Colorful Cannas for Any Garden

When we bought our home in Florida several years ago, we found several treasures in the otherwise bland backyard. As

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 five feet of growth with giant leaves, and soon were showing brilliant pink flowers. We had found a treasure trove of canna!

Pink Canna

Cannas, 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 found natively in the Southeast U.S., but most cannas you buy today are cultivars or hybrids of a variety other species. This has given us a wide variety of colors and growth habits, including some that are only about 2 feet tall instead of 5 – 8, like our native varieties. There are also some varieties available with bronze or even striped foliage, giving gardeners a wide variety to choose from.

Canna Varieties

Canna Skipper DamageCannas need moist soil to perform well. They’re perfect for wet spots in the garden, or an area where a downspout directs water. You can also plant taller varieties directly in water, up to about 2 feet deep. You can grow them in full sun or partial shade, where they can tolerate slightly drier soil in my experience. Most are considered winter-hardy to zone 7, but folks in colder areas can grow them as annuals or in pots that are brought inside for the winter. Many people note that these flowers are a real draw for hummingbirds; try the red varieties like ‘King Humbert’ to draw them in.

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 like that shown here, 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. Learn more about canna skippers, sometimes called Brazilian skippers, here.

Cannas are usually planted in the spring for summer blooms, and are available in hundreds of varieties. You can also grow them from seed, though  I’ve never tried it. Check out Park Seed’s offerings to give it a try. Do you grow cannas? Tell us where and give us your tips for keeping them healthy and happy in the comments below!

Jill Staake
Jill lives in Tampa, Florida, and writes about gardening, butterflies, outdoor projects and birding. When she's not gardening, you'll find her reading, traveling and happily digging her toes into the sand on the beach.