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Calla Lily – How to Grow and Care Guide

Even though calla lilies aren’t really lilies, they are still gorgeous flowers that deserve a special place in your garden. While the prototypical calla lily is white, there are actually many colors to choose from, including gold, pink, red, black, and orange.

Despite their delicate look, calla lily bulbs are fairly easy to plant and grow, and even once they bloom, they continue to be low maintenance. But, if you’ve never grown calla lilies before, you may need some tips to be successful. This guide will help you plant and care for this incredibly beautiful flower.

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Calla Lily – How to Grow and Care Guide

Getting to Know Calla Lily 

Zantedeschia or calla lilies are perennial flowers

Zantedeschia is a genus consisting of eight species of rhizomatous and herbaceous plants in the Araceae family. Native to southern Africa, these plants occur from South Africa to more northern areas in Malawi.

Calla lilies are now grown on almost all continents except for Antarctica where they are commonly planted as ornamental additions to gardens or used as perky houseplants.

Commonly referred to as calla lily or arum lily, these plants are stable growers reaching about 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide in cultivation. Calla lilies are perennial flowers, which means they’ll grow every year as long as the environmental conditions are right. 

These flowers prefer a warm, humid climate, and grow best in growing zones 8 through 10, which in the United States are mostly in the southeastern states such as Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, and parts of North Carolina and Arkansas.

Calla lily or arum lily are stable growers reaching about 2 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide in cultivation

The West Coast close to the ocean also has the right climate to grow these pretty flowers. Calla lily hybrids are most comfortable in zone 9, which encompasses almost all of Florida, the southern tip of Texas, and the West Coast from Washington to Southern California.

Like many perennials, calla lilies first bloom in late spring and will continue to bloom throughout the summer. They can be grown in outside or inside gardens as long as they are planted in well-draining, constantly moist soil and get plenty of sunshine.

They will still grow in partial shade, but prefer full sun. If you plant them inside and maintain the right growth conditions, your calla lilies can bloom all year.

But, best practices dictate that you allow the plant to die for two months out of the year to encourage rest. This will cause the flowers to bloom even better during the next growing season.

Plant Name:

Calla Lily

Genus:

Zantedeschia

Species:

Multiple available

Common Names:

Calla lily, Arum lily

Location:

Indoor and outdoor

Type: 

Rhizomatous, herbaceous

Growth:

2 to 3 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide

Sun Requirements:

Full sun to part shade

Foliage Color:

Green

Flower Color:

White, pink, orange, golden-yellow, black

Flowering:

Summer

Hardiness Zones:

8 to 10

Maintenance Level:

Low

Poisonous for Pets:

Toxic to humans and pets


Popular Zantedeschia Varieties

Common calla lily flowers are usually white with a yellow spadix but there are also many other exciting varieties of this plant, each with their own cultivars, that have all been developed to feature unique colors and growing habits. 

Here are a few popular varieties of Zantedeschia:

Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Common Arum Lily’ 


Also known as giant white arum lily, this variety is the most popular and well-known of its genus. Growing to about 2 to 3 feet tall with large clusters of broad, lance-shaped green leaves and large white flowers with a sweet fragrance.

Common Arum Lily is the most popular and well-known of its genus

Zantedeschia elliottiana 

‘Golden Calla Lily’


Adored for its brilliant yellow flowers with deep-purple bases and its intense green leaves spotted with white, this variety is very showy and grows up to 2 feet tall. 

Golden Calla Lily is very showy and grows up to 2 feet tall

Zantedeschia albomaculata ‘Spotted Calla Lily’ 


As the name suggests, this variety produces gorgeous green foliage spotted with white and elegant, ivory-white chalice-shaped flowers that form stylishly on sturdy stems. Grows to about 1 to 2 feet tall and wide. 

Spotted Calla Lily produces gorgeous green foliage spotted with white and elegant, ivory-white chalice-shaped flowers

Zantedeschia rehmannii 

‘Pink Arum Lily’


During the flowering seasons in summer, this plant will burst with mauve to rose-purple blooms that form amidst unmarked green leaves that are semi-erect and not arrow-shaped like with other species in the genus. This variety grows to about 15 inches tall and 12 inches wide. 

Pink Arum Lily grows to about 15 inches tall and 12 inches wide

Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Common Arum Lily’ 

Common Arum Lily is the most popular and well-known of its genus

Also known as giant white arum lily, this variety is the most popular and well-known of its genus. Growing to about 2 to 3 feet tall with large clusters of broad, lance-shaped green leaves and large white flowers with a sweet fragrance.

Zantedeschia elliottiana ‘Golden Calla Lily’ 

Golden Calla Lily is very showy and grows up to 2 feet tall

Adored for its brilliant yellow flowers with deep-purple bases and its intense green leaves spotted with white, this variety is very showy and grows up to 2 feet tall. 

