How to Plant, Grow and Care for Calla Lily

Calla lily is a gorgeous plant that is easy to grow. With proper care, this plant can add interest and color to your garden or home for many years. 

To grow calla lily successfully, you need to place the plant in a place that receives full sun or partial sun, water the calla often, feed the plant with a fertilizer that’s high in phosphorus, and induce winter dormancy to encourage bloom the next growing season.

Calla lilies are native to southern Africa and are also referred to as arum lilies. Their beautiful blooms come in several colors and sizes, making them a popular choice for weddings and other special events.

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Calla Lily – General Info

Scientific name

Zantedeschia aethiopica

Other names

  • Arum lily
  • Pig lily
  • Altar lily

Popular Varieties

  • Picasso 
  • Fire Dancer
  • Green Goddess lily
  • Royal Valentine
  • Acapulco Gold

Optimal Hardiness Zones

US Hardiness Zone 8-11

Best Growing Location

Calla lilies need a location with porous soil and partial to full sun. The soil must be moist but not wet. If your soil is not moist enough, you can add mulch around the plants to keep the roots from drying out.

Bloom Period

Calla lilies bloom in the spring or early summer. The blooms can last anywhere from four to six weeks depending on the weather conditions and the variety of calla lilies.

Flower Colors

Calla lilies come in a variety of colors, with white flowers being the most common and widely used for wedding floral arrangements. . Some varieties are striped and two-toned. You can find calla lilies in red, orange, violet, black, yellow, and pink.

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Calla Plant Care

Soil

Calla lilies need rich, moist, porous soil. I have successfully grown other flowers and lilies in loam soil. Good garden loam soil is a combination of sand, clay, silt, and organic matter to provide the soil with any nutrients required for healthy plant growth while providing drainage to prevent waterlogging.

Watering

Calla lilies are heavy drinkers so they require frequent watering during their growing season which is spring till early fall. However, the bulbs are prone to rot when the plant is overwatered, so your calla lily should be watered less during its dormant stage (more on this below).

I usually transfer my lilies to the ground after buying them from the nursery, then water them every three to four days until they acclimatize to their new environment. Thereafter, I water them whenever the soil feels dry to the touch.

Callas in pots dry out fairly quickly, so when growing them in plant pots, choose a pot that has holes at the bottom to allow for drainage. A plastic or clay pot works, but plastic is best because it retains moisture better than clay.

Light

Calla lily is a tropical plant that loves the sun, but it does not tolerate strong direct light because the intensity can affect the development of flowers. Ideally, placing the callas in an area that receives partial to full sun ensures they bloom and remain healthy. 

I planted my Callas in a south-facing area next to a wall so that they receive six to eight hours of light with adequate shade to shield them from extreme heat.

Fertilization

Calla lilies thrive when fed with a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus because it helps the callas form flowers. Although nitrogen promotes lush, green leaves, too much nitrogen reduces the number of flowers. Fertilize calla lilies every four weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer from the growing season until they produce flowers, then stop fertilizing once they have bloomed.

Repotting

It’s easy to keep your calla lily healthy and happy, but repotting is a necessary task that you must perform occasionally. Repotting helps the soil drain properly, which is essential for the survival of the calla lily. 

When repotting a new plant, I use a potting soil mix with added Coco peat, tree barks, and fertilizer. Then I place the plant in a pot that’s one size larger than the current container it’s growing in.

Overwintering

Although callas are evergreen, they do need a dormant period so that they can bloom during the flowering season. Here are two effective ways you can overwinter your calla lilies.

Overwinter Inground

In zones 8-11, you can overwinter the callas inground as long as they receive adequate sunlight and are watered less frequently to encourage dormancy. 

Add mulch over the root zone to maintain moisture, provide the plant with any nutrients it needs and protect it from harsh winter conditions during dormancy.

Overwinter Indoor

In zones 7 and lower, rhizomes need to be dug out and stored indoors to protect from frost. To prepare for storage, wait until the foliage has turned yellow or the frost has completely killed the foliage. 

Gently lift the yellowed foliage from the ground with a garden fork ensuring you don’t spear the rhizomes. Shake off any dirt, gently rinse the rhizomes with water then let them dry in the sun or a cool dry place to toughen the outer skin, this prevents the rhizome from rotting during the storage period. 

