How to Cultivate and Care for Calla Lilies (Calas, Cartuchos, or Alcatraz)

Calla lilies, known as calas, cartuchos, or alcatraz in different regions, are beloved for their elegant, trumpet-shaped flowers and lush, green foliage. These plants are not only visually stunning but also relatively easy to grow and maintain with the right care. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, this comprehensive guide will walk you through the steps of cultivating and caring for calla lilies, ensuring they thrive and add a touch of beauty to your garden or home.


Calla lilies (Zantedeschia) are perennial plants native to southern Africa. They are known for their striking blooms, which come in a variety of colors, including white, yellow, pink, red, and purple. The flowers, which are actually modified leaves called spathes, surround a central spike known as the spadix. Calla lilies can be grown both outdoors in garden beds and indoors in pots, making them versatile additions to any plant collection.

Choosing the Right Location

The first step in successfully growing calla lilies is selecting the right location. These plants prefer a spot that receives partial shade to full sun, depending on your climate. In hotter regions, providing some afternoon shade can prevent the flowers from wilting and the foliage from scorching. Calla lilies thrive in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, consider amending it with compost or peat moss to improve drainage.

Planting Calla Lilies

1. Selecting Rhizomes: Start by choosing healthy rhizomes, which are the underground stems from which calla lilies grow. Look for firm, plump rhizomes without any signs of rot or disease. Rhizomes can be purchased from garden centers or online nurseries.

2. Planting Depth and Spacing: Plant the rhizomes about 4 inches deep and 12 inches apart. Place them with the growing points facing upward. If you’re planting calla lilies in pots, choose containers that are at least 12 inches in diameter to give the rhizomes ample room to grow.

3. Watering: After planting, water the rhizomes thoroughly to settle the soil around them. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Calla lilies prefer evenly moist soil, especially during their growing season in spring and summer.

Care and Maintenance

1. Watering: Consistent moisture is key to healthy calla lilies. Water the plants regularly, ensuring the soil remains moist but not soggy. Overwatering can lead to root rot, so it’s important to allow the top inch of soil to dry out slightly between waterings. During periods of active growth and blooming, you may need to water more frequently.

2. Fertilizing: Calla lilies benefit from regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer. Apply a water-soluble fertilizer every month during the growing season, following the package instructions for dilution rates. Fertilizing encourages robust growth and abundant flowering.

3. Mulching: Applying a layer of mulch around the base of the plants helps retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Use organic mulch, such as shredded bark or compost, and refresh it as needed throughout the season.

4. Pruning: Remove spent flowers and yellowing leaves to keep the plants looking tidy and to encourage new growth. Deadheading, or removing faded blooms, directs the plant’s energy toward producing new flowers rather than setting seeds.

Winter Care

In colder climates where temperatures drop below freezing, calla lilies require special care to survive the winter. Since they are not frost-tolerant, you’ll need to dig up the rhizomes before the first frost and store them indoors.

1. Digging Up Rhizomes: Carefully dig up the rhizomes, taking care not to damage them. Shake off excess soil and let them dry in a cool, dry place for a few days.

2. Storing Rhizomes: Store the dried rhizomes in a paper bag or a box filled with peat moss or vermiculite. Keep them in a cool, dark place, such as a basement or garage, where temperatures remain between 50-60°F (10-15°C).

3. Replanting: In the spring, after the danger of frost has passed, replant the rhizomes outdoors or in pots. Water them well and resume regular care to encourage new growth.

Common Problems and Solutions

While calla lilies are generally easy to care for, they can encounter some common problems. Here are a few issues you might face and how to address them:

1. Yellowing Leaves: Yellowing leaves can be a sign of overwatering, underwatering, or nutrient deficiencies. Ensure the soil is consistently moist but not soggy, and consider fertilizing if the problem persists.

2. Pests: Calla lilies can be susceptible to pests such as aphids, spider mites, and snails. Inspect your plants regularly and treat infestations promptly with insecticidal soap or neem oil. For snails, consider using organic slug pellets or hand-picking them off the plants.

3. Fungal Diseases: Fungal diseases, such as root rot and leaf spot, can occur in overly wet conditions. To prevent these issues, avoid overhead watering, ensure good air circulation around the plants, and remove any affected foliage immediately.

Propagating Calla Lilies

Calla lilies can be propagated through division or from seeds. Division is the most common and reliable method.

1. Division: In late winter or early spring, when the plants are dormant, carefully lift the clump of rhizomes from the soil. Use a sharp knife to separate the rhizomes, ensuring each piece has at least one growing point. Replant the divisions immediately, following the planting steps outlined earlier.

2. Seeds: Growing calla lilies from seeds is possible but requires patience. Collect seeds from mature plants and sow them in a seed-starting mix. Keep the soil moist and provide bright, indirect light. Germination can take several weeks to months, and the seedlings may take a few years to flower.


Growing and caring for calla lilies can be a rewarding experience, adding elegance and color to your garden or indoor spaces. By choosing the right location, providing consistent care, and addressing common problems promptly, you can enjoy healthy, vibrant calla lilies year after year. Whether you’re cultivating them for their striking blooms or lush foliage, calla lilies are sure to bring beauty and joy to your gardening endeavors.

Engage with your plants, observe their needs, and adapt your care routines as necessary. With a little attention and effort, you’ll be rewarded with stunning calla lilies that enhance the natural beauty of your home and garden. Happy gardening!

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