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Calla Lily Basics

 

Callas provide late-summer color to a sunny garden

The calla lily (in this case, Zantedeschia) is related to caladiums and not lilies. They are not cold-hardy, but can overwinter as perennials in most areas if they are dug up. They're best identified by their dramatic trumpet shaped flowers. These are called spathes and are actually colored or white leaves that surround the true blooms.

Those we see most often fall within this grouping. The wild calla (Calla palustris) is what many horticulturists consider as a "true" calla. It is, indeed, well-suited to ponds and wetland locations. Wild callas are much more cold tolerant. This species is particularly poisonous when fresh, although the dried berries are deemed edible.

The most beloved white calla (Zantedeschia aethiopica) makes a beautiful statement when surrounded by greenery. This species in particular, thrives in boggy soil. It is also less temperature-sensitive than colored callas.

Callas love both full sun and wet conditions. With the right temperature and soil mix they can bloom at any time of year, but need a dormant period.

The bulbs, or tubers, need to harden for a few days - give them plenty of air circulation and a dry spot. When you're ready to plant, just be sure the new sprouts (or the side with the most "eyes") are facing upward. Once they're in the ground, expect to wait 2-3 months to see the colors burst forth. Soil should be well-draining, but kept moist without puddling water. (Some aquatic species can be placed in pots directly into back yard ponds.)

The blooms should be abundant from 1-2 months. Once spent, tend to the rest of the plant as this is when the tubers will build up resources for the following year. In all but zones 9 and 10, callas should be dug up and stored for winter.

Callas do well as potted plants and are always popular around Easter and for special occasions. They do not perform as well in an indoor container as in the garden, however.

Fertilization and pest/disease control are critical to calla health.

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