Canna Lily–You Can Grow That!

As one who avoids planting tender ‘bulbs’ due to the extra before-winter care they require, the tropical label carried by cannas kept them out of my zone 6 Connecticut gardens … until this year. A pass-along bag of cannas came my way in late spring, and found their way into large pots with the expectation that their upright foliage would help mask a less-than-perfect view.

Expectation realized …

Canna In The Outdoor Room Thumb

See the potted cannas at the rear of the chairs?

Their wonderfully large leaves helped block the view of the pool pump and heater. An extra benefit came when the canna blooms attracted hummingbirds.

With minimal time and effort we enjoyed the potted cannas – and the hummingbirds – in this full-sun location all summer and into early autumn when the canna leaves succumbed to cold temperatures. If I can grow canna, You Can Grow That! too.

You Can Grow That! is a campaign seeded by C.L. Fornari at Whole Life Gardening. On the 4th of each month, C.L. enlists the garden-blogging world to spread the word that gardening is good for people. Gardening fosters sharing and learning, enhances ones appreciation for nature and … quite frankly … it’s just not that hard.

Very little research was needed to learn out how to store the cannas during winter. Simply cut off spent foliage, remove the rhizomes from their pots, shake off the extra soil, and let them cure for a bit before choosing one of many storing methods.

The first step – removing from the pots – was the most difficult. I had potted the rhizomes pretty tightly into the pots in the spring. By autumn they were really jammed, making removal harder and more time consuming than expected. Had I read Ken Druse’s caution in Making More Plants … that “One canna section may produce a dozen new plants by autumn,”  I’d have given each rhizome more room in each pot.

By autumn, the two pots produced two paper bags, about half the size of a grocery store bag, of canna rhizomes – double the amount planted in spring. With one bag I’m following Ken’s advice. They’ll be surrounded by dry leaves and stored in a box or pail in the basement, where temperatures hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The other bag will remain in the unheated garage where temperatures often dip lower but not below freezing.

I like to experiment. Comparing how the cannas fair after storage in the two different locations should give some hints on how much abuse they will take and how to best overwinter them in the future.

Here’s a look at dug up canna rhizomes.


Here’s how they looked shortly before blooming.


Here they are blooming in July.

Canna In Bloom 7 27 12 Thumb

The canna foliage remained green until hit by a hard frost.

Growing cannas is not unusual, and is certainly not difficult … a tidbit many other gardeners learned far earlier than I … but this is part of the You Can Grow That! message. Gardening is about living and learning and experimenting and growing … and sharing it all with others. Read what other gardeners have shared at the You Can Grow That! website and, if you have canna experience, please share it in a comment below.



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15 comments for “Canna Lily–You Can Grow That!

  1. December 4, 2012 at 11:04 am

    Every year I think about cannas and then seem to forget. Won’t happen this spring. Thank you for the reminder AND tip about how much the rhizomes increase in size!

    • December 4, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Jacqui, I’m glad I was able to give the nudge you needed.

  2. December 4, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Is it possible to plant them out and dig them up or is it easier to use containers?

    • December 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      Laila, you can definitely plant them in the ground. Growing cannas in pots eliminates the need to dig the rhizomes from a garden bed before the ground freezes. If time is tight you can just move potted cannas into a protected area to deal with later.

  3. December 4, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    I had cannas for the first time this year, too. Mine are short yellow ones, about 24″ tall. Maybe we can work out a trade!! I’m experimenting with overwintering techniques, too. I read several articles that mentioned leaving the bulbs right in their containers, just cut off the foliage and store them. I like that no-fuss option so I’m giving that a try along with storing others in containers in the basement. Maybe I’ll add some leaves to one of the containers, too.

    • December 4, 2012 at 10:45 pm

      Debbie, I’m all for pulling a trade. It’s just too spooky that we both tried cannas for the first time and are both experimenting with overwintering techniques … like thinking once again.

      I considered overwintering cannas in the pots, but have limited garage space for overwintering pots. My fig has priority. We’ll have to compare notes at canna planting time next spring to see how each of our overwintering techniques worked.

  4. December 4, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    These are such bold plants I really like them. We have a number of them placed through out our yard. Every evening I would watch this particular Humming bird show up right around the same time and go from flower to flower. Hope to see her back again next year!

    • December 5, 2012 at 7:51 am

      I agree, Forest Keeper, canna leaves add great structure to a garden. Hummingbirds buzzing from flower to flower is the icing on the canna cake.

  5. December 5, 2012 at 9:45 am

    This must be the year for CT gardeners to experiment with cannas — along with you and Debbie, it was the first year I tried growing a canna too! I had a deep purple-leaved variety (‘Australia’) in a white pot and it was dramatic. And easy.

    But I did not overwinter mine, I decided to possibly try a green leaved variety next year.

    I absolutely love your pergola area. Love it.

    • December 5, 2012 at 10:21 am

      Must be something in the air, Laurrie, that urged us all to try cannas the same year. I should have some extra rhizomes if mine all overwinter well … I’m happy to share. Did you throw your canna rhizomes out? If not, you can still retrieve them for overwintering. I’m thinking of trying a dark-colored variety next year.

  6. December 5, 2012 at 11:30 am

    Joene, your display/view-blocker makes an elegant presentation, made even more dramatic by the sheltering pergola. Another example of a common plant being uncommonly beautiful.

    I submit another storage method for canna rhizomes: I grew a couple of plants in the compost (they loved the rich medium) and left the rhizomes to over-winter. Come spring, I’ll see if any survived.

    • December 6, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      Lee, your winter storage method brought a smile … I harvest many plants from my compost pile. I learned that young almond trees are hardy in zone 6 but are not deer resistant, that avacados love to grow in the compost pile and look much better there than they ever did growing on a windowsill, that Lamb’s Ear seeds need much hotter compost than mine (but I don’t mind the volunteers since I transplant them to fill holes in my garden beds), and that morning glories look glorious masking the compost each summer. I look forward to learning how your canna rhizomes survive this winter. Maybe we can swap?

  7. Andrew
    September 3, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    I would love a response from you.
    I live in the lower Hudson Valley just between Poughkeepsie and Newburgh NY. I am sure you know the area.
    Cold in winter, very cold last year. I have never planted Cannas although I have quite a bit of experience as an amateur and just now I am a beaming father of a pineapple growoing out of a head and lots of orchids with a dendrobium coming into annual bloom for the 8th straight year.

    So, at the head of my driveway, where there’s a bird feeder and a bunch of assorted annuals, comes this Canna! just after mid-July. Never planted it and have had the house for 4 years. It’s in bloom now and it is obviously a dwarf reaching only about 18″ . How did his happen? I would appreciate any thoughts on this new mystery in my life.


    • September 4, 2014 at 8:30 am

      What a happy surprise … so much better than finding a volunteer poison ivy or a known invasive plant. The fact that you’ve never planted canna tends to rule out the possibility that it came from your compost pile (I assume you have one), as happened to me. I have a volunteer canna growing in my raised bed vegetable garden that must have sprouted from a section of tuber that did not completely compost down. Another idea is that a vole or squirrel transported a piece of a tuber to this site from somewhere nearby. Do any of your neighbors plant canna? I’ve have voles redesign crocus plantings by moving the bulbs in underground tunnels. This also could have happened in your case. Regardless, you have one of nature’s surprises. Enjoy!

      • Andrew
        September 4, 2014 at 9:53 am

        no one in the area grows them. We have ground hogs and squirrels. And I do not have a compost pile.
        I can’t wait to see how far down the tuber is when I pull it up this Fall.

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