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Calla Lilies — Perfect For The Container

Giving calla lilies a head start indoors before they are put outdoors may extend their bloom period.

Many plants that grow from tubers and bulbs add an exotic touch to the garden because they have such exotic-looking foliage and flowers. Such plants are also easy to grow compared to starting things from seed – you simply purchase the desired root, plant it and watch it grow! Many bulbs and tubers are well suited to container gardening, firstly because they can be started indoors in their containers to get an early start on the growing season, and secondly because by growing them in pots they can be used as focal points in the landscape when they do come into bloom.

The calla lily is one of my favourite container plants. This attractive plant is so well suited to container gardening because it has attractive foliage as well as beautiful flowers so even when they are not in bloom calla lilies pack a punch in the landscape.

Early April is a good time to start calla lilies into growth if you want good-size plants when the time comes to put containers outdoors. Giving calla lilies a head start indoors before they are put outdoors may extend their bloom period – the first blooms will be earlier and if you are lucky a later flush of blooms may be enjoyed before frost cuts them down.

Calla lilies are long-blooming plants because the blooms really aren’t flowers; they are spathes which are quite long lasting. The spathes don’t die like flowers, rather, they gradually lose their colour and become green and nondescript as they age – at which time they should be cut off and consigned to the compost bin. Even when not in bloom, the foliage of the calla lily is one of its most attractive features; its green leaves are often covered with a spattering of white spots. The long, sword-shaped leaves are made more attractive because they tend to grow upward from a clump, producing a neat, tidy appearance – a feature that also makes them good container plants.

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia) produce spathes of several colours, including white, yellow, pink and red. Z. Elliotiana has lovely yellow blooms and spotted foliage. Z. Rehmannil sports pink or red spathes, some having spotted foliage; others having plain-green leaves. Some catalogues now advertise calla lilies whose flowers are peach, very pale pink or even bi-coloured.

Calla lilies like shade and the spathes will darken prematurely and even scorch if they are exposed to hot sunlight. They will take morning sun, so an eastern exposure works well for calla lilies, as does a location sheltered from the blazing mid-afternoon sun. Calla lilies also require lots of water, and they will not perform as well if they are allowed to dry out. Because of their love of moisture, calla lilies are good candidates for bog gardens and plantings next to ponds. During the growing season, calla lilies need to be fertilized regularly as they are heavy feeders.

I have had good success storing calla lilies for the winter in dry peat moss in a cool, dark location. I put mine in the same boxes as my dahlia tubers and they keep just fine. At the end of March or early April, the bulbs can be taken out of storage, divided and planted in pots. The bulbs multiply quite rapidly during the growing season, so don’t crowd the bulbs and use big enough pots.

The soil mix should contain lots of peat moss and the containers must have good drainage. Bone meal added to the soil will get the bulbs off to a good start and promote good root development. When the time comes to move them outdoors, the foliage will have grown enough to create attractive containers of foliage. The spathes usually appear by the end of June. Even if calla lilies are not started early, they still develop fully and bloom well before frost, so it isn’t necessary to start them early if you don’t have the indoor growing space to accommodate them.

Whether calla lilies are given a head start indoors or simply planted in May, their beauty can be enjoyed in the outdoor garden. Perhaps you will purchase some bulbs of these incredibly attractive plants for use in some of your patio containers this summer.

– Albert Parsons writes from Minnedosa, Manitoba

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