Plants seem to be somewhat like clothing and cars – they go in and out of fashion. An example of this is canna lilies.
Cannas became very popular in Victorian times and were widely grown in France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, but by mid-century they had almost faded into oblivion. It wasn’t until the 1990s that their popularity revived and they still enjoy the renewed interest.
I can’t understand what’s not to love about canna lilies. Not only can the color of these tropical plant’s flowers be stunning, but their foliage is as well. The flowers can range in color from red to orange to yellow. Cultivars’ flowers can further range from pinks to soft yellows to creams.
The leaves are reminiscent of a banana plant, with no trunk – they grow out of a stem in a long, narrow roll and then unfurl. They are typically solid green, but some cultivars have brown, burgundy, bronze, or green leaves variegated in white, cream, pink or red. Just the leaves alone are stunning when backlit by the sun.
Not only are these boldly-colored, exotic plants beautiful, but they are also usually easy to grow. Cannas grow from perennial rhizomes in USDA plant hardiness zones 8 through 12, but are frequently grown as annuals in temperate zones for their exotic, tropical look. Cannas are surprisingly hardy, despite their look, tolerating temperatures to around 0 degrees if mulched around the crown, but they may rot if left unprotected.
In areas that get colder in the winter, the rhizomes can be dug up and stored in a protected area for planting in the spring. But they just as well can be overwintered in pots in a greenhouse where, if properly cared for, they will continue to grow and bear flowers throughout the winter.
They have few requirements, but they do love moist soil, plenty of sunlight, and regular deadheading of spent blooms. The pH of the soil is important to consider though. They like slightly acidic to neutral pH; they will not do well in alkaline soil.
Because they may be found in heights varying from 2 feet to over 10, they suit all kinds of applications. If you currently don’t have any, consider them among your spring plantings!
Tina Betts, a Master Gardener, is a trained volunteer of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. For gardening questions, call the Help Center at (662) 620-8280 in Lee County or (866) 920-4678 outside Lee County and leave a message.