Canna lilies a garden show stoppers with extra large tropical foliage and bright showy flowers resembling iris. The leaves can be green, bronze, maroon, or variegated, and flowers come in shades of red, yellow, and orange. Despite their exotic appearance, canna lilies are easy to grow and maintain.
In cooler climates, expect these perennials to behave as annuals and need replanting each year. In warmer climates, they will thrill visitors to your garden year after year. These distant relatives of the banana tree, which they resemble—without the trunk—thrive in USDA zones 8 to 12. In warm climates, plant them with bananas, ginger, palm trees and other tropical plants for an overall tropical effect.
Canna lilies like heat and moisture so choose a site with full sun and plenty of moisture. They can tolerate partial shade and bog-like conditions. Make sure the soil is rich in organic matter so amend poor soil with plenty of compost before planting. If the site you've chosen has water puddling five or six hours after a heavy rain, it's too wet. Choose another site or add peat moss, compost, or other organic matter to raise the site about three inches above ground level to improve drainage.
These plants grow from rhizomes that can be planted in warm soil or in containers. If planting in the ground, wait until all danger of frost is passed and plant in groups of three or more. They look best growing in masses. While rhizomes don't have a top or bottom, try to plant them horizontally with the eyes facing up for best results. Plant the rhizomes about 1 foot apart for tall varieties and 2 feet apart for smaller varieties. Bury them 3 to 6 inches deep. Water in well, soaking the soil, and cover with an inch or two of mulch to help retain moisture.
Once your canna lilies are established, keep them moist. Fertilize monthly with a phosphorus-rich fertilizer to promote continual blooming.
In the fall, in most climates, it is best to dig up the rhizomes and store the canna rhizomes in the fall. Dig them up after the first frost, let rest and air dry for a few days, and then store in paper bags or peat moss. If your winters are not too cold or wet, you can try applying a thick layer of mulch. Overwintered in the ground in wet climates can lead to the rotting of the rhizomes. Canna lilies grown in pots can be taken indoors and overwintered where they will continue to grow.
Once your canna lilies bloom, cut the flowers for indoor blooms in desired. Some gardeners like to cut all the flowers to give the showy foliage a chance to shine. After blooming, do not cut the foliage back. The foliage will continue to grow and provide nourishment for next year's blooms. Only cut the leaves if they yellow.