Calla lilies are one of the most interesting tropical flowers you can grow in your garden. They come in a huge range of colors, and thanks to their love of warm temperatures, they also make a great houseplant.
A favorite of florists and gardeners across the world, calla lilies are as gorgeous as they come, and make a long-lasting cut flower.
But exactly how easy are they to look after?
Let’s take a look.
At A Glance: What You Need To Know About Calla Lilies
Calla lilies belong to the Zantedeschia genus, and depending on your climate, they can be very easy to grow, or a little more complicated.
But there are things you can do to make sure they thrive, whether that’s indoors or outdoors.
Don’t be put off by their elaborate flowers, thinking that they will be extremely difficult to grow, or you’re too inexperienced to try. Once you know what these fabulous plants need, their care is a breeze.
While these beautiful plants are native to Africa, they are grown in pretty much every area of the globe, except for Antarctica.
The flowers are in many different colors, from bright white, vivid orange, to a purple that’s almost black, and the foliage only adds to the plant’s beauty, usually featuring white speckles on the emerald leaves.
These plants aren’t as complicated as they look, but you do need to match their care to the area you live in.
Things To Consider When Growing Calla Lilies
There are a few things to consider before you get started with growing calla lilies, as where you live affects where you can grow them to some extent, and changes the care that they need.
Calla lilies will withstand winters in USDA zones 8 through 10, so you can grow them outside all year round without worrying that they will die over winter.
This does not mean that you can’t grow them outside in other zones, but in those mentioned, you can safely leave them in the ground and expect them to flower again the following year.
In colder zones, you can either treat them as summer annuals and buy fresh plants each year, or you can overwinter them inside, or even grow them as houseplants year-round.
Dividing The Bulbs
Every so often – regardless of whether you are growing calla lilies indoors or outdoors, you will need to divide some of the bulbs to keep the growth vigorous and keep the plants flowering.
The flowering rate will diminish if the bulbs get too packed together, but this will only happen every few years.
This is worth doing anyway – as you can pot up the extra bulbs as new plants, giving you more calla lilies for free.
Make sure you do this during the winter rather than in the growing season, when the plant is dormant, otherwise you risk disturbing the flowering season.
While these plants are very beautiful, it’s unfortunate that they are highly toxic. Ingesting them can result in death if the symptoms aren’t treated, so make sure you keep calla lilies away from pets and children.
How To Grow Calla Lilies
If you’re growing calla lilies outdoors, place them in a position of full sunlight, with a little shade in the afternoon.
These plants like a lot of nutrients, and don’t like drying out, to the point where you can put them in constantly damp soil, and they will thrive.
If your area gets very dry, or very cool, add a layer of mulch around the plant, and this will help fend off the cold and keep enough moisture in the soil.
If you prefer, you can grow calla lilies as houseplants (see also What’s The Difference Between A Calla Lily And A Peace Lily?). Keep them away from drafts, and give them bright but indirect light. Avoid placing them in direct sunlight.
Planting Calla Lilies And Overwintering Them
Planting calla lilies is not difficult, and can be done within a few minutes. You can put them in containers or in the ground, in well-draining, rich soil.
If you want to overwinter your calla lilies, it might be best to pot them up, and then you can just bring the whole pot inside, saving you from having to dig up the bulbs.
Or, you can grow them inside all year round, as long as you give them plenty of direct sunlight.
Wherever you choose to grow them, make sure you plant them in the spring. If you are planting them outside, wait until any risk of frost is over, or start them off indoors until that time.
Make sure you plant the rhizomes about 2 inches deep into the soil, giving them about 18 inches of room between each clump, as this will give them plenty of room to grow.
In containers, you can pack them together a little tighter for a fuller look, but this can stress the plants if you overdo it.
Once they are planted up, water the calla lilies a little, but don’t overdo it. You don’t want the soil to be soaking, just enough to encourage the roots to settle into the soil.
Be a little patient with calla lilies, as it can take up to two weeks until you see the first shoots. Once this happens, however, they grow quite quickly.
Once you see the new growth, expect to see flowers between 13 and 16 weeks afterward. To extend the season, grow a mix of early, mid, and late-flowering varieties to create a continuous show of dramatic flowers.
