All About Callas

all about callasall about callas

By Marianne Willburn, gardening expert, landscape designer and writer.

 

We often see the forced blooms of calla lilies in retail stores in the early spring, tempting us into an impulse purchase that usually ends in tears. Consider: Once we’ve taken them home and enjoyed the elegant, sophisticated flowers for a couple of weeks, we take the pots out to the garden with the best of intentions and subsequently lose them to frost. If we are lucky enough to have an early, frost-free spring, the foliage dies back, we assume we’ve lost them and promptly forget about them (only to truly lose them over the winter). Such an experience can put the gardener off from wanting to try to grow Callas at all.

Fortunately, florist cultivation and garden cultivation are two totally different things (and two totally different timelines). As with most plants, understanding the native conditions of Callas can help you grow them successfully as a gardener, and you’ll be enjoying these romantic, exotic blooms on Nature’s schedule in late June or early July.

An elegant flower

Calla flowers can come in a huge range of colors from purest white to deepest red. Many people love the exotic look of the almost-black cultivars, and others go for zesty oranges and bright yellows. The arrow-shaped foliage on many of these cultivars is decorative in its own right, displaying varying degrees of almost-translucent spotting on undulating leaves.

The flower of a Calla is actually a half-cone shaped spathe with a pale-yellow to bright-yellow spadix. If all goes well, the flower will set green berry-like fruits that gradually turn red. The seed will not come true from hybrid cultivars, but will be true in species plants.

Species calla such as the white Zantedeschia aethiopica can grow as tall as 2-3 feet. Colorful cultivars are usually shorter (from 12-18”) and generally less hardy. If moisture levels are plentiful, the tall foliage of Z. aethiopica can add a terrific note of the tropics to your borders and beds.

Match your site to the needs of calla

Callas come from marshy habitats in South Africa, and this alerts the gardener to two major points when growing this plant: 1) It needs moisture and lots of it, and; 2) It may suffer from hardiness issues in cooler climates. During the dry season of summer in South Africa, it will often go dormant based on rainfall and moisture levels in soil – and so we must be prepared for this behavior from our plants in the United States.

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<a href="/flower-bulbs/calla-lily-flower-bulbs/calla-lily-bulb-odessa">Calla Lily Odessa</a> blooms rich dark purple flowers

In general, the colorful hybrid Callas are less hardy and more apt to go dormant quite quickly after blooming. The white species type, Z. aethiopica, can remain evergreen throughout the season in areas where the summer heat is not too punishing and the soil is moist, but still must be dug if winters are very cold.

Overwintering basics

In some areas, such as the Pacific Northwest, Callas are a regular sight in gardens and along roadside ditches, spreading with abandon and needing the judicious hand of a gardener to pull them. Most of us however don’t have this problem and must overwinter our plants (north of Zone 8).

To do this, either keep individual pots plunged in garden beds for easy removal, or dig the clumps before the first frost. As Callas usually die back in the garden, it’s easy to forget about them. By putting a marker near the clump when in flower, you can help yourself locate them for overwintering.

Keep them just-damp during the winter months to prevent desiccation in an area that stays frost-free. When all danger of frost has passed, the rhizomes can be put outside for a new growing season. Don’t forget to refresh your potting soil and/or garden soil – Callas like a rich environment with plenty of moisture-retaining organics. If a longer growing season is desired, repot earlier in winter and put in a warm (65°F), well-lit spot indoors, keeping well-watered until plants can be set out in the late spring.

  1. White Florist Calla Lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica, Florist Calla Lily

    'White Florist' Calla Lily is the original Calla from South Africa, where it made its home in the wet soils of stream banks. Here, it's famous for its pristine, white blossoms that a...

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    White Florist Calla Lily White Florist Calla Lily Zantedeschia aethiopica
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    'White Florist' Calla Lily is the original Calla from South Africa, where it made its home in the wet soils of stream banks. Here, it's famous for its pristine, white blossoms that are taller than other callas, at up to 3'. The perfectly-fluted flowers are an essential addition to bouquets. Plant 'White Florist' in a big pot on your patio, give it plenty of water and stand back! (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
  2. Orange Calla Lily Bulb Mango Close Up, Zantedeschia, Calla Lily

    'Mango' Calla Lily's bright apricot blooms are enchanting with coral accents and a blush of green where the flowerhead meets the stalk. Set against its deep green, spotted foliage, '...

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    Mango Calla Lily Mango Calla Lily Zantedeschia Mango
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    'Mango' Calla Lily's bright apricot blooms are enchanting with coral accents and a blush of green where the flowerhead meets the stalk. Set against its deep green, spotted foliage, 'Mango's tubular blooms are a delightful way to add warm color to the garden. Wonderful in patio pots. (Zantedeschia)
  3. Jewelbox Calla Collection

    Our Jewelbox Calla Collection combines glittering hues of garnet, emerald, and opal for a dazzling floral display. Elegant, fluted Calla blooms last from summer to fall and make exce...

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    Jewelbox Calla Collection Jewelbox Calla Collection Zantedeschia
    $37.98 Sale $28.49
    Per Collection of 4
    Our Jewelbox Calla Collection combines glittering hues of garnet, emerald, and opal for a dazzling floral display. Elegant, fluted Calla blooms last from summer to fall and make excellent cut flowers. Broad foliage adds refinement and gorgeous upright structure in containers. These easy-to-grow beauties are deer and rabbit resistant. Collection of 4 bulbs.
  4. Odessa Calla Lily, Zantedeschia rehmannii violacea Odessa

    'Odessa' Calla Lily blooms in a rich, dark, almost-black purple, yet shines and glows in the summer sun. When you pair the blooms with its bold, speckled leaves, this variety has the...

