How To Grow And Care For Calla Lily Plant


Updated: 28 Oct, 2023

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Calla lilies, coveted for their graceful form, are highly sought after for both special occasions and enhancing home gardens. Available in a range of hues, from soft whites and delicate pinks to deep, rich burgundies, recent hybrids have even introduced striking shades like vivid orange and deep black. These blooms are renowned for their longevity when used in floral arrangements, particularly at weddings.

For optimal growth, it is recommended to plant calla lilies during the spring season. They exhibit a moderate growth rate, often displaying their exquisite flowers from early to mid-summer and continuing to bloom until the onset of fall. While native to Africa and thriving in tropical climates, it’s worth noting that in certain regions, such as Australia and California, calla lilies can sometimes display invasive tendencies.

Read also: How to Grow and Care for Staghorn Ferns

Common NameCalla lily, arum lily
Botanical NameZantedeschia aethiopica
FamilyAraceae
Plant TypeRhizome
Mature Size2–3 ft. tall, 1–2 ft. wide
Sun ExposureFull, partial
Soil TypeMoist but well-drained
Soil pHAcidic
Bloom TimeSummer
Flower ColorWhite, pink, coral, maroon, orange, yellow
Hardiness Zones8 to 10
Native AreasAfrica (South Africa, Swaziland)
ToxicityToxic to humans, toxic to pets

Calla Lily Care

Calla lilies, native to tropical regions, thrive outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 10. In these zones, they undergo a natural cycle of dying back in summer and regenerating each year. However, in colder regions, it’s best to treat calla lilies as annuals. To ensure their well-being, mimic their natural habitat by providing warmth, ample light, and consistent moisture.

Distinguishing themselves from true lilies, calla lilies grow from rhizomes rather than bulbs. This distinction is important in understanding their unique characteristics. Similar to many other flowering plants, the application of fertilizer plays a crucial role in promoting robust flower production.

Light:
Calla lilies, true to their tropical origins, thrive in warm environments with ample sunlight. In regions with hot and humid summers, providing partial shade can be beneficial for their growth. However, in more temperate climates, they can withstand full sunlight.

Soil:
To ensure continuous blooming, it’s essential to plant calla lilies in rich, well-drained soil that retains moisture. These plants flourish alongside ponds and can tolerate consistently moist conditions. However, it’s crucial to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot. Enhance the nutrient content of the soil by incorporating organic matter before planting.

Water:
Once the rhizomes have established themselves, regular watering once a week is generally sufficient. In particularly hot or drought-prone conditions, more frequent watering may be necessary. Indoor potted calla lily plants require continuous moisture, as pots tend to dry out more quickly compared to ground plantings.

Temperature and Humidity:
Calla lilies thrive in moderately warm environments with temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. They also appreciate a decent level of humidity and moisture, making humid summers ideal for their growth. When temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the plants go dormant. To safeguard them from freezing temperatures, it’s advisable to dig up the rhizomes for overwintering. Frost exposure can be fatal to the plant.

Fertilizer:
Feeding calla lilies upon planting and at the onset of the growing season in spring is crucial for encouraging abundant flowering. Most well-balanced fertilizers will suffice. However, it’s best to avoid nitrogen-heavy blends, as they can hinder flower production.

Types of Calla Lily

The common calla lily, scientifically known as Zantedeschia aethiopica, typically showcases elegant white blossoms complemented by a vibrant yellow spadix. Renowned for their robustness, they stand as the hardest among their calla lily counterparts and also boast the largest size. Through cultivation, variations in color have been introduced, along with a slightly smaller stature.

Here are some notable cultivars:

Zantedeschia ‘Edge of Night’: This variety displays flowers in a strikingly deep purple to almost black hue, reminiscent of plush black velvet.

Zantedeschia ‘Red Alert’: With vibrant orange and red blooms gracing its presence from May to August, this cultivar adds a burst of lively color.

Zantedeschia ‘Picasso’: Distinguished by its white petals and a captivating purple throat, this variety exudes an artistic charm.

Zantedeschia ‘Sunshine’: Aptly named, this cultivar features radiant, cheerful yellow flowers that bring a bright and sunny disposition to any garden.

Each of these cultivars offers a unique and visually captivating take on the classic calla lily, providing an array of options to suit diverse tastes and preferences.

