Calla – The Elegant Lily

The calla lily has a distinctive, white, funnel-shaped blossom, borne on a strong, green stem. Long a favorite in bridal bouquets, its symbolic meaning is Magnificent Beauty. Many people would agree, including the artist Georgia O’Keefe, a Sun Prairie native, who painted a series featuring callas.

Calla lilies are long lasting as cut flowers and are known to stand well in the garden, lasting for about three weeks. Calla lilies are easy to grow and have few pest problems. Deer generally will not eat them. However, they are not winter hardy in our area, and must be dug up and stored over winter as you would dahlias and gladiolas.

To determine a successful location for calla lilies it is helpful to know that the calla lily is native to southern Africa where it thrives on the banks of streams and ponds. So, it prefers moist soil. The growth will be stunted and the leaves yellowed or even wilted if it does not get enough water. A water garden is a good location. If you do not have a location that is naturally moist you will need to water frequently.

Callas also like full sun. Morning sun is particularly important. They can tolerate a few hours of afternoon shade.

To promote blooms avoid using a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen. Nitrogen will encourage lush growth but prohibit blooms. Instead use a fertilizer that is higher in phosphorous. Phosphorous is the middle number in the fertilizer analysis numbers: Nitrogen – Phosphorous – Potassium. Lawn starter fertilizer will have higher phosphorous as will some of the fertilizers for african violets.

Bulbs can be stored for winter and replanted again in the spring. The bulbs should be dug before frost. Start by trimming the plant down to the surface of the soil. Carefully dig and loosen the soil until you can easily lift them out. Brush off any excess soil and lay them out to dry in the sun for a few days. Store the bulbs in a cool, dark, well-ventilated location until re-planting the following spring.

Spring planting occurs after the danger of frost has passed. Plant the bulb with the smooth, rounded side down and the eyes up. If you are not sure, plant the bulb on its side. The shoots will figure which way is up.

Calla lilies are beautiful, elegant flowers. Consider these magnificent beauties for your garden.


Sally Gawle
Certified Master Gardener

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