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Canna WOW!

Cannas create real drama in the landscape

By Susan Silverman 2016
Penn State Master Gardener
 


"For me, a garden is not complete without tropicals. Dahlias, callas, caladiums and cannas are the high notes that bring extra impact to the show. Cannas, in particular, create drama in the landscape." Susan Silverman


 
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 resonate.

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.

colorful cannas

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 sensational striping.

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 Full Sun

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 ankles.


Deer Proof Plants!

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.


Winter Hardiness

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.


Replanting in Spring

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.


Cannas are available at most nurseries and big box stores as well as American Meadows: 877-309-7333, Dutch Bulbs: 800 552-9916, Jung Seed: 800-297-3123.


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