When is a flower more than a flower, and what can you do to care for your calla lily before and after it comes into bloom?
If you think those are two entirely separate questions, then you might want to brush up on your knowledge of “flower language,” the Victorian phenomenon of sending coded messages in the form of flowers.
A calla lily came to mean “magnificent beauty” in the parlance of Victorian flower language, and some took its meaning even further as an expression of sexuality.
Sigmund Freud commented on the flower as an expression of eroticism and sexual orientation in his 1095 work Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. Those erotic undertones resonated with painters such as Diego Rivera and Georgia O’Keeffe as well, and while the latter later denied those associations, she continued to paint erotically-interpreted calla lilies throughout the 1920s and 30s, such as 1928’s “Two Calla Lilies on Pink.”
Part of the reason her calla lilies are interpreted that way is because they exemplify “magnificent beauty” while in full bloom – so what do you have to do to keep your calla lilies in bloom, what should you do to take care of them after that, what might go wrong, and how can you make them right again?
Caring for Calla Lilies
A few basic facts about cultivating calla lilies:
- These types of lilies do best in moist soil, so you’ll want to make sure to water them when the soil starts to get dry. You don’t need to wait too long – even slightly dry soil is a sign that your calla lily may be ready to be watered again.
- These plants favor soil that is well-drained and porous. Sandy soils can work if you add some fertilizer, but clay soils are more problematic, since too much nitrogen can kill buds.
- That said, you don’t want to overwater your calla lilies, either. As we’ll see later, doing so can cause all manner of root and drooping problems.
- Calla lilies do the best in zones 8 to 10. That said, since they originate from South Africa, they tend to do better in warmer temperatures (think zone 9 and warmer), or you might just want to treat them as though they were perennials.
- In terms of exposure, calla lilies do the best with a balance between full sunlight and partial shade. Ideally, you should treat your calla lilies to a lighting setup that’s bright yet indirect so they get plenty of sunlight without getting scorched.
- These flowers bloom best between February and June once the winter frost has thawed for good. Ideal planting conditions include planting them about three to four inches in porous soil in your gardening setup or in containers that can mimic these conditions in an indoor planting setup.
- Calla lilies take about eight weeks after they have been planted for their stalks to start shooting up from the soil. After that, you should start to see blossoms emerge in the following couple of months.
- As indicated by their South African roots, these flowers are not meant to brave cold conditions, so as soon as it starts to get chilly in autumn and especially in the wintertime, you’ll want to bring them inside so they can stay nice and warm.
- Keep in mind that calla lilies can be toxic if they are ingested by pets, so keep them far away.
Deadheading Calla Lilies
Even after calla lilies bloom, you still have a lot of caretaking ahead of you, and deadheading is a big part of that. For those not in the know, deadheading is the process of removing old blooms and buds.
Why would you want to do that? If you don’t, those old blooms and buds can die off and get in the way of new ones blooming, thus causing your flower to become stunted and eventually die off.
This is thus an essential element of caring for your calla lilies after they have bloomed, and is imperative for ensuring that they are able to bloom again in the future.
It is especially important to deadhead calla lilies because unlike many other flowers, calla lilies do not drop their petals once they have finished blooming, but rather roll up into a tube-like shape, which in turn can result in the plant turning a greenish hue.
If you see calla lilies like that in your garden, it’s a sign that they are done blooming and should be clipped since they will otherwise impede the future growth of the plant.
However, unlike many other lilies, deadheading alone is not enough to bring blossoms back with calla lilies, since once their blooms have died off, they will display only foliage until they come back into bloom next spring.
That said, you should still deadhead your calla lilies for two key reasons.
First, it simply looks cleaner and nicer to have a well-trimmed plant rather than one with greenish dead foliage growing out all over it, let alone the impact that could have on future growth.
Second, deadheading is essential for ensuring that the calla lily can grow back large in the coming seasons, allowing the plant to shed its unnecessary dead bits and start to regenerate itself.
Deadheading a calla lily is relatively easy. To begin with, you’ll want to take a set of scissors or garden shears and start clipping off the dead bits near the base of the plant.
While doing this, you want to be extra careful not to accidentally clip other, healthy areas of the plant.
In addition, you’ll also want to make sure that you clear away the dead bits in such a way that the stem is not sticking up amidst a bunch of dead leaves. Instead, you want to clip this and leave the stem as a stub around the base of the plant, allowing the flower to regenerate itself anew next season.
Finally, while deadheading your calla lily, you want to make sure to spare a thought to how it will look. Again, this is just as much about aesthetics as long-term health and buds blooming back, so make sure you trim your calla lilies in a neat and controlled manner.
Why Your Calla Lilies Might Not Bloom
As mentioned above, the eroticism of calla lilies comes from their “magnificent beauty” when in bloom, which makes the idea of their “drooping” all the more unfortunate. There are several reasons why your calla lilies might not be experiencing the full bloom or may have already bloomed and wilted.
The most common reasons for your calla lilies not blooming or starting to falter once they do are a lack of sunlight, a lack of water, or too much nitrogen in their fertilizer.
Too much fertilizer may seem like an odd problem to have with plants. Surely you want them to get as many nutrients as possible so they can bloom big and beautiful, don’t you?
Well, less isn’t always more with plants and fertilizer, and that’s certainly the case with flowers such as calla lilies. Too much fertilizer can cause the foliage to grow fast and lush, sure, but that’s mainly for the leaves, which you don’t care as much about as the actual bloom, which can be damaged if there is too much nitrogen.
A lack of sunlight can also be a major problem for the long-term health of calla lilies. Although you don’t want them in direct sunlight all the time, if they have too much shade, they won’t get nearly enough light to properly bloom.
What You Can Do About it
Thankfully, there are a bevy of ways you can reinvigorate drooping calla lilies or specimens that are having trouble after they’ve already bloomed.
If your calla lilies are being overwhelmed by the nitrogen content of your fertilizer, you may want to switch to a fertilizer that has more phosphorus. You should also be more sparing about how much fertilizer you give them, since a little can go a long way.
If your calla lilies are not getting enough water, they can start to become stunted and yellow, and they may eventually wilt. The obvious remedy for this situation is to give your calla lily more water, but you should be cautious about giving it too much because you don’t want to drown it, either.
That said, if you start to notice the soil starting to dry out at the top, chances are it’s time to water it once more.
When properly cared for, calla lilies are elegant plants that can be a centerpiece of your home or garden. That said, when they start to die off, it is important that you deadhead them and keep their base neat and tidy so as to keep them from looking ugly and so that they can grow back all the more beautiful in the next season.
Whether you see it as exotic, erotic, or simply “magnificent beauty,” calla lilies have us all speaking the same language in appreciation of their elegance and splendor.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.