Zantedeschia albomaculata ‘Spotted Calla Lily’ 

Spotted Calla Lily produces gorgeous green foliage spotted with white and elegant, ivory-white chalice-shaped flowers

As the name suggests, this variety produces gorgeous green foliage spotted with white and elegant, ivory-white chalice-shaped flowers that form stylishly on sturdy stems. Grows to about 1 to 2 feet tall and wide. 

Zantedeschia rehmannii ‘Pink Arum Lily’ 

Pink Arum Lily grows to about 15 inches tall and 12 inches wide

During the flowering seasons in summer, this plant will burst with mauve to rose-purple blooms that form amidst unmarked green leaves that are semi-erect and not arrow-shaped like with other species in the genus. This variety grows to about 15 inches tall and 12 inches wide. 

Regardless of which calla lily you choose to establish, is it important to note that these plants are toxic to humans and pets, especially when ingested raw, so location in your home or garden will need to be considered accordingly.


How to Grow Calla lily

How to Grow Calla Lily

When planning your outdoor garden for calla lilies, you’ll want to make sure your soil is loose and has a good drainage system. You don’t want extremely dense soil like hard clay because the roots will sit too long in water, which deprives them of much-needed oxygen.

For the proper growth of calla lilies (and most other flowers), both water and oxygen are necessary, but if there’s too much water, there isn’t enough oxygen, which will lead to an early death. 

Your calla lilies should be planted in full sun or partial shade during the spring after the threat of a frost has passed. This will ensure the soil is sufficiently warm to incubate the calla lily bulbs.

You’ll want to plant the bulbs at least 10 centimeters from the surface, which is quite deep for bulbs, and they should be spaced about one foot apart.

Once your bulbs are planted, you’ll need to keep the soil moist (don’t allow the water to pool) and fertilize the garden monthly with a 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 fertilizer.


Calla Lily Propagation

Calla Lily Propagation

Propagating Calla Lily from Seeds

Growing these plants from seeds is possible but seed-grown plants will grow and flower much later than plants propagated using division. Calla lilies planted from seeds will take up to 3 years to bloom. Seeds will need to be pre-grown, starting in spring. 

  • Lightly spread your seeds onto a damp piece of paper towel and cover them once spread out. 
  • Place the paper towel in a cool and sheltered location like in your basement, cellar or a dark room.
  • After a couple of days, you should begin to notice new growth appearing from healthy seeds. You can discard any seeds that are not showing any signs of life. 
  • Prepare well-draining containers filled with a high-quality soilless medium such as peat moss, perlite or vermiculite. 
  • Place your healthy seeds into the containers and keep the soil moist, always checking for growth. 
  • Your containers should be placed in a warm location with bright but indirect light and away from any drafts. 
  • Ideally, you should only have 1 seedling per container. 
  • After a couple of weeks, your seedlings should start to develop. 
  • Let your seedlings develop for a few months before transplanting them into their forever homes. 

How to Propagate Calla Lily Using Division

These plants are reliably propagated by dividing their rhizomes or rooting structures. Calla lilies form in large clumps and you can quickly divide these clumps into separate, true to type plants. Divide plants in spring for establishment over summer.

  • Ground-grown plants will require you to use a spade, shovel or pitchfork to pull up the rhizome or rootstalk for division.

    If you choose to first establish the divided plant indoors, you will need a clean container and quality potting soil. Alternatively, you can place plants straight into your garden if the conditions allow. 
  • Use your shovel or pitchfork to cut around the roots to make it easier to pull the plant up. 
  • Once your plant has been lifted and you can see the clumped roots, you can gently tousle the dirt loose from the rhizome. 
  • Place your removed plant in a shaded but well-ventilated area for a few days to let it dry out. Try to avoid letting the plant get wet.
  • Once dry, use a sharp knife or pair of scissors and separate the rhizomes close to where they connect, being sure that each divided piece has some roots growing from it. 
  • Replant the divided rhizomes into a compost-enriched garden bed at least 6 inches from other plants or plant into potting containers filled with moist, well-draining soil. 
  • Alternatively, you can also store the divided rhizomes over the winter for establishment the following spring. 

Calla Lily Care Guide

Caring for Zantedeschia Outdoors

Caring for Zantedeschia Outdoors

Once your calla lilies are established in your outdoor garden, they’re actually very easy to take care of. You’ll just need to keep the soil moist by watering you calla lily whenever it starts to look slightly dry.

Again, do not allow the water to pool around the flowers because this will starve them of oxygen in the soil. Your bulbs will start blooming about eight weeks after being planted and will continue to bloom all summer long. 

When your calla lilies no longer bloom in a given season, which will typically occur in the fall, you can stop watering them and allow them to dry out.

If you live in an area that is not warm all year long, you might want to consider removing the bulbs from the ground over the winter to give them the best chance to survive.

Just after the first frost, cut back the withered plant to approximately three inches above the ground. Carefully dig up your bulbs and rinse off the soil in cool, running water.

Place the bulbs on a tray in a cool, dark place (like a shelf in a garage) until they have dried out for a few days. Wrap your bulbs separately in a paper sack or newspaper with a small amount of peat moss.

