Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Can Canna

The vast majority of my yard and garden consists of edibles. Be it either, veggies, herbs, Citrus trees or some other kind of fruit. I figure if I am going to bust my butt in the garden working so hard, I want something tangible from it. Now, before you flower people out there start busting my chops, I do have some appreciation for the brightly colored beauties. I have a pretty nice collection of Camellias and I understand the importance of the flowers for my bee friends. With that last statement in mind, I do try to grow some flowers for them. My wife also seems to enjoy them, who knew!?
Don't get me wrong, I enjoy some flowers as well as the next person. I also like the more unusual, be it flower or foliage. Today's topic might not be all that unusual, but it can look that way.
Canna or Canna lily, (though not a true lily) is a genus of nineteen species of flowering plants. These plants are close relatives to Gingers and Bananas.
There has been so much hybridization of these plants that most experts just classify them as Canna X generalis. In case you don't read Botaneese (not a real word) that means General Canna. There are hundreds of named cultivars, ranging from less than 30 inches to more than 8 feet in height. If you want color, then these plants are for you. They come in colors from creams and yellows, to oranges and reds, and with a colorful diversity of leaf patterns as well. Cannas bloom from early Summer until frost, if you remove old blossoms regularly so that they do not set seed.

This is what greeted me the other morning. Both of these pictures are from my Bengal Tiger Canna.

Pretty huh?

Cannas are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the New World, from the Southern United States (Southern South Carolina on West to Southern Texas) and South to Northern Argentina.
They grow from a special modified root structure called a rhizome. A rhizome is the underground part of a horizontal stem of the plant that sends out roots from its nodes, kind of like a tuber, but not exactly.
They are very easy to grow.
They prefer full sun, 6-8 hours. They will however grow in part shade, an area which only receives 4-5 hours of sun. The flowers and foliage may not be as dramatic though.
You will want to feed them every 4 to 6 weeks throughout the growing season with a balanced fertilizer such as a 10-10-10 or a flower booster.
If you have a boggy area of your yard, this might be a plant to consider. Cannas like moist soil and will even thrive in boggy conditions. They can be grown in ordinary garden soils, but will need regular watering.
Listed as growing in Zones 8-12, they can be grown in colder areas, but where the ground freezes, either dig the rhizomes up for the Winter, or protect them with a thick layer of mulch. In cold climates, the rhizomes may be susceptible to rot.
They can be grown in containers, but will need to be divided at least every other year to avoid overcrowding. This is also how they are propagated. Dig up the rhizome, cut it up into a few pieces, making sure there is at least one "eye", kind of like a potato and plant them back again. Plant the rhizomes pieces 2-4 inches deep. Cannas do produce seed, but it is rather difficult to grow them from this means.

Chocolate Cherry Canna

There are many named cultivars out there, way too many to mention here, but I am sure there is a color just for you.
'Ace of Spades' - red flowers
'Annjee' - mottled pink and gold flowers
'Camille Bernardin' - salmon over apricot flowers with blue green foliage
'Cleopatra' - orange over yellow flowers, sometimes producing a red petal or complete stem of red flowers
'Garton Baudie' - bright, orange red flowers
'Pfitzer's Confetti' - pale lemon flowers streaked with pink
'Una' - bright lolly pink flowers with gold edging
'Zebra' - red mottled flower
That is just a brief sampling of what you might be able to find.
I mentioned that they are easy to grow. They are also relatively pest free. They do sometimes however, fall victim to the Canna Leaf Roller and the resultant leaf damage. While not fatal to the plant, it does make for a nasty looking one.

To control, or if there is extensive damage, get some Bacillus thuringiensis or BT.
Any good garden center or nursery will know what it is. Please follow label directions.
Other pests: Slugs and snails are fond of Cannas and can leave large holes in the leaves, preferring the tender young leaves that have not yet unfurled.
Red Spider Mites can also be a problem during a very hot, long Summer.
Japanese beetles can also ravage the leaves if left uncontrolled.
Each of these pests have there own method of control, look on the label for each one specified.
Cannas are remarkably free of disease, compared to many other flowers. However, they can fall victim to Canna Rust, which is a fungal disease caused by Puccinia thaliae. Symptoms include orange spots on the plant's leaves and stems. In advanced stages of infection, the upper leaf surface spots come together, turn dark brown to black and finally, the infected leaves become dry and fall off.

Canna Rust

When Canna rust first appears, the affected foliage should be removed and discarded, otherwise the fungi will propagate and destroy the whole plant. The affected foliage should not be composted, because most home compost bins do not get hot enough to kill off the fungus, and it will simply spread it further.
Cannas are also susceptible to certain plant viruses, some of which are Canna specific, meaning they only affect Cannas. These may result in spotted or streaked leaves, if it is a mild case, but it can result in stunted growth, twisted and distorted blooms and foliage if left untreated.
The flowers are sometimes affected by a grey, fuzzy mold called Botrytis. Under humid conditions it is often found growing on the older flowers. Treatment is to simply remove the old flowers, so the mold does not spread to the new flowers.

As you can see they make a very elegant presentation. If you want a tropical look to your yard, plant Cannas with Bananas, Gingers and some cold hardy Palms.
While I was doing some of the research for this article, I came across some rather interesting and unusual uses for Canna lilies and some of the parts of the plant.
For instance:
The seeds are used as the mobile elements of the kayamb, a musical instrument from Reunion, as well as the hosho, a gourd rattle from Zimbabwe, where the seeds are known as "hota" seeds.
Cannas are used to extract many undesirable pollutants in a wetland environment as they have a high tolerance to contaminants.
Smoke from the burning leaves is said to be insecticidal.
And finally, Father's Day is fast approaching....have a gift yet?
In Thailand, Cannas are a traditional gift for Father's Day, just tell your Father you are observing an international celebration this year!
Happy Growing!


  1. Great post and some really useful tips there. I love resource lists like this. Have social bookmarked it in the hope that others can also benefit.

  2. THANK YOU!! We live in Moncks Corner SC so you are in our area! My Cannas were beautiful last year and all of a sudden this year they are looking bad! I just unrolled a leaf that looks just like the one above! I do have some holes in the bigger leaves but will go get some BT!

  3. Great tips here, I have been looking for an article on canna's for a long time and just found this.

  4. I live in Ireland and the climate probably isn't really suitable for growing canna's but I have a very large wooden container planted with cana's which is bordering our decking, its about 13 feet long x 1.5 feet wide and its about 2.5 feet in depth. They provide a stunning shelter in the summer months. However they flower very late, I have a mix of purple leaved canna's and green leaved canna's. The green leaved ones did flower but the purple leaved didnt flower at all last year. Also this winter i left them in the container(I dont have a greenhouse to store them) but a heavy snow fell a couple of weeks ago and I think I may have lost the canna's. I have tulips flowering in the same container but no sign of life or budding in the canna's at all. Any suggestions on what I could do to save them or is it too late? Thank you

    1. If the Tulips are up, the cannas may not be far behind.
      Did down a little where they would be and see if they are at least still there/plump/etc.
      You might see a few little sprigs coming up from the rhizomes, if they are not there or if they are mushy, there is no hope..