Caring for Calla Lilies in the GardenLearn how to care for calla lilies, get growing advice and discover tips for including them in your garden design
While not really lilies, calla lilies do share many of their qualities—they are sensual, graceful, suggestive and exotic—leaving many gardeners surprised at how easy growing and caring for these flowers can be. Read on to learn more.
- Growing Calla Lilies
- Calla Lily Pictures
- Why Grow Calla Lilies?
- Indoor Calla Lily Care
- Calla Lily Floral Arrangements
- Buy Calla Lily Bulbs
GROWING CALLA LILIES
Caring for white calla lilies is different than caring for the more colorful hybrid calla lilies. White callas are semi-aquatic and their rhizomes thirst for watering holes, but their colorful cousins hail from higher ground and their tubers demand drainage.
Care Differences Between Calla Lily Types:
||Colorful Calla Lily Hybrids
|Water||Keep the soil moist||Water when the soil is slightly dry|
|Zones||8-10||9 and warmer|
|Exposure||Full sun or partial shade||Bright, indirect light is ideal|
When to plant:
Any time between February and June (but after danger of frost is past) bury them 3 to 4 inches deep in porous soil directly in the garden or in containers.
Give them water when the soil is slightly dry (but don't overdose — the hybrid callas dislike soggy soil), and they're good to go.
Eight weeks after planting, flower stalks begin shooting up, and you'll be delighted by blossoms for the next couple of months.
Although Z. aethiopica has been known to soldier on in Zones 8-10, its colorful relatives are more comfortable in Zones 9 and warmer. Or treat them as tender perennials in colder climates.
Callas bask in anything from full sun to partial shade — bright, indirect light being ideal. Dense shade might put a damper on bud count, and scorching midday summer sun can prove equally challenging.
The color-soaked hybrids prefer a well-drained, porous soil. Sandy soils are simpatico if you add fertilizer; clay soils can be tricky. Excessive nitrogen will encourage a bounty of leaves and long stems, squelching bud production. In a fertile soil, no further food is needed.
Before frost threatens in autumn or early winter, whisk them indoors to rest the tubers after their labors. If calla lilies are planted directly in beds, dig the tubers from the garden or store them in their pots in a dry 55ºF environment, withholding water for eight weeks or longer before jump-starting the cycle again with light and water.
Calla lilies are dangerous to pets if any part of the plant is ingested. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.
Are calla lillies invasive?
Calla lillies can be invasive if conditions are right. Learn more: Where is this species invasive in the US?.
Why Grow Calla Lilies?
Gardeners are slipping callas, which originated in South Africa, into garden beds and containers for the following reasons:
- Calla lilies are easy to cultivate
- They offer a sensuous color range
- Callas blossom just eight weeks after planting
- Their arrow-shaped foliage is attractive
- They make captivating cut flowers
For more on how to plant bulbs:
When calla lilies were first gaining their vibrancy 25 years ago, ‘Treasure’ was one of the groundbreakers going for the gold. Achieving headline status for its fiery molten-lava shades bleeding into saffron in a graceful sheath, it began the trend for color-soaked callas, with more-recent newsworthy cultivars drawing out the drum roll with lingering blossoms and increased bud count.
CAPTAIN SAFARI® - Buy now on Amazon
With ‘Treasure’ as the benchmark, hybridizers continue to strive for finer oranges, Captain Safari® being the latest contender for the throne. What makes it fab, according to its creator—Kapiteyn in the Netherlands—is the perfectly spiraling round spathe shape and its high production count of riveting flowers on long, strong stems. A buxom beauty, it was developed for cut flowers or large urns. And mutability is one of its charms - during a blossoms’ lifespan, the spathe turns from raging gold to apricot to parrot green.
Yellows are big, but punch it up by tossing a hint of apricot into that sunny shade, and you’ve got something truly seductive. Plus, Captain Amigo® presents its blossoms proudly above the broad, speckled, lance-shaped leaves, infinitely expanding its pot-worthiness - and that’s the direction in which callas are headed. Not just cuts anymore, they’re moving outdoors.
Since beauty is an individual perception, it’s understandable that each calla lily breeder has his own Everest. And the mixed messages of bicolor spathes are the trait responsible for sending a thrill through the hybridizers at Sande B.V. of the Netherlands. In Mozart®, not only does a black eye accent the depths of the salmon-pink spathes, but the cloak-and-dagger package includes a graceful, wavy sheath like a sail billowing in the breezes, culminating in a long, green flourish at the tip.
PICASSO® - Buy now on Amazon
In 2001, when Sande B.V. hit the scene with several bicolor breakthroughs the likes of which the world hadn’t previously seen, Picasso® was a superstar among those prima donnas. Large flowering and pointed in its form, the throat of each thick, creamy vase is suffused in rosy purple, giving the goblet depth. Developed for both containers and cut flowers, the blossoms stand head and shoulders above the shorter, heavily dappled leaves.
Also pushing the envelope pigmentwise is Ascari®, with shimmering gold spathes so heavily drenched with deep, dark purple that the color isn’t confined to the inner circle; it seeps outside the challis. Suitable for cutting as well as garden culture, the leaves are slightly lobed rather than being strictly arrow-shaped, extending the intrigue before and after blooming.
ODESSA® - Buy now on Amazon
Hinting of marvels to come, Odessa® is a glimmer of future trends, hot othe press and just released. So dark burgundy that it’s classified as black, the flowers crown long, luxuriant but also sturdy stems. And the bulbs make for fast forcing with superabundant blossoms. What does plentiful mean for a calla? In this case, it translates into as many as 15 sensuous flowers per bulb.
The ideal for a calla is a cloak drawn closely around the inflorescence, which describes Captain Reno® perfectly. With copious flowers tucked within the white splashed leaves, the thick spathes are so heavily pigmented pink that they blush nearly red. An added incentive is that suggestive green spur on the tip, serving as a flourish.
Going full circle is what the new callas strive to do as far as flower structure is concerned, and Captain Romance® does the perfect pirouette. The flagship of the Kapiteyn collection, this calla’s credentials include candy-pink blossoms overlaid with syrupy vermillion. But really, the process of unveiling each elongated cup is what holds us spellbound. And the beauty of this hybrid is that it blossoms over the long haul. In this instance, romance is recurring.
INDOOR CALLA LILY CARE
If you’ve just received a potted calla lily as a gift, they make wonderful houseplants.
Here are a few tips for caring for callas indoors:
- Keep the soil moist, but not soggy
- Provide bright, indirect light
- Apply liquid fertilizer monthly while in flower
- Keep away from heating and ac vents
- Reduce watering when the plant enters dormancy (November)
- Cut the leaves off at soil level once they’ve died
- Allow calla bulbs to rest in a cool, dark area during dormancy
- Repot annually before the growing season
USING CALLA LILIES IN FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS
With the variety of spathe colors available — think mango, cinnamon, ember, molten, vermilion, sunset, flaxen, canary, fire engine or smeared lipstick — callas show no sign of slowing tempo as cut flowers.
Calla lily bouquets are very popular for expressing love and appreciation on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day. Calla lilies are also a prevalent flower in wedding arrangements, gracing centerpieces, bridal bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres.
BUY CALLA LILY BULBS
In addition to the nurseries listed below, check reputable local sources.
Editor's Note: The callas featured in the slideshow above were photographed at world-class breeder Kapiteyn (Captain) in Callas and at Keukenhof in Lisse, both in the Netherlands.
This article has been adapted from its original version for use on the web.
Last updated: June 19, 2019
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