Friday, April 27, 2012

Calla Lily Elegance

Standard and mini white calla lily bridal bouquet with coral hypericum berries and ribbon (source:  author)

Callas are one of the most elegant, yet simple and graceful flowers, ever created.  Though most people may only picture the color white when thinking of this popular flower, it grows in many vibrant colors reminiscent of a summer Hawaiian sunset, including orange, burgundy, pink, red, purple, yellow, white and even a near-black and a chocolate shade. These flowers are available in miniature, average, and large sizes.

Orange and yellow calla lilies (source:

Here are some helpful steps should you choose to try growing your own spectacular callas either in pots or in the ground.  These steps to growing Calla Lilies are found on

Start Calla Lilies in Pots

Pink commercially grown calla lilies (source:

  • Start your calla lilies from tubers or rhizomes. Although they can be started from seed, it takes a long time and calla lily seeds do not have a high germination rate.
  • Plant the dormant tubers in 6 to 8-inch (15 to 20 cm) pots a few weeks before the last frost is expected in your area. If you live in a warm climate or the threat of frost has already passed, you can plant the tubers directly in the garden.  Bury the tubers 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) below the surface of the soil.
  • Place the pots in a sunny window. Keep the soil moist until the plants begin growing and it is time to put them in the garden or transplant them into larger containers.

Plant Calla Lilies Outside

Outside plantings of calla lilies (source:

  • Choose an outdoor location that gets partial sun and retains moisture if you live in a hot climate. Pick an area with full sun and moisture if you live in a cooler region
  • Prepare the soil for the calla lilies. Till the ground before planting and enrich the soil with organic mulch to help it retain moisture. This is especially important if you have rocky or sandy soil.  
  • Transplant the started plants or tubers into the ground once there is no threat of frost.  Space the plants at least 12 inches (30 cm) apart. Some calla lilies grow as tall as 4 feet (1.2 m) with a leaf spread of 1 foot (30 cm) or more.
  • Water the plants well and keep the soil moist throughout the growing season.
  • Fertilize the flowers regularly using a water-soluble general plant fertilizer. You may need to fertilize more than normal when the plants are forming their flowers.
  • Stop watering and feeding the plants at the end of the growing season. This allows the soil to dry out and the plants to die off. Even if you live in a warm climate, calla lilies need to go into a period of winter dormancy to bloom again the following year.
  • Dig the calla lilies out of the ground before the first frost if you live in a cool climate. Grab the plant close to ground and rock it back and forth until the soil around the base loosens, then carefully pull the tuber from the ground.
  • Sift through the soil with your hands or turn it carefully with a hand shovel to find any small tubers that formed underground but didn't have time to grow a plant.
  • Cut all remaining plant material from the tubers, then lay them in the sun to dry for a few days.
  • Store the tubers in dry peat moss inside a paper bag. Keep them at 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 13 C).
  • Break clusters apart into single tubers before planting them in the spring.

Grow Calla Lilies in Containers

Potted calla lilies (source:
  • Start your dormant tubers in 16-inch (40 cm) pots or larger, if you want to grow the flowers in containers. Although the calla lily's root system does not spread out much, using a large pot helps the soil to stay moist and allows enough space for the tubers to spread and make additional plants.
  • Use a potting soil with an organic mulch base or enrich the soil with organic matter before planting.
  • Keep the containers indoors. Calla lilies do well as floor plants near large windows or glass doors where they get plenty of sunlight.
  • Move the plants outside after all signs of frost have passed if you want to grow them outdoors in planters. Calla lilies grown in planters make nice additions to gardens, patios, porches and decks.
  • Water the plants regularly and make sure the soil stays moist. Plants grown in containers dry out more quickly than those that grow in the ground.
  • Fertilize potted calla lilies with an all-purpose plant fertilizer when flower buds first develop on the plants.
  • Stop watering and feeding the plants at the end of the growing season to allow them to go into dormancy.
  • Cut the plants to ground level and bring the pots back inside for the winter if you live in a cool weather climate. Store the pots in a cool, dark area that doesn't get colder than 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 C). Or, you can dig the tubers out of their pots and store them in peat moss for the winter.
    * Calla lilies are frequently hosts to spider mites. If you see webbing on the leaves, hose the plant off with a strong spray of water and then spray the plant with a solution of water and dish soap.