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Once the skin has toughened, store them in a paper bag or cardboard box in a dark, cool place, such as the basement, within a temperature range of 55 – 65 degrees Fahrenheit (12 – 18 degrees Celsius) until they are ready to use next spring.

Ways to Grow/Propagate Calla

Calla lilies are quite easy to grow in the home garden, and they can be propagated by cutting the rhizomes and planting them inground or in a plant pot. They grow successfully in water as well. Here’s how to grow your callas using different techniques.

Calla Lilly Rhizomes in the Ground 

Calla lily can be grown from seeds, but it is more convenient to grow them from rhizomes. Plant the calla lily rhizomes in the soil during spring or summer in a sunny area with well-draining soil. 

Space rhizomes 4 to 6 inches apart (10-15 cm). Add a good dose of fertilizer every four to six weeks and water frequently. The calla lily will begin growing within two weeks.

Calla Lilly Rhizome in a Pot 

 

  1. Fill a planting container that has drainage holes with well-draining potting soil. The number and size of drainage holes will depend on the size of the container. The container should be filled with approximately one-third soil. 
  2. Set a rhizome on top of the soil, covering it with just an inch (2 cm) or two of soil so that the rhizome is not fully submerged in the soil.
  3. Place the potted calla lily rhizome where it will receive partial shade for four to six hours per day. Direct sunlight may cause scorching and shorten the life span of your calla lily rhizome.
  4. Water your calla lily rhizome until water drains from the drainage holes at the bottom of your container, as this indicates that all of the soil has been thoroughly moistened. 
  5. Continue to water your calla lily rhizome once every two or three days to keep it sufficiently moist during its growing period. 

Calla Rhizome

Calla Lily in Water

Calla lilies are semi-aquatic plants so they can survive and bloom beautifully in the water. If you’re growing them in a vase, pour clean water and change it every three days, providing the plants with plenty of light and temperatures of between 73 –75 degrees Fahrenheit (25-28 degrees Celsius).

In a pond, callas grow well in water temperatures of 65 degrees F or more, in partial to full sun. 

Common Problems of Callas

Although callas are easy to grow, there are some common problems that you may encounter when growing calla lilies. Problems such as pests, root rot, and drooping leaves cause frustrations for a calla grower.

Disease or Pests

If your calla lily is drooping and showing signs of wilting despite being watered regularly, it may be struggling with a disease or pest infestation. Common pests include thrips which suck on leaf sap and aphids which suck sap on soft stems leaving behind curly or yellow leaves on the affected plants.

Remove any affected leaves and flowers as soon as possible and apply neem oil solution if necessary. 

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I make a neem solution by pouring 1 teaspoon of neem oil, ¼  teaspoon Castille or natural soap, and a liter of warm water into a spray bottle. The soap helps emulsify the neem with the water.

I spray the solution generously all over the plant, stem included, until the solution starts dripping from the leaves. Do this every seven days until the pests are eradicated.

Bacterial Soft Rot

In most cases, bacterial soft rot isn’t caused by underwatering but by overwatering. When you water your calla lily too much, its roots can’t get enough oxygen from the soil. The rotting effect causes the entire plant to die back. 

If you suspect root rot, stop watering your calla lily immediately and reduce watering during spring and summer to once a week if there’s no rain for a week and twice a month during fall and winter. Alternatively, you can fix root rot by following these steps:  

  1. Dig out the infected rhizomes
  2. Remove the rotten part, wash the uninfected rhizomes and leave them to dry in the sun. 
  3. Replace the space with new soil mixed with a bit of fertilizer (according to packaging instructions).
  4. Replant the dry rhizomes.
  5. Water every three days. 

Drooping Leaves

One of the most common causes of drooping calla leaves is underwatering. To avoid this, keep your plant happy by watering regularly. If you allow the soil to dry out too much, it can cause drooping.

Another common cause of drooping callas is too much nitrogen added to the soil during fertilizer applications. To fix this problem, use a fertilizer with higher phosphorus content than nitrogen.

Final Words

Calla lilies are worth considering if you’re looking for elegant plants to add to your home. Growing calla lilies is quite simple. Just ensure that the environment is well-suited for them by keeping them watered, and fertilized, placing them in a sunny area, and inducing dormancy when necessary. If you do these things, your plant should prosper yearly.

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