Grow Canna Flowers for Tropical Beauty in the Garden

Updated: May 14, 2024

Cannas flowers, sometimes called canna lilies, are semi-tropical plants that grow from rhizomes. Gardeners love the bold flowers and foliage.

South Pacific Orange canna gives a tropical glow to any backyard.All-America Selections
South Pacific Orange canna flowers give a tropical glow to any backyard.

When we bought our home in Florida several years ago, we found several treasures in the otherwise bland backyard. As we dug up an area to create my native butterfly garden, we came across several large rhizomes, apparently dormant. We weren’t sure what they were, so for the time being, we popped them into a pot and waited to see what would happen. With a few months, our rhizomes had put on 5 feet of growth with giant leaves followed by brilliant pink blooms. We had found a treasure trove of canna flowers!

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Canna Flower Care and Growing Tips

Bengal Tiger canna lily, foliage plantsBotanic World/Alamy Stock Photo
Bengal Tiger canna lily boasts bright orange flowers that stand on tall stalks above large striped green and yellow leaves.

Canna flowers, sometimes called canna lilies, are semi-tropical plants that grow from rhizomes. They are native to the warmer areas of the Americas. Golden canna (Canna flaccida) is native in the southeast United States, but most cannas flowers you buy today are cultivars or hybrids of a variety other species. This has given us a wide range of colors and growth habits, including some that are only about 2 feet tall instead of 5 to 8 feet, like the native varieties. Plant cannas in the spring for summer blooms.

  • Canna
  • Zones 7 to 10 (sometimes zone 6 with protection)
  • Full sun
  • Moist, well-draining soil

Cannas need moist soil to perform well. They’re perfect for wet spots in the garden, such as an area where a downspout directs water. You can also plant taller varieties directly in water, up to about 2 feet deep. Choose a spot with full sun or partial shade, where these flowers can tolerate slightly drier soil in my experience.

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Cannas Foliage

Toucan Yellow cannas flowersCourtesy of Proven Winners – www.provenwinners.com
Toucan Yellow canna

While the flower spikes are impressive in their own right, these plants are beloved for their foliage. The large, boldly colored leaves create a tropical effect when combined with other bright, flowering plants. Some varieties have bronze or even striped foliage.

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Overwintering Canna Plants

Cannas grow from fleshy rhizomes. In northern growing zones, dig them up in fall and overwinter in sawdust or peat moss in a cool, dry area. Replant the rhizomes next spring, after the threat of frost passes.

13 Ask Bbxjuly24 Tom PaulCourtesy Tom Paul
Volunteer canna plant

“This plant (above) popped up in our landscaping this summer. Our best guess is that it came with the mulch. What is it, and should it be removed?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Tom Paul of Naperville, Illinois.

Horticultural expert Melinda Myers says, “What a wonderful surprise to find a volunteer canna plant surviving the winter in northern Illinois! These plants are typically hardy to Zone 7, with the possibility of some surviving in Zone 6 when heavily mulched.

The new USDA Plant Hardiness map has areas of Naperville listed as Zone 6a and those further from Chicago as 5b. Perhaps a plant or portion of the rhizome was accidentally left in the ground over winter. The close proximity to your house provided a sheltered winter location and a bit of radiated heat for additional warmth.

Enjoy this lovely survivor and decide if you want to dig it up and store it indoors for winter or see if it will survive again in the garden.”

Canna Plant Pests

Canna Skipper (Calpodes ethlius) caterpillars are transparent - the green you see is the food in its gut. They roll the leaves of Canna around them as they eat using silk.Jill Staake
Canna skipper caterpillars are transparent. The green you see is the food in its gut. They roll the leaves of canna around them as they eat using silk.

In their native areas, cannas can be afflicted by the leaf-rolling caterpillars of canna skippers (Calpodes ethlius). These little guys can do some real damage to the foliage if they’re not noticed right away, but usually won’t affect the flowering or overall health of the plant.

As soon as you notice signs of leaf-rolling, pull the leaf apart and remove the caterpillar inside. Drop it in in soapy water to kill it. You can also watch for eggs on the leaves and remove them first.

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Canna Flower Varieties

hummingbird cannas flowers, canna lilyCourtesy Andrea Garvin
Female ruby throated hummingbird feeding on canna flowers

Hundreds of canna varieties are available. Try the vigorous, heat-loving South Pacific, an All-America Selections Winner with glowing orange flowers. This variety is grown from seed instead of rhizomes.

For gorgeous golden flowers, plant Toucan Yellow. Red varieties like ‘King Humbert’ will attract hummingbirds.

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About the Expert

Melinda Myers is the official gardening expert for Birds & Blooms. She is a TV/radio host, author and columnist who has written more than 20 gardening books. Melinda earned a master’s degree in horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sources

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