Caring for cut calla lilies in bouquets
  • Most colored callas are shipped already opened.  However, the large callas are often harvested and shipped partially closed, and may take 1-3 days to fully open.  
Cut white calla lilies (source:
  • Avoid touching the flower heads.
  • Put flowers in a clean bucket with clean, cool water with flower food (or 3-4 tablespoons of a clear soda beverage).  Place bucket in a dim, cool room (65-72 degrees F*) to allow them to condition for about 6 hours.
  • If stems have been out of water for more than 20 minutes, recut about 1/4 inch from the bottom of the stem at an angle (the slanted cut allows for maximum water intake) with a sharp knife or pruners to allow the flower to take up fresh water.
  • For large callas, keep the bucket full.  For mini calls, keep about 2 inches of water in the bucket.Be cautious of storing your cut callas in the refrigerator.  Refrigerators filled with food produce ethylene gas which will dramatically reduce the vase life of your calla lily. 
  • To avoid too much of a curved stem, wrap stems with twine or ribbon to keep them more straight during the conditioning phase. 
  • Callas stems can drip after being arranged into hand held bouquets (such as bridal bouquets).  To avoid dripping on fabric (or worse yet, a bridal gown), allow stems to be out of water for about 30 minutes prior to being held.
Mini white calla lily bouquet (source: author)
  •  If making a vase arrangement, change the water every other day to keep callas fresh (don't forget to add more flower food each time you change the water).

Cally lily vase arrangement (source:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Flower Bulb Care and Tips

Bulbs are one of nature's little care packages filled with wonder and surprise.  A gardener can plop some bulbs in the ground and in just a few months, up pops a colorful masterpiece.  Then what?  Here's a few tips on care of bulbs so that they can reward you with years of eye candy (assuming the kids and the wildlife don't ruin them first):

Bulb planting charts
When planting bulbs, follow depth instructions on the package.  It's always better to turn over a mound of soil when planting, then add soil amendments if necessary, rather then just digging up a little dish full with your hand shovel that's just barely big enough for the bulb to squeeze into.  Give those tender little roots a chance rather than making them struggle to grow in hard, dry, never-before-touched-by-humankind-soil.

Various bulb sizes 
Though not really necessary, you can give newly planted bulbs a sprinkle of bulb food or bone meal by placing it in the planting hole prior to placing the bulb.  If it makes you feel better, go for it.  But when the bulbs arrive at your home for planting, they generally have been well fed and are ready without needing a "bedtime" snack.  Water well after planting and before the ground freezes.

Masses of bulbs planted in color blocks
For a more spectacular show, don't plant bulbs in a row like little tin soldiers.  Plant them in clusters of 15 or 25 for smaller bulbs, and groups of 5-10 for larger bulbs.  We're going for drama here!

Young green spring bulb sprouts
If you live in a dry climate that doesn't get a boost of spring rain, you'll have to provide the watering services.  This is especially true when little green sprouts appear indicating that the bulb is awake.  A good soak a few times a week should suffice.

    Spring bulb bouquet with daffodils
    After the flowers appear, and you start to dream of making a bouquet, keep a few things in mind before you go clipper-happy.  While cutting some greenery from the bulb plant to accompany the flower stem is fine, don't cut too much or all of it.  That greenery will play an important role before the plant goes dormant.

    Tulip bulb seed pods
    After the flower fades, don't allow the seed pod to form, by cutting off the dead flower stem.  Growing and nurturing the seed pod will take away valuable nutrients from next year's flowers. 

    As the flower begins to fade and the lone greenery is left, please resist the temptation to chop it all down like a crew-cut so that you can plant your summer annuals.  Here is why:  as the bulb moves into dormancy, the greenery slowly dies.  But as it dies, critical nutrients are being pulled down into the bulb to provide it the 'umph' to grow again next spring.  If there is no greenery, there are no nutrients.  This move into dormancy is a good time to give your bulbs another shot of bulb food (which is what the grower did before sending it to you or the store).  Bulbs need yearly feeding to stay productive and happy.  General rule of thumb:  when you can pull off the foliage without any resistance, it's safe to remove it.

    Mother bulbs with baby bulblets 
    With each passing year, when taken care of properly, bulbs will grow little baby bulbs.  They start out small, about the size of a pea, then continue to grow and mature.  This is why a dozen daffodils planted in one year can produce a hundred daffodils in the years to come.  Some bulbs are better at reproducing than other bulbs.  Growing conditions can also make a difference--too much summer water can mildew and rot dormant bulbs in the ground.

    Thanksgiving Point Gardens, Lehi, Utah
    For maximum bloom performance, grounds of commercial gardens and buildings generally plant new bulbs each year, and often will sell the used bulbs to the public at a significant price savings.  It doesn't mean the bulb won't perform the next year, it just means the commercial establishment can't take a chance on a lackluster performance in their garden beds the following year and they can afford to do a complete overhaul.  But the home gardener often doesn't mind taking the risk or waiting out the dying foliage...just don't forget to feed them as mentioned earlier.

    As the foliage dies, an occasional watering is a good idea.  This enables the bulb food that you've placed on the ground and worked into the top inch or so of soil, to be fully dissolved and absorbed into the soil.

    Keep in mind that bulbs don't just bloom in the spring, such as tulips, daffodils, crocus, and iris.  Research all the varieties of summer blooming bulbs as well, such as asiatic lilies, gladiolus, allium, dahlias (which are technically tubers), and many others.  The same care instructions apply to all bulbs.

    Just one more thing, please, oh please, do not plant the bulbs upside down...the poor things already have to work so hard to grow.  Remember, it's pointed end up!