Calla Lilies

Calla Lilies – Good Luck Charms

While travelling though our country, you can often find groups of Zantedeschia aethiopica with their large green leaves and white spathes standing tall in a wetland or marshy area where the rhizomes take advantage of the wet conditions and rich soil which keep them evergreen.

Before Van Riebeeck established a refreshment station at the Cape of Good Hope, this arum lily caught the eye of botanists and found its way to Europe in the 17th century. Our plain white arum has since morphed into what we have today – fantastic calla lilies in the most amazing colours and popular around the world.

The deciduous summer rainfall species Z. Pentlandii and Z. Rehmannii with their narrow sword-like leaves also caught attention and growers in New-Zealand and The Netherlands and used them to breed fabulous arums in unbelievable colours which are popular the world over called calla lilies. These wonderful plants can be grown in the garden, but are more well-known as houseplants to bring a touch of colour and brightness to the indoors.

How to get the best out of them

• Plant in rich, well-draining soil with added compost and drainage materials like bark chips or vermiculite.

• Give them plenty of water. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.

• Place in a brightly lit position and away from heating or air-conditioning units and drafts.

• Feed regularly – at least once a month in the growing season with a balanced liquid plant food.

• Reduce watering and feeding when the plant starts dying down in autumn and store the pots in a cool, dark place until spring. Cut off any dead foliage and stems. You can also lift and store the rhizomes to replant.

Problem solving

With proper care, calla lilies are easy to look after. However, there may be a time when they need some extra care. Here are some of the common problems and how to deal with them:

Flowers drooping – excess moisture may cause root rot and the stems of the plant to become limp. This in turn will cause the flowers to droop. Adjust and reduce the watering schedule and check the drainage to make sure the water drains freely when watering and that water is not collecting in trays. Flowers may also droop if the plants are underwatered. Once the leaves start to turn from green to brown, there is a problem with lack of water and this is easy to adjust.

Yellowing leaves – this is a sign that the plants are not getting enough nitrogen. Without nitrogen they may lose their colour and turn yellow and their growth may be stunted. Feed with a nitrogen-rich fertiliser and remove any yellowing leaves at the base. If this does not improve the situation then add an iron-chelate product for the treatment of chlorosis. Be aware though that excess nitrogen can cause the plants to have too much foliage and not any flowers and cause them to become floppy. This is a short-term fix and the normal feeding schedule should contain a more balanced fertiliser.

Flowers losing colour – as perennials, these plants will head for a dormant period in the autumn and start losing their colour or start turning green and brown. If it is not the season for this natural progression, your calla lilies may not be getting enough light. Move into a brighter position in indirect light or move them to a patio for a while. Also keep up with feeding them regularly once a month.

Flowers leaningZantedeschia plants are phototropic like sunflowers and will lean towards the sun. In order to keep the stems upright, rotate the pots regularly.

Top tip:

Moles love calla lily rhizomes. If planting in the garden in an area known for moles, it’s best to plant them in their pots straight into the ground so that the moles cannot get to the roots.

Interesting facts

• The name ‘Zantedeschia’ is named after Giovanni Zantedeschi (1773 – 1846), an Italian botanist and physician who had much in common with German botanist and physician Kurt Sprengel (1766 – 1833). Zantedeschia aethiopica carries the ‘Spreng’ abbreviation after its name as the plant was named by Kurt Sprengel. The two botanists were corresponding botanists for a time.

• For weddings, calla lilies are considered good luck charms for wedded bliss if arranged in bouquets. They are a popular choice for brides, reported to be third on the list after roses and other lilies.

• The name ‘calla’ means beautiful in Greek and today the lilies are still a symbol of beauty.

Why do Calla lilies cry?

Some plants present what is called ‘guttation’ which is the secretion of water droplets from the pores of the plant. This often happens when the plant soil is waterlogged. When the soil is moist, the pressure builds up around the roots and the plant deals with this by opening the stomata on the leaf surface and releasing some water to reduce the pressure. At night the stomata remain closed so the plant then opens another type of pore called a hydathode and releases sap through these pores. This phenomenon does not mean that the plants are getting too much water, but that the water is staying in the soil too long and it may be due to bad drainage or compacted soil. Fix the drainage problem or repot into fresh soil for the problem to subside.

The Gardener