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Make Anywhere Feel Tropical! Canna Lily Care and Growing Guide

No plant adds visual impact quite like a canna does! No matter your type of garden, you can embrace the tropical feeling and vivid colour of the canna lily. From growing in containers, dividing rhizomes, to deadheading the flowers, I’ve got all the answers to your canna care questions!

red canna lilies

Even my rainy, pacific northwest garden can feel like a tropical oasis with the addition of some canna lilies. These absolute stunners add incredible height and drama to the garden, with bright flowers and large leaves both doing a job well done.

Below, I’ll tell you exactly how I plant my canna lilies and care for them throughout the summer. And yes, you can even propagate and store them throughout the winter for next year’s garden!

This post will cover…

red Indian shot plant
Photo courtesy of Flowerbulbs.com

Meet the Canna Lily

Don’t be fooled! While it may have “lily” in the name, canna lilies do not belong to the lily family. Canna spp. is a genus with 10 species of plants. But like lilies, they come in an array of spectacular colours including red, pink, orange, yellow, and creamy white, all of which hummingbirds can’t get enough of.

What really makes the plant stand out is that the leaves are equally as gorgeous as the flowers. Similar to a banana plant, they have wide, long leaves that are heavily veined. New leaves come wrapped up tight before unfurling amongst the tight buds and flower stalks.

And while many gardeners ask for canna lily bulbs, what they’re really looking for are rhizomes! Canna lilies are not true bulbs and instead grow from rhizomes, modified stems that store nutrients and shoot up stems.

Canna lilies are tender perennials, hardy in zones 7-10. In colder climates, they will need to be dug up and overwintered. The plants grow an impressive 6-8 feet tall and flower in the summer from June to October.

Canna Lily Varieties

You’ll find a wide array of flower colours and leaf patterns when it comes to the canna lily. Here are just a few of the standouts for me.

  • Canna ‘Wyoming’: a winner of the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, this is sure a stand-out canna. It has bold orange flowers that contrast with dark burgundy/purple leaves.
  • Canna ‘Brilliant’: one of the most classic canna looks is red flowers atop bright green flowers. It’s sure to add a pop of the tropics to your garden or patio.
  • Canna indica: known more commonly as Indian shot or arrowroot, this is a minor food crop for the indigenous people of the Americas. It has large green to purplish leaves and comes in a variety of colours including yellow, orange, red, and white.
  • Canna ‘Toucan Coral’: this stunning canna comes in a soft salmon pink colour with bright green leaves. It’s one of the more unique canna colours you can find.
Canna 'Toucan Coral'
Canna ‘Toucan Coral’

How to Plant Canna Lilies

While you can plant canna lily seeds, it’s best to grow them from rhizomes. The seeds have low germination rates and require more than the average prep work before you can even plant them. Instead, look for potted canna lilies or rhizomes.

The more eyes the rhizome has, the bigger the plant will be. The eyes are small growth bumps on the rhizome. Look for large, plump, firm rhizomes with at least three eyes.

Plant the rhizomes 2-3 inches deep. Be careful not to plant them too deep, or you risk stunting their growth. The eyes of the plant should point upwards. Space the rhizomes 18-24 inches apart. Canna lilies don’t like to be crowded, so space them out from other plants too. Add mulch on top of the soil if you’ve planted them outside.

If you live in a cool climate, you can start your rhizomes indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost. Make sure you don’t plant them until the risk of frost has fully passed. A good rule of thumb is to plant them when you plant your tomatoes.

After 10-12 weeks, you should start to see some of the spectacular blooms. Canna lilies will flower their first year!

Container Planting

Canna lilies also do extremely well in large planters. As fairly large plants, they should be in containers no smaller than 16 inches in diameter.

Larger, heavier pots will help prevent the plant from getting too top-heavy and toppling over in the wind. So, if you’re looking for an excuse to get the big ceramic pot of your dreams, take this opportunity!

orange canna lily

Canna Lily Care

Canna lilies don’t require much care, but there are still some tricks you can pull out of your sleeve to get some bigger, better blooms than others on your block!

Sun Requirements

Canna lilies love full sun. While they can also survive in partial shade, they thrive in full sun. Give your canna lily at least four hours of sun.

If you live in a hot environment, try to provide some shade from the hot afternoon sun to avoid burning or drying out your canna. Sensitive to cold and frost, they can survive temperatures up to 90°F.

Soil

In a perfect world, your canna would enjoy acidic soil with a pH from 6 to 6.5. However, they do well in most acidic or neutral soils. The most important aspect of your soil is to not let it get too soggy and provide proper drainage if in a container. Otherwise, you may be looking at root rot.

Not sure what your soil’s pH is? Use this simple at-home pH test and find out.