Avoid the bulbs from coming into contact with each other. The bulbs should stay dry over the winter, but they shouldn’t completely dry out. Check on them every so often and if they look shrunken or shriveled, mist them lightly to prevent them from drying out fully.

How to Care for Calla Lilies Indoors 

Calla Lily Care Guide

Indoor calla lily gardens are not much more difficult to care for than outdoor gardens, but since the soil in pots tend to dry out more quickly than outside soil, you’ll need to constantly ensure the soil is moist.

They need to be planted in pots that allow for adequate drainage because they should neve sit in standing water. You’ll also want to fertilize them, just as you would outside, since this provides extra nutrients to the flowers and makes them grow and bloom better.

There is a risk of aphids to indoor calla lilies, so keep an eye out for these pests. They will leave a sticky residue on the underside of the leaves that will attract ants.

You can usually control aphids by gently spraying the calla lilies with water or by removing them manually with a cotton swab. 


Potting & Repotting Zantedeschia

Potted calla lilies will need bigger containers as their roots develop. If you notice the roots start to become crowded or they stick out from the bottom of the current pot, you will know it’s time to repot. Their delicate roots do not respond well to being overcrowded or tangled up. 

Repot in spring to early summer and use a new container that is at least 2 to 3 inches deeper and wider than the current pot. 

  • Gently lift the flowers from the current pot and immediately place your plant into the new container. 
  • Be careful when dealing with the roots as they are very fragile. 
  • Backfill with soil in the larger container and water after planting. 
  • Keep the soil moist at all times for the first couple of days after repotting to help the roots settle. Try to avoid overwatering the soil. 
  • Terracotta pots are an excellent option as they allow for optimal air and water circulation around your plant. They will however cause your soil to dry faster meaning more frequent watering will be needed.

Common Calla Lily Problems and Diseases

Common Calla Lily Problems

It is important that these plants are grown in fast-draining soil and receive ample air circulation as they grow because they are susceptible to being overwatered, despite loving ample water.

For gardens, make sure your plant is spaced far enough away from others to ensure the soil is not being overly competed for and that it has plenty of space around it for airflow.

Rot/Botrytis

Overwatering can cause Zantedeschia to develop bacterial or fungal issues which appear as soft rot that forms as filmy grey mould on foliage, petals and stems. Mild cases can be treated by drastically reducing watering to allow the roots to dry. Severe cases of rot can be deadly for calla lilies. 

Browning Leaves

This can indicate that your fertilizer has too much nitrogen in it. Your plant may still look perky but brown edges will mean you need to move to a more balanced fertilizer. 

Wilting or Drooping Stems

This could either mean your plant isn’t getting enough water or that it’s getting too much. Be sure to stick to a consistent and healthy watering schedule and ensure your plant receives enough full sun each day. 

Overwintering Calla Lily

In areas cooler than zone 8, plants will need to be moved indoors over the winter period. Garden planted calla lilies will need to be dug up and stored in a cool and dry place during winter.

Potted garden plants can be placed indoors in the same environment. Your basement or garage can work great. Try to avoid watering your plants at all during this time. 

Troubleshooting Non-Blooming Calla Lilies

If your calla lilies aren’t blooming, it’s probably due to one of three problems. First, your soil may contain too much nitrogen. This will lead to very lush green plants, but no flowers. If this is your situation, replant your bulbs in soil that has a higher phosphorus content.

The second issue that could be causing your calla lilies to not bloom is a lack of water. This problem is easy to fix because you can control how much water your garden gets. You might just have to water it manually instead of relying on precipitation.

The final reason why your calla lilies aren’t blooming is a lack of sunlight. These plants love full sun and even though they can bloom in partial shade, they prefer a sunnier spot.

You may need to replant your calla lilies in a location that gets more sunlight or provide artificial light to give them what they need to bloom.


Calla Lily FAQs

Do calla lilies need full sun or shade?

In warm climates, they can grow just fine in full sun or partial shade. But in cooler areas, they will need full sun.

Is calla lily an indoor or outdoor plant?

Outside of its natural habitat, this plant does perform better when grown indoors, requiring basic growing conditions and little hassle. 

How many times does calla lily bloom?

Once planted in spring, they can produce flowers by midsummer to early fall, usually flowering for about 3 to 8 weeks depending on the conditions.


Wrapping Up Our Calla lily Growing Guide

Calla lilies are a stunning addition to any garden, and do especially well in the warmer southern states. Just be sure you give them the proper care when you’re planting the bulbs and during their months-long growing cycle and you’ll enjoy these wonderful flowers for many years to come.

About the Author Mabel Vasquez

Mabel has enjoyed a long career as a horticulturist, working in nurseries and greenhouses for many years. Although she loves all plants, Mabel has developed a particular passion over the years for herb gardens and indoor plants. Mabel has since retired from her horticulture career and loves sharing her many years of experience with our audience here at Sumo Gardener.

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