Canna Lilies

Every year I try to find a new plant to grow. This year it was the canna lily. I noticed them first in the large city planters and then they popped up in a few neighbouring yards. What caught my eye was the huge tropical foliage and the stunning flowers that seem to bloom forever. I was looking for a couple of pots to place on either end of a very lonely bench and came across a couple of pre-planted pots at one of my favourite greenhouses. Yes, I know some will be shocked that I don’t plant all my containers, but I love the fact that greenhouse containers have already had a jump on the growing season and have enough growth to be in full bloom. Instant colour! Each pot sported a lovely canna lily and I thought I’d give them a go.

How do you Grow These Plants?
For those interested in trying them here are a few things I have learned about canna lilies that may help you. First mine were against the front of our house that only receives a couple of hours of sun each day. So they fair well in sun and shade. They loved it when I kept them moist and protested it if they were too dry. Keep them moist, but not wet. They seem to be heavy feeders and did well with a weekly fertilizing of 20-20-20 fertilizer. Canna lilies are not hardy for northern climates and it seems a waste to toss them in the compost after they have grown so well. My game plan is to dig the bulbs out, clean them up and store them in a paper bag with some peat. The bulbs should be stored in a cool place and I believe my basement will do the trick. When storing other bulbs, I make sure I check on them periodically throughout the winter for rot. If I find any decayed pieces, I toss them out immediately.

Flowers? Who would have Thought?
I knew they flowered, but didn’t expect mine would. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure I would provide the appropriate care for them to live so I hadn’t even thought they’d bloom. So here I am in the middle of August and the canna lilies are still blooming! Who knew? About a month ago two stalks emerged from both plants and neither has stopped blooming since. New stalks just seem to grow overnight. The flowers last a few days and then you are left with a seed pod (see photo below). I just prune out the spent flowers and voila! Another flower stalk emerges. If you are looking for a flower that has a long blooming period, the canna lily fits the bill.

Beautiful, but Where Do I Plant Them?
So where would you plant these tropical beauties? I like to watch and study the growth of a plant and having the cannas in pots was a great way to do this. After seeing how they grew in the pot, I got a better idea of how they might work in a garden spot. In pots, the canna lily makes a huge statement. The two I have in pots are, in my opinion, a bit tall. I would try the shorter canna lilies for shorter pots. There are some that are only about 40-50 cm tall and a shorter pot would be better balanced. The pots I purchased from the greenhouse had yellow petunias, red trailing verbena and coral diascia at the base of the canna lily and looked lovely. If you do plant them in a pot, they should have some medium height plants at the base of the canna. Some people plant the taller plant at the back of the pot and this may work well if the pot will always be against a wall or fence. However, I do like to try out different placements for my pots around my yard and usually place the taller plant in the middle of the pot. This way the pot has flowers all the way around it and its placement isn’t limited.
Now the part I love- how would I use them in a flowerbed? I think a row of canna lilies against a fence or along a sidewalk bordered by a fence would create a stunning effect. I would most definitely plant medium height plants in front of the cannas due to the lack of foliage at their base. Maybe one colour of petunias or a variety of perennials with different blooming periods. The canna lilies would bloom continuously and one wouldn’t notice those times when the perennials were between bloom times. Another option would be a bed with canna lilies in the middle surrounded by flowering annuals. However they are used, canna lilies are sure to create interest in the garden.

Canna lilies are making their way into northern gardens here in Alberta. During our short growing season these beauties are adding that “tropical” feel many gardeners seek. I can see the canna lily being a new favourite in my garden for many years. I hope you do, too.

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Canna lily seed pod.
Canna lily in pot.
Canna lily in pot.
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Canna lily flower.