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February 1, 2005 > Calla Lilies

Calla Lilies

by Pat Kite

Normally I am not a fan of big white calla lilies. They multiply endlessly in my garden, despite persistent yank-out efforts. An East Coast relative commented that they sell there for at least $5 a pot. I offered to send my entire yard batch to her. No luck.

However old-fashioned white Zantedeschia has recently wheedled its way into my garden favor. That's because I read someplace that they will thrive in mostly shade. Like many of us surrounded by neighboring tall trees and two story houses, I have oodles of shade. In one area I not only have shade, but it is dryish shade. Even worse, this is the view from my kitchen window.

So I went out with trusty shovel and dug up several calla batches. Of course I apologized to the callas for disturbing their peace and breeding sites, hoping to keep them in a positive mood. Then I plopped them into my viewing patch. So far they are still alive and thinking about growing. The alternative, I tell them, is the big green waste container. Just so they know.

Actually, callas of all colors are rather pretty. The new ones are tidier, smaller and come in reddish, pink, yellow, gold, orange and white with purplish spots. Of course I have never succeeded in growing these. But that's another story. Heirloom whites are pretty too. In this area, they often bloom in time for Easter. Some folks call them "Easter lilies." I used to give mine to Cissie and Bert Brose for church use.

White Zantedeschia can flower from early spring into early winter. If you get to them early, just as they open, and before snail attacks, cannas are super for indoor vase use. In the 1700s and early 1800s they were favorite party decorations. A nickname was "candle plant" because they looked so pretty in candlelight. Later, during the Art Noveau period, the clean line of calla flowers was copied in art and home furnishings.

Planting time for callas can be autumn, winter or early spring, depending on variety. Place the rhizomes about two to three inches deep, and about 12 inches apart. The whitish growth buds should point upward. While most callas are soil tolerant, they all require good drainage, and the more brightly hued varieties do better in slightly acid soil. Very few pests or diseases bother callas, a very nice garden plus. The smaller varieties also do quite nicely in pots.

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