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Gail's Gardens January 2015


Gail's Gardens January 2015

by Gail Fanning

For me the New Year is always marked by the appearance of the calla lily: mine are “pass-along” plants that I received many years ago from a friend.  I have moved them from house to house, divided them, and they continue to multiply happily. They re-appear magically as soon as the rains start each year. I love having their beautiful blooms in the house during the dark days of winter, and often combine them in a vase with the fresh red photinia leaves which also appear at this time of year.

Formally & botanically known as Zantedeschia aethiopica, the calla is native to South Africa. It is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial, whose native habitat is on stream banks or pond edges in up to 12” of water. In the dry season it is deciduous, and disappears completely back to its underground bulb/tuber if not watered.Gail's Gardens January 2015

Although called a calla lily (or sometimes an arum lily), the calla is not botanically related to true lilies (genus Lilium). The calla is an arum and closely related to houseplants such as the philodendron. Named after an Italian botanist Professor Giovanni Zantedeschi, it is not known exactly when and how the calla lily was introduced to Europe, but it appeared in an illustrated account of the Royal Garden in Paris in 1664. The calla became a very popular flower: used for both funerals and weddings. It was especially popular since it could be made to bloom all year around in Europe using simple greenhouses. 

Over the centuries, the calla has become widely dispersed around the world: and in some places (Australia and New Zealand) it has been labeled a pest plant because it is so successful: indeed it is hard to get rid of here in California! Remember that all parts of the plant contain calcium oxalate which causes burning mouth, throat and stomach pain if eaten.

I personally love the old-fashioned calla, Zantedeschia aethiopica: it’s graceful white petals (actually spathes), yellow central spadix, and fresh green leaves are lovely subjects for painting and drawing. But there are many other varieties of calla in awesome colors: these hybrids are often called Mini Callas, and bloom in the summer. You can see the amazing colors available  online at Pacific Callas. All callas can be grown indoors in pots, and will be evergreen if kept above 55 degrees. F. 

If you are lucky enough to have a friend pass along some calla tubers (or you buy your own), plant them outdoors in a location that gets bright, morning light. They like some late afternoon shade, particularly in hot-summer areas.  Plant with the growing point upwards, 4 to 6 inches deep and 1 to 2 feet apart.  Even if you plant callas upside down or on their sides, they should sprout and grow just fine, so don't worry too much.  Callas like the sun, but they want their roots to be cool, so mulch the top of the soil if possible. Keep them well watered  (the rain should take care of that) and weeded. Callas grow best in a moist soil that includes some organic matter: they love good compost! 









January is the prime time to prune deciduous flowering vines, fruit and shade trees, grapes, and roses in Sunset zones 14-17 (that’s us!)   So get out there between the storms and get to work! Use pruning shears to cut branches or stems up to 3/4 inch in diameter, loppers for branches 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter, and a pruning saw for branches more than 1 inch in diameter. If you are unsure of your pruning techniques, you will find classes at many local nurseries during January. Pruning roses (yes, even if they are blooming now!) gives them a rest and stimulates new flowering growth in the spring. Happy New Year!

Have questions about your garden?  Send me an e-mail a for a personal reply.