Water

As a tropical, cannas do best in warm and humid conditions. If you’re experiencing drought conditions or getting less than 1 inch of rain per week, give your cannas some watering.

When it’s really hot, a good soaking every other day is a good idea. However, don’t let your canna sit in soggy soil.

red canna lily

Fertilizer

With such big and wonderful blooms, it makes sense that cannas are big feeders. If your canna is in containers on the patio or inside, feed them monthly with a slow-release fertilizer or every other week with a liquid fertilizer.

If planted outside, a good dose of compost is all you need to give your canna lily the nutrients it needs.

Pests and Diseases

With such lovely waxy leaves, the plant is fairly fungal resistant. The biggest issue you may see with cannas is caterpillars. The canna leaf roller lays its eggs in the stalks of the plant which can leave a webbing that prevents the leaves from unfurling.

Other than the caterpillars, you may also notice grasshoppers, snails, Japanese beetles, and rust fungus.

Deadheading

To get as many blooms as possible, you’ll need to do some deadheading. Once the blooms have gone, you can cut off the stalks with sharp shears or a knife. BUT remember that each flower stalk will produce approximately 2-4 spikes of blooms.

Cut the spent flowers down until the next side shoot. When the stem no longer produces any more spikes of flowers, you can remove the whole stem.

Most of the time you won’t need to stake the blooms to keep them upright, but you may want to in windy areas or to keep the plant tidy looking.

orange canna lilies

Propagating Canna Lily Rhizomes

Want more cannas? Canna plants are excellent at reproducing by making plenty of rhizomes. In fact, you should divide your canna every few years to help prevent it from overcrowding.

In early spring or fall, carefully dig up the entire plant once it has finished blooming for the year. Do not hurt the rhizomes or mother plant.

Trim the growth above to 1 inch above where the stems meet the rhizomes. Clean off the extra soil from the rhizomes by brushing it off with your hand.

With a sterile knife, cut along the joint between new and old rhizomes. Each piece needs at least 1 eye, though it should ideally have 4 or more.

If you dug up the plant in early spring, you can plant the new rhizomes right away. Otherwise, store them for the winter.

Storing Canna Lily Rhizomes

Once you’ve dug up or divided your canna lilies, you want to separate each rhizome from one another. Wrap in newspaper and some growing medium such as coconut coir or vermiculite. This helps to prevent rot and absorb moisture.

Store the rhizomes in a dry location that won’t drop below 40°F. A garage or basement usually works best! Every once in a while, check on your rhizomes. Give them a light spray of water to prevent them from getting too dry. But don’t keep them super moist. Throw out any rhizomes with rot. Don’t worry, not all of them will make it through the winter!

coral canna lily

Frequently Asked Questions About Canna Lilies

What to Plant with Canna Lilies?

As tall growers, canna lilies work best as a focal point in the garden or along tall borders. In containers, place them either in the center to be admired from all sides or in the back. Fill it in with annuals in complementary colours, going from tallest to shortest.

Great annuals include snapdragons, begonias, marigolds, pansies, elephant ears, dahlias, and creeping jenny, to name a few.

When Do Canna Lilies Bloom?

Canna lilies continuously bloom throughout the summer from June to October. Typically, you will begin to see blooms 10-12 weeks after planting the rhizomes.

Are Canna Lilies Perennials?

Canna lilies are tender perennials in USD zones 7-10. Any cannas grown in lower zones will need to be dug up and overwintered or grown inside.

Are Canna Lilies Poisonous to Dogs?

According to the ASPCA, canna lilies are nontoxic to dogs and cats. Despite their name, they are not a true lily and are safe to grow in a pet-friendly household.

How to Deadhead a Canna Lily?

Use a sharp knife or shears to remove any spent flower spikes. Keep in mind that each stem will produce approximately 2-4 spikes of blooms so be careful not to remove the whole stem until the stem no longer produces any more flowers. Until then, simply cut the flower spike until the next side shoot.

Do Canna Lilies Like Sun or Shade?

Canna lilies grow best in full sun, needing at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. They can grow in partial shade, but you’ll get the most blooms and happy canna lily plants in full sun.

Canna Wyoming
Canna ‘Wyoming’. Photo courtesy of flowerbulbs.com

Trust me, you won’t regret growing canna lilies in your garden this summer! If you have any more questions about growing a canna lily, leave them in the comments down below.

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Comments

  1. How close together should canna lillies be planted when doing a mass planting in a flower bed?

    Reply
    • It will say on the bulb instructions, because it depends on the variety. I like to plant at least 3-5 together in my small garden but larger numbers will look great as long as you choose odd numbers. Oh, and I always space a bit closer than recommended but this means dividing them more often.

      Reply

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