Cannas (Canna spp.) are a genus of beautiful, easy-to-grow plants with showy flowers that come in red, pink, yellow, orange, and cream. 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, underground stems that send up plant shoots.
Throughout their hardiness zone, cannas can be left 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. But then they grow at a fairly quick pace and typically flower in their first year.
|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)|
|Flower Color||Red, orange, yellow, pink, cream|
|Hardiness Zones||7 to 10 (USDA); roots can be dug up and stored in colder climates|
|Native Areas||South America, Central America, West Indies, Mexico, southeastern United States|
Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for Canna Lilies
In the garden, plant canna rhizomes horizontally 5 inches deep, and cover them with a thick layer of mulch. Leave about 2 feet of space around the rhizomes. These plants don't like to be crowded, and if other plants encroach they might refuse to bloom.
After the first frost of the fall, cut the canna back to the ground. In colder climates, carefully dig up the rhizome clumps and store them for the winter in peat or vermiculite in a spot that doesn't fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. (You can simply bring container plants indoors in their pots.) Spray the rhizomes with water infrequently to prevent them from drying out, but don't allow them to sit in a consistently damp medium.
Canna leaves have a waxy coating that helps the plant resist fungal diseases. They are also generally resistant to pest problems, although you may find caterpillars or grasshoppers eating the leaves—just remove them by hand.
These plants prefer full sun to grow vibrant leaves and flowers, but they can survive in a little shade. Just make sure that the soil doesn't get overly moist due to the shade.
Cannas can tolerate a variety of soils as long as there is good 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.
Plan to water your canna once or twice a week. The soil should be kept uniformly moist but not soggy. Otherwise, this can lead to rot in the plant.
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, cannas may start slowly. You can get a head start by starting them in pots indoors, then move them outdoors once they are actively growing and all danger of frost has passed. Cannas are perennial in zones 7 to 10, but they are grown as annuals in cooler zones by digging up and storing the roots over winter.
These plants are native to tropical zones, so they also do well in 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.
Cannas are heavy feeders. So use plenty of compost or organic fertilizer to keep the plant happy. As long as you use organic materials, you cannot overfertilize a canna. Feed monthly throughout the growing season, starting in the early spring, with a balanced fertilizer.
There are hundreds of varieties of cannas, ranging in color and size. Some popular varieties include:
- 'King Humbert': This variety originated in 1902 and has dark bronze-purple foliage and red flowers.
- 'Shenandoah': This plant bears deep pink flowers with burgundy leaves.
- 'Tropicana': This a newer variety with orange flowers that grow above the leaves, which are striped with burgundy, gold, yellow, pink, and green.
- 'Pretoria' ('Bengal Tiger'): This cultivar has bicolored orange flowers and yellow and green striped foliage.
- 'The President': The scarlet flowers of this variety strikingly contrast with its deep green foliage.
- 'Stuttgart': This cultivar is distinguished by its variegated green-and-white foliage with random patterns. Its flowers are orange.
Cannas generally do not need pruning, but deadheading the flowers (once they have faded) will help the plants rebloom. If you prize the foliage of your cannas over their flowers, you can simply cut off the flower stalks before they bloom, so the plants give all of their energy toward the leaves.
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 piece in prepared soil at a depth of 5 inches.
Growing Cannas in Containers
Cannas are large plants, so bigger is better in terms of choosing planting containers. Choose a pot that is between 15 and 18 inches in diameter. This is not only for aesthetic reasons; it also gives the plant space to grow strong and healthy, and it prevents the pot from tipping over.
Make sure your pot 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 give them a head start on the next growing season by potting them four to six weeks before the last frost in spring. Water judiciously to maintain moisture but do not keep the soil wet. Move the pots outdoors after the danger of frost has passed.
Common Pests/ Diseases
Slugs, snails, and Japanese beetles delight in chewing holes in the leaves and flowers of cannas. 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 then 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 using a mild insecticide on the plant.
Cannas also are susceptible to rust fungus, canna mosaic virus, and aster yellows. Watch out for 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 remove the entire plant.