Learn About Calla Lillies

How to Sow

Planting Calla Lily Bulbs

  • Plant bulbs outside after all danger of frost has passed and daytime temperatures remain above 70 degrees.
  • Select a location in full sun, or in areas with hot summers, in an area with afternoon shade. Calla lilies prefer a good rich moist organic soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 8 inches. Level with a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
  • Most plants respond well to soils amended with organic matter. Compost is a wonderful form of organic matter with a good balance of nutrients and an ideal pH level, it can be added to your planting area at any time. If compost is not available, top dress the soil after planting with 1-2 inches of organic mulch, which will begin to breakdown into compost. After the growing season, a soil test will indicate what soil amendments are needed for the following season.
  • Plant bulbs 1-2 inches deep, 12 inches apart. The side with the “eyes” should be up as these are the growing points.
  • Bulbs may be started inside 6-8 weeks before all danger of frost has passed.

How to Grow

  • Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their germination.
  • Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For annuals an organic mulch of shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time. Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
  • Keep plants well-watered during the growing season, especially during dry spells. Plants need about 1 inch of rain per week during the growing season. Use a rain gauge to check to see if you need to add water. It's best to water with a drip or trickle system that delivers water at low pressure at the soil level. If you water with overhead sprinklers, water early in the day so the foliage has time to dry off before evening, to minimize disease problems. Keep the soil moist but not saturated.
  • After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer as higher rates may encourage root rots.
  • Monitor for pests and diseases. Check with your local Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls recommended for your area.
  • Calla lilies are hardy in zones 8-10, but need to be dug up and stored over the winter in cooler zones. In the fall before frost or when the foliage begins to die back, dig up the bulbs with the soil and tops clinging to them. Cut the foliage to about 2-3 inches from the bulb and allow to dry in a warm location with good air circulation for 4-7 days. Store bulbs at about 50 degrees F.

Growing tips

  • Calla lily may be grown in containers, or inside as a house plant.
  • The flowers are great for cutting, and the foliage is ornamental as well.
  • Caution: calla lilies are toxic to dogs and cats if eaten.

Common Pests and Problems

Bacterial Soft Rot: This disease affects the rhizomes and infects the plants through injuries. Burpee Recommends: Avoid injuring the rhizomes when planting or digging up in fall. If any are damaged discard.

Botrytis: This fungus causes a grey mold on flowers, leaves, stems and buds. It thrives in cool wet weather conditions. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected plant parts, avoid watering at night and getting water on the plant when watering. Make sure plants have good air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Root Rots: A number of pathogens cause root rots of seedlings as well as mature roots. Burpee Recommends: Practice crop rotation and do not plant related crops in the same area for several years. Pull up and discard infected plants. Make sure your soil has excellent drainage. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.

Virus (Various causes): The most characteristic sign of virus is tight and dark green mottling of the leaves. Young leaves may be bunched. Young plants may have a yellowish tone and become stunted. Burpee Recommends: This disease is readily spread by handling. Destroy diseased plants and the plants on either side.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects that can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Slugs: These pests leave large holes in the foliage or eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night and are mostly a problem in damp weather. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick, at night if possible. You can try attracting the slugs to traps either using cornmeal or beer. For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat. For a cornmeal trap, put a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar and put it on its side near the plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent but they cannot digest it and it will kill them. You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Thrips: Thrips are tiny needle-thin insects that are black or straw colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves and stems. The plant will have a stippling, discolored flecking or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips can spread many diseases from plant to plant. Burpee Recommends: Many thrips may be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between rows of plants. Remove weeds from the bed and remove debris from the bed after frost. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls.

Whitefly: These are small white flying insects that often rise up in a cloud when plants are disturbed or brushed against. Burpee Recommends: They are difficult to control without chemicals. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.

FAQ

Can I start calla lilies inside? Yes, calla lilies need warm soils in order to emerge so many gardeners prefer to start them early indoors. Start them about 6 weeks before last frost. Plant one inch deep in pots large enough to accommodate the bulbs and use a good quality potting soil. Keep the soil moist but not wet.

Can I grow calla lilies as houseplants? Absolutely, you can grow them in containers indoors.

Are calla lilies toxic to pets? Yes, calla lilies are toxic to dogs and cats if they eat them.

Why isn’t my calla lily blooming? This can be because of too much fertilizer, too little water or too little sunlight. Calla lilies bloom best in full sun, with some protection from afternoon sun in hot locations. If you are fertilizing, stop. Only use a low nitrogen fertilizer. Be sure plants get plenty of water and watch for wilting.

Do calla lilies need to go dormant? Yes, calla lilies will not bloom unless they go dormant after blooming. If you are growing them as houseplants after they bloom, stop watering until they go dormant and cut back the foliage. Place in a cool location for two months and start watering again.

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