How To Overwinter Calla Lilies
When it comes to fall, and it’s time to overwinter your calla lilies, if you want to store only the rhizomes, cut the stems back until there is only about 2 inches of growth above the ground, removing the leaves.
This is only needed if you live in a zone below 8, otherwise you can mulch the top of the soil to protect them instead.
Remove the plants from the soil, and put them in a warm and dry spot, with a temperature between 65°F and 75°F (or 18°C and 23°C).
Leave them there for three days to dry out a little, and then move them into a box filled with sawdust or newspaper.
Put the box in a dark and cool place between 50°F and 60°F (or 10°C and 15°C). Keep an eye on them occasionally to make sure they don’t dry out, or get too damp and start to rot.
If you prefer, you can take the potted plant inside, and treat it as a houseplant in the winter.
How To Care For Calla Lilies
Sunlight And Position
Calla lilies like full sunlight or partial shade. Choose the former if you live somewhere that doesn’t get baking hot summers, and the latter if you do.
A sheltered position is ideal, but make sure there is enough space between calla lilies and neighboring plants to keep a good airflow around the plants.
Calla lilies need damp soil that drains well, preferably one that is rich in nutrients. Don’t let the soil dry out completely, but avoid water logging it or leaving it constantly soaking.
Mulching And Weeding
If you’re planting your calla lilies in the ground, make sure that there are no weeds competing for light, water, and nutrients. They can also spread disease and pests, so remove them before planting your callas.
Lightly mulch around the calla lilies once planted, as this will help stop too much moisture from leaving the soil, but it will also give the plants a bit of a boost.
Don’t be tempted to overdo it, however, as this can cause more problems.
Feeding A Calla Lily
Calla lilies do like an additional fertilizer during the flowering season, as they are hungry plants, and producing the blooms takes up a lot of energy.
Use a balanced liquid fertilizer every fortnight or so, making sure to feed only when you water, otherwise you could end up burning the roots.
Avoid fertilizing calla lilies in fall and winter, as this is the time for these beautiful plants to wind down and go dormant, and feeding them at this point can cause more harm than good.
Pests And Diseases To Watch Out For
Most problems that occur with calla lilies start off when there is too much moisture in the soil or surrounding environment.
Probably the most common is bacterial soft rot, which occurs in and is spread by damaged rhizomes.
Always make sure you take a look at the rhizomes before planting them, throwing any that give when you squeeze them gently.
Handle rhizomes gently when planting them or digging them up, and this will go a long way in stopping this disease from taking hold of your callas.
Calla lilies can also suffer from botrytis, which is caused by too much water. It’s easily recognized, as it causes gray mold to form on all parts of the plant above ground.
The easiest way to prevent botrytis is to make sure you don’t water calla lilies at night, and only water the bottom of the plant, making sure that no stray water pools on the leaves or flowers.
If the soil gets too waterlogged, root rot can occur from the rhizomes constantly sitting in water. Unfortunately, this will kill the plant, and it’s often too late to save it.
To try and salvage it, you can immediately take the plant out of the soil, cutting off any rotting rhizomes or roots, and replanting it in nearly-dry soil. Give it a while before you water it again, to allow the roots to recover.
Aphids are by far the biggest pest when it comes to calla lilies. You’ll notice when aphids attack, not only because they are very visible, but you’ll also see a fuzzy substance on new growth including flower buds.
Use a hose pipe to spray them off the plant, or insecticidal soap. The quicker you deal with them, the better the chance the plant has to recover, as aphids also spread disease.
The best way to prevent pests and disease from taking hold of calla lilies is to ensure that they are as healthy as possible, and this goes a long way into ensuring they survive any problems.
Calla Lily Varieties To Consider
There are so many varieties of calla lilies to choose from that the sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming. Here are a couple to get you started:
A warm and uplifting calla to brighten any area of your garden, this variety features luminous yellow flowers with black throats.
Very nearly black in color, ‘Black Star’ features dark purple spathes that look beautiful against the bright green leaves, and each leaf is edged in the same deep purple.
Calla lilies are beautiful plants (see also Calla Lily Flower Symbolism) which are easy to care for, as long as you give them the right care according to your climate.