Pruning

Maintaining calla lilies is generally low-maintenance in terms of pruning. While regular trimming isn’t necessary, it’s beneficial to remove wilted flower parts. This process doesn’t pose any harm to the plant’s health. Simply use your fingertips to pinch off faded blooms, or employ sterilized pruning shears for precision.

For those residing in zone 8 or higher, when the plant undergoes its natural dieback at the close of the growing season, trim it down to ground level and discard any plant remnants. Come spring, it will rejuvenate itself. It’s advisable to wear gloves when tending to calla lilies to prevent contact with the sap, which can cause irritation. This precaution ensures a safe and enjoyable experience while caring for these exquisite plants.

Propagating Calla Lily

Calla lilies offer two primary methods of propagation: through the division of their rhizomes or by germinating their seeds. As calla lilies tend to form large clumps, dividing these clusters into separate plants is a straightforward approach. It’s worth noting that plants propagated from rhizomes typically bloom much earlier than those grown from seeds. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to divide a calla

lily rhizome for propagation:

Gather Necessary Tools: Depending on whether your calla lily is planted in the ground or will be kept indoors, you’ll need either a shovel or pitchfork, and if indoors, potting soil and a clean pot.

Prepare the Rhizome for Division:

If the calla lily is in the ground, use the shovel or pitchfork to create a circular cut around the root. This will make it easier to extract.
Carefully lift the clumped root from the ground.

Clean the Rhizome:

Brush off any excess soil from the rhizome. Place it in a shaded, well-ventilated area for several days to allow it to air dry. Do not introduce water during this period.

Separate the Rhizomes:

Once adequately dried, use a sharp knife to divide the rhizomes. They need not be separated precisely at the connecting points, but ensure that each section has at least one eye or root emerging from it.

Replanting:

If replanting in a garden bed, choose a location enriched with compost, ensuring it is at least six inches away from other plants.
If using a pot, fill it with moist, well-draining soil and place the rhizome in it.

You can opt to store the rhizomes over the winter for later planting.
By following these steps, you can successfully propagate calla lilies through rhizome division, allowing you to expand your collection or share these beautiful plants with others.

How to Grow Calla Lily From Seed

Growing a calla lily from seed is a patient process, often taking up to three years for the plant to reach maturity and produce blooms. To begin, it’s crucial to pre-germinate calla lily seeds. This can be achieved by spreading the seeds on a damp paper towel and covering them. Place this setup in a cool location like a basement or cellar. After a few days, inspect for any signs of germination. Any seeds that don’t show signs of life should be discarded.

Next, transfer the germinated seeds into a high-quality soilless medium within a pot that provides excellent drainage. Maintain consistently moist soil and observe for signs of growth. Over the course of a few weeks, keep a close eye on the seedlings and, if necessary, eliminate the weakest shoot from each pot. Ideally, you should aim to have just one healthy seedling per pot. This careful selection process will help ensure robust and thriving calla lilies in the long run.

Potting and Repotting Calla Lily

One clear sign that your calla lilies are in need of a larger container is when their roots begin to appear congested. It’s crucial to address this issue promptly, as root-bound calla lilies won’t thrive. When it’s time to report, select a container that provides at least two to three inches of additional depth and width compared to the previous one.

When undertaking the repotting process, handle the calla lilies with care. Gently lift them out of their original pot and transfer them into the larger one, taking special care not to harm the delicate roots. Fill the new pot with fresh soil, ensuring it’s well-packed. After repotting, maintain consistent moisture in the soil for the first few days. However, be cautious to avoid excessive water retention, as soggy or waterlogged soil can be detrimental.

Terracotta pots stand as an excellent choice for calla lilies. Their porous composition allows air and water to permeate the walls, contributing to healthier plants by preventing overwatering. It’s worth noting that, while terracotta pots offer these benefits, they tend to lead to faster soil drying, necessitating more frequent watering.

Overwintering

For those residing in a USDA hardiness zone below 8, there are two options for overwintering calla lily rhizomes: either dig them up and store them, or procure new rhizomes each growing season. When excavating the rhizomes, handle them with care and gently remove any clinging soil. Avoid washing or dampening the rhizomes, as this can lead to fungal root rot.

Trim off the foliage from the top of the rhizomes. Subsequently, allow the rhizomes to air dry in a warm, well-ventilated area for a span of four to seven days. This crucial step in calla lily winter care toughens the outer skin of the rhizome.