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    Odessa Calla Lily Odessa Calla Lily Zantedeschia rehmannii violacea Odessa
    As low as $9.32 Sale $6.99
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    'Odessa' Calla Lily blooms in a rich, dark, almost-black purple, yet shines and glows in the summer sun. When you pair the blooms with its bold, speckled leaves, this variety has the bones to be an eye-catching focal point in the landscape, though it's much more popular when cut for the vase. Grown as an annual in colder zones but hardy in zones 8-10. Deer resistant. (Zantedeschia)
  5. Best Gold Calla Lily, Zantedeschia Best Gold booming in the garden

    'Best Gold' Calla Lily brings rich, yellow blooms and plenty of elegance to the summer garden. Flowering from the middle of the season into fall, find a spot in the perennial bed to ...

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    Best Gold Calla Lily Best Gold Calla Lily Zantedeschia Best Gold
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    'Best Gold' Calla Lily brings rich, yellow blooms and plenty of elegance to the summer garden. Flowering from the middle of the season into fall, find a spot in the perennial bed to let 'Best Gold' fill in any gaps that could use a punch of cheerful yellow. Deer resistant and a bouquet favorite. (Zantedeschia)
  6. ‘Captain Rosette’ Calla Lily, Zantedeschia Captain Rosette, Pink Blooms,

    Captain Rosette Calla Lily brings florist-quality blooms to the garden in a lovely shade of pink. Dramatic vase-shaped flowers fade from light rose-pink to a cream-colored base. Long...

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    Captain Rosette® Calla Lily Captain Rosette® Calla Lily Zantedeschia Captain Rosette®
    As low as $9.32 Sale $6.99
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    Captain Rosette Calla Lily brings florist-quality blooms to the garden in a lovely shade of pink. Dramatic vase-shaped flowers fade from light rose-pink to a cream-colored base. Long, thick stems support the flower above bold, spotted foliage that is deer resistant. A dwarf Calla Lily with full-sized blooms, Captain Rosette is excellent for containers and cut flower arrangements. (Zantedeschia)
  7. Calla Bouquet Collection

    Our Calla Bouquet Collection features a selection of florist favorites with magnificent curved blooms in romantic white, pink, and pale purple. Calla lilies are unmistakable and are ...

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    Calla Bouquet Collection Calla Lily Zantedeschia
    $69.98 Sale $52.49
    Per Collection of 7
    Our Calla Bouquet Collection features a selection of florist favorites with magnificent curved blooms in romantic white, pink, and pale purple. Calla lilies are unmistakable and are beloved for elegant flower bouquets. Grow in full sun to part shade and expect abundant flowering throughout the summer – an excellent choice for containers and locations where you can admire your Calla Lilies up close. Plant plenty of these deer resistant, rabbit resistant, and easy to grow flowers for a garden overflowing with classic beauty.
  8. Albomaculata Calla Lily, Zantedeschia albomaculata close up of white flower

    The Albomaculata Calla is an elegant white, fluted flower with emerald green leaves that showcase graceful speckles in shades to match their blooms. Complemented by a cigarillo-shape...

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    Albomaculata Calla Lily Albomaculata Calla Lily Zantedeschia albomaculata
    As low as $9.99 Sale $7.49
    Per Bag of 1
    The Albomaculata Calla is an elegant white, fluted flower with emerald green leaves that showcase graceful speckles in shades to match their blooms. Complemented by a cigarillo-shaped center cone (spadix) in a rich, golden yellow, it's no wonder that this variety is so beloved. At 12-14" tall, plant Albomaculata Callas in full sun (or dappled light if your sun is strong) and expect blooms from mid summer until frost. (Zantedeschia albomaculata)

A good choice for aquatic gardens

As callas are originally a marsh-growing plant, they respond well to marginal, edge of pond situations and within the pond itself, growing in rich soil in a pot weighted with gravel.

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<a href="/flower-bulbs/calla-lily-flower-bulbs/calla-lily-bulb-best-gold">Calla Lily Best Gold</a> brings vibrant yellow blooms to the garden

The tallest of the callas, Z. aethiopica, is particularly suited to this environment as it can be placed in up to ten inches of water. In some colder areas of the US, this is below the level of ice in the winter and here it can stay. However, it is always safest to overwinter inside or experiment with one outside/one inside if you have any doubts as to hardiness.

Boggy, wet situations can encourage bacterial disease, so keep an eye on your plants growing in pond margins and remove if disease begins to rot foliage or flowers where they meet the soil.

In pots on the deck, think about plunging pots in with other exotic tropicals and sub-tropicals that love moisture such as colocasia and canna. As the summer wears on and their companions begin to outpace them, you can remove the callas, start to withhold moisture and begin their period of dormancy.

A little bit of work for a whole lot of elegance

Because the soft, half cones of calla are a mainstay of upscale florists and still regarded as an exotic bloom, they lend a touch of sophistication to a garden or a potted container arrangement. Once you’ve mastered matching this plant with the correct growing conditions, you’ll be thrilled by the oohsand ahhs you receive.

You don’t need to let on how easy they were to grow.


About the Author: Marianne Willburn is a columnist, blogger and author of the new book "Big Dreams, Small Garden: Creating Something Extraordinary in Your Ordinary Space." Originally from California, she now gardens in Virginia – read more at www.smalltowngardener.com.

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