victim to the
|The heartbreak of soft rot.
Part 6- Lifting bulbs or leaving in the
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
|Drying bulbs on our deck.
||Another view of the bulbs.
The bulbs can then be stored in a cool spot. They don't have to be put
in a bag or stored in soil, they do appreciate good air flow to keep them dry.
(Guess what happens if they stay wet).
If you are in a cool zone, you can dig Aethiopica and put it in a pot and bring
it into the house. Keep it in a well light area (near a bright window) and you
should be able to keep it growing all winter- it may even surprise you with
flowers in February.
Of course, there are always exceptions to all these rules- I've heard of bulbs
in zone 6 surviving the winter and growing the next year- but these are
exceptions. If the ground and bulb freeze, the bulb will die.
And, you can always leave the bulbs in the ground and treat them as annuals-
simply buy new bulbs the next year.
Part 6- Calla Lily Questions.
Why won't my plants bloom?
There can be many be many reasons for it!
Don't plant your Calla Lilies in heavy shade. They need the sun to
flower well. Mulch around the leaves to keep the bulbs cool.
Have your Callas been planted in one place for a long time? It might be
necessary to separate the bulbs- as the bulbs get overly large, flowering
drops off. Wait until the foliage turns yellow in the fall, then dig and
dry the bulbs. Separate the bulbs by breaking them apart or cutting them
apart (wear gloves, the sap may be irritating). Make sure you have at
least one "eye" in each section. Let them dry well, and plant them (or
wait until spring to plant) at least 6 inches apart.
Are you fertilizing? Read your fertilizer container- there are 3
numbers on it, something like 10-10-10 or 15-5-1. The first number is N,
for Nitrogen. This promotes good foliage growth. The second number
is P, for Phosphorus, which is essential for healthy growth of roots. The
third number is K, for potassium (also called potash). It helps plants to
resist diseases, protects them from the cold and protects during dry weather by
preventing excessive water loss. It is also responsible for the new formation of
Fertilize monthly with a good all-purpose fertilizer.
Watch your planting depth. Bulbs that are planted too shallowly tend
to get stressed, due to them getting too hot. Bulbs that are planted too
deeply often do not flower well.
Overall Calla Lilies are pretty easy to grow. We don't all have perfect growing
conditions for them, but they will grow almost no matter what! With just a
little care, you can have some of the loveliest flowers- try it and see!