Once adequately dried, place the rhizomes in a paper bag or individually wrap them in newspaper. Store them in a cool, dry environment, preferably around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. A garage or basement typically serves as a suitable storage space for overwintering calla lily rhizomes.

Common Pests and Diseases

When cultivating calla lilies, it’s important to be vigilant about potential challenges. One significant concern is bacterial soft rot, which primarily affects the rhizomes. Another issue to watch out for is botrytis, a fungal disease that manifests as a grey, filmy mold on the plant’s petals, stems, and leaves. To mitigate the risk of fungal diseases, avoid overwatering and ensure that your calla lilies are adequately spaced to allow for proper air circulation.

Various pests can pose a threat to calla lilies, including aphids, slugs, and spider mites. To address these pest issues, consider treating the plants with a mild insecticidal soap or using horticultural oils like neem oil. This proactive approach can help maintain the health and vitality of your calla lilies, ensuring they thrive and flourish in your garden. (Source: University of Georgia Extension – Flowering Bulbs for Georgia Gardens)

Common Problems With Calla Lily

Growing calla lilies is generally straightforward. Apart from regular watering, they require minimal attention. However, neglecting their specific needs can lead to issues.

Brown Edges on Leaves:
If you observe browning along the leaf edges, it may signal an excess of nitrogen in the fertilizer. While nitrogen promotes lush growth, an overabundance can lead to this discoloration. This condition may also inhibit blooming.

Yellowing Leaves, Wilting, or Limited Growth:
Calla lilies are particularly fond of water. Insufficient watering can result in stunted growth, yellowing leaves, and wilting. Consistent watering is vital to maintain healthy foliage and promote blooming. Additionally, inadequate sunlight exposure can lead to stunted growth.

Drooping Stems and Flowers:
Drooping stems and flowers can arise from both under and over-watering. Likewise, an excess of nitrogen in the fertilizer can contribute to this issue. If your plant is lacking water, a proper watering routine can help it regain its vigor.
By being attentive to these potential issues and meeting the specific needs of your calla lilies, you can ensure their health and encourage robust growth and beautiful blooms.

What are the ideal growing conditions for calla lilies?

Calla lilies thrive in well-draining soil, partial to full sunlight, and consistently moist conditions. They are best suited for USDA hardiness zones 8-10.

How often should I water my calla lily?

Calla lilies prefer consistently moist soil. Water them regularly, ensuring the soil doesn’t become waterlogged, which can lead to root rot.

Can calla lilies be grown indoors?

Yes, calla lilies can be grown indoors in containers. Provide them with bright, indirect sunlight and ensure the pot has good drainage.

How do I fertilize my calla lily plant?

Use a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer every 4-6 weeks during the growing season to promote healthy growth and blooming.

When is the best time to divide calla lilies?

Divide calla lilies in early spring, before the growing season begins. This allows the plants to establish themselves in their new location.

What are common pests and diseases that affect calla lilies?

Aphids, slugs, and spider mites can be problematic. Diseases like bacterial soft rot and botrytis can also affect calla lilies.

How do I overwinter calla lily rhizomes?

If you live in a cooler USDA hardiness zone, dig up the rhizomes, clean them, and store them in a cool, dry place until the next growing season.

Why are my calla lily leaves turning yellow?

Yellowing leaves may indicate overwatering or a lack of sunlight. Adjust watering and ensure the plant receives adequate light.

Conclusion

Cultivating and caring for calla lilies can be a rewarding endeavor, yielding elegant and vibrant blooms. By providing the right environment – well-draining soil, appropriate sunlight, and consistent moisture – these plants can flourish. It’s essential to be mindful of potential challenges such as overwatering, pests, and diseases, taking proactive measures to address them.

Whether you’re propagating through rhizomes or starting from seeds, understanding the specific needs of calla lilies is key to their successful growth. Regular monitoring for signs of distress, like yellowing leaves or drooping stems, allows for timely intervention and ensures the health of the plants.


Mary Lloyster

Mary Lloyster

Mary, the ultimate oracle of indoor gardening! With years of experience and a flourishing indoor expo, Mary has become our go-to expert for all things related to house plants and indoor gardening. Despite her background in Political Science, Mary has discovered a delightful way to blend her full-time job with a touch of relaxation through indoor gardening. Now, she eagerly shares her wisdom and experiences with our readers on a daily basis. If you have any inquiries about house plants, indoor gardening techniques, or caring tips, don't hesitate to leave a comment for Mary in the designated section below!

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