Cannas available today range in height
from 2 to 8 feet. Shorties can be used in pots as focal points
and the taller ones as striking sentinels in the back of the
border. Wherever they are placed, they do not blend in. They
Cannas grow from a rhizome, a fleshy
underground stem. They can be potted and jump-started indoors in
April, then placed in the garden in late May or whenever the
weather has warmed reliably. Like all tropicals, they are slow
to mature. The foliage emerges early to midsummer, growing and
reaching skyward until the moment that it attains its full
height. This is when the flower unfolds. Then the show is
complete and will not end until the first hard frost.
Is it worth the wait? Absolutely! The
foliage alone adds a dramatic flourish to the scene. It brings
color, texture and architectural impact to the landscape.
Hybridizers have taken the original orange
and red cannas with green leaves that grew in grandma's garden
and created a myriad of color. In addition to orange and red,
the flowers can be pink, yellow, rose, coral and white. The
foliage ranges from burgundy and chocolate to variegated with
The leaves of 'Tropicana' contain bands of
red, pink, yellow and green topped by orange flowers. The
combination is unbeatable. Among my favorite cannas are
'Picasso' (yellow bloom with red spots), 'Lucifer' (scarlet with
yellow edging) and all of the 'Tropicana' series.
Grow Cannas in
Cannas are happiest in full sun. They
appreciate moisture, so keep them well watered. Some varieties
thrive in bog-like conditions. In my water garden, they are
positioned shallowly so that just the rim of the pot is covered
by water. They will not survive if planted too deeply. This is
yet another case of bog plants that like wet feet but not wet
Cannas are deer-proof and do not require
staking. Their foliage is like strong arrows that reach upward
without bending. When the leaves are fully mature, the flowers
appear on spikes.
Each bloom can last for several weeks and
leaves behind a seed pod. This should be carefully cut away
without removing the place on the spike where the next flower
will emerge. This allows the plant to devote its full energy to
producing more flowers and not seeds. Cannas are self-cleaning,
which means that they do not require deadheading. The only
maintenance is clearing away the fallen petals from the blooms
that have finished.
These tropical plants cannot survive
winter in our zone, but they can be overwintered indoors for
reuse next year. The process is not difficult.
Before the first frost, cut off the
foliage so that 6 inches of stem remains. Dig out the rhizome at
least a foot away from the base of the plant. During the summer,
the root system will have grown exponentially and the clump that
is unearthed will not resemble the original planting.
Once the rhizome is out, hose the soil
away and store it out of the sun in a place where it will dry
safely. Now you can view the parts that will make viable
plantings next season. Look for a node, the growing point that
will produce next year's stem. It is a white hooklike growth
next to the stalk.
Break apart the clump and save all of the
stems that have a node attached. I store these divisions in
cardboard boxes lined with plastic. I wet peat moss til it feels
like a dampened sponge, then fill the box with rhizomes topped
by a layer of peat. Cover the box, label the variety and store
in a very cool place. Mine goes in an unheated garage.
Start the cycle again in April by potting
these divisions and planting them outside after the last May
frost. Of course, if you prefer not to go through this process,
you can compost your plants in fall and restock in spring. The
beauty of recycling is not just saving money, but having
divisions to share with friends, family and neighbors.
Your garden is a story and you are the
author and illustrator. The chapters are the seasons. For me,
adding tropicals and especially the cannas completes the summer
pages. They resonate in the landscape like exclamation points.
They are the WOW factor.
Straw Bale Gardening
Gold-colored perennials for shade