How to Grow Canna Lily

orange cannas

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Cannas (Canna spp.) are a genus of beautiful, easy-to-grow tropical and sub-tropical plants with showy flowers that come in red, pink, yellow, orange, and cream. Their flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds. Canna leaves are wide and long (resembling banana leaves) in green, bronze, or multicolored patterns. Most cannas grow up to 6 feet tall and occasionally as tall as 8 feet. These plants grow from rhizomes, modified stems that store nutrients and send up shoots.

Throughout their hardiness zone, cannas can remain in the ground as true perennials. In colder climates, the rhizomes can be lifted in the fall, stored over winter, and replanted in the spring. Best planted from rhizomes in the early spring, cannas can take a few weeks to sprout. After sprouting, they grow at a fairly quick pace and typically flower in their first year.

Botanical Name Canna
Common Name Canna, canna lily
Plant Type Flowering perennial (annual in colder zones)
Mature Size 1 1/2– 8 feet tall, 1 1/2–6 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Rich, moist, well-draining
Soil pH 6.0 to 6.5  (slightly acidic)
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Red, orange, yellow, pink, cream, white; solid color or with contrasting spots
​Hardiness Zones 7 to 10 ( USDA); rhizomes must be dug and stored over winter in colder climates
Native Areas South America, Central America, West Indies, Mexico, southeastern United States
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Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Canna Lilies

Canna Care

In the garden, plant canna rhizomes horizontally in a planting hole four to six inches deep, fill the planting hole with soil and then add a thick layer of mulch. Space rhizomes 18 to 24 inches apart. These plants don't like to be crowded, and if other plants encroach they might refuse to bloom.

In colder climates, after the first frost in fall, cut the canna back to the ground. Carefully dig up the rhizome clumps and store them through the winter in peat moss or vermiculite in a location that doesn't fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray the rhizomes with water infrequently to prevent them from drying out, but don't allow them to sit in a consistently damp medium.  You can bring container-grown plants indoors in their pots.

Canna leaves have a waxy coating that helps resist fungal diseases. They are also generally resistant to pest problems, although you might find caterpillars or grasshoppers eating the leaves—remove them by hand.

closeup of canna lilies
​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
orange and red canna lilies
​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Light

These plants prefer full sun to grow vibrant leaves and flowers, but they can survive in partial sun. Just make sure that the soil doesn't become overly moist.

Soil

Cannas can tolerate a variety of soils with proper drainage. They prefer rich soils that are high in organic matter. A soil pH of roughly 6.5 is ideal, but cannas can handle a wide range of acidic to alkaline soils.

Water

Water your canna once or twice a week. The soil should be kept uniformly moist but not soggy. Otherwise, this can lead to rot.

Temperature and Humidity

Cannas are sensitive to cold temperatures and frost, but they thrive in temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In areas that have relatively cool springtime temperatures, canna growth might start slowly.

In cooler climates, Zones 7 and lower, you can get a head start on the growing season by starting them indoors in pots and then move them outdoors once they are actively growing and all danger of frost has passed.

These plants are native to tropical zones, so they also do well in warm and humid conditions. If you live in a dry climate, you can raise the humidity around a container plant by placing it on a dish filled with water and pebbles, making sure the bottom of the pot isn't touching the water.

Fertilizer

Cannas are heavy feeders. So use plenty of compost or organic fertilizer to keep the plant happy. If you are using organic materials, you cannot overfertilize a canna. Feed monthly throughout the growing season, starting in the early spring, with a balanced fertilizer.

Canna Varieties

There are hundreds of varieties of cannas, ranging in color and size. Some popular varieties include:

  • 'King Humbert': an older variety with dark bronze-purple foliage and large red to orange-red flowers
  • 'Shenandoah': bears deep pink flowers with burgundy leaves
  • 'Tropicana': produces orange flowers with leaves striped with burgundy, gold, yellow, pink, and green
  • 'Pretoria' ('Bengal Tiger'): bicolored orange flowers and yellow and green striped foliage
  • 'The President': very large scarlet flowers provide striking contrast with its deep green foliage
  • 'Stuttgart': produces orange flowers and is distinguished by its bold striped green-and-white foliage
King Humbert canna lily
​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 
Tropicana Canna Lilies
​The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Pruning

Cannas generally do not need pruning, but deadheading the flowers (once they have faded) will produce more blooms. If you prize the foliage of your cannas over their flowers, you can cut off the flower stalks before they bloom to enable the plants to direct their energy toward the foliage.

Propagating Cannas

Cannas are readily propagated by digging up the rhizomes and dividing them for replanting. Do this early in the spring or in the fall.

Carefully dig up the entire plant, taking care not to damage the rhizomes or the roots of the mother plant. Trim the above-ground growth so only about 1 inch extends from the crown (where the stems meet the rhizomes).

Clean excess soil from the rhizomes and note where the old rhizomes meet the new; cut along these joints to separate the rhizomes, making sure each piece has one or more eyes. If dividing in the fall, store them for the winter, then replant in the spring.

Plant each rhizome division in prepared soil at a depth of four to six inches.

Growing Cannas in Containers

Cannas are large plants, so bigger is better in terms of choosing an appropriate container. Choose a container that is no smaller than 16 inches in diameter with adequate drainage holes. A large container is not only important for aesthetic reasons of scale, A large container also gives the plant space to grow a strong and healthy root system, and prevents the container from becoming top heavy and tipping over as the plant matures.

Make sure the container has good drainage, and fill it with quality potting soil. Because cannas are heavy feeders, mix some slow-release fertilizer into your potting soil before you plant.

If you live in a cold-winter climate and have saved rhizomes from last year's plants, you can get a head start on the next growing season by potting up the rhizomes indoors four to six weeks before the last frost in spring. Maintain adequate moisture but do not make the soil overly wet. Move the pots outdoors or plant in the ground after the danger of frost has passed.

Common Pests/ Diseases

Slugs, snails, and Japanese beetles delight in chewing holes in canna leaves and flowers. But the worst pest is a caterpillar known as the canna leaf roller. The canna leaf roller moth lays its eggs in the bud of a growing stalk, and the hatching caterpillars leave a sticky webbing that prevents the leaf from unfurling. Remove a leaf if you see that it's unable to unfurl, and consider spraying the plant with insecticidal soap if pests are present

Cannas also are susceptible to rust fungus, canna mosaic virus, and aster yellows. Observe foliage that appears sickly and discolored. With rust fungus, you often can simply remove the affected leaves. But with canna mosaic virus and aster yellows, you often have to dispose of the entire plant.