Canna lilies are low maintenance tropical plants that are easy to grow and delightful. In this post, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about canna lily plant care so you can successfully grow them year after year.
I love the tropical feeling they add, and they offer a wonderful contrast of color and texture to my flower beds and outdoor containers.
You’d think a tropical plant like this would be difficult to keep alive in temperate climates like mine, but they actually do great!
Below I will share all of my secrets for success so that you can grow canna lilies in your garden, and enjoy them for years to come.
Here’s what you’ll find in this complete canna lily care guide…
Information About Canna Lilies
Canna lilies, which is both the Latin and common name for this plant, are a member of the Cannaceae family. They are native to tropical regions of North, South, and Central America.
They are related to ginger and arrowroots. Like these popular relatives, some species of cannas are edible. They are even bred for agricultural purposes in some areas of the world.
These fast growing plants range in height from a couple of feet for dwarf varieties, all the way up to 10ft tall. Though commonly referred to as a bulb or tuber, cannas technically grow from a rhizome.
Canna lilies are tropical perennial flowers commonly sold as annuals in colder climates. Though the foliage is only hardy in warm, tropical regions, the bulbs can survive down to zone 7, or where the ground never freezes.
But they are super easy to grow in any climate. For colder areas (like where I live in Minnesota), the bulbs can be stored indoors for the winter, and planted again year after year.
One of the things I love the most about growing canna lilies is their bright, tropical flowers. The gorgeous blooms come in a wide variety of colors and textures.
Their blooms can be anywhere from solid red, orange, yellow, or pink, to having a striped or spotted pattern on the petals.
The flowers attract pollinators, and hummingbirds especially love the bright red ones. Here’s more info about canna flowers…
- How long do canna lilies bloom? – Canna lilies are showy, and bloom constantly throughout the growing season, all the way through frost. They will bloom year round in warm climates.
- How long does it take canna lilies to bloom? – It can take a few months for them to flower after the rhizomes are planted. So it’s a good idea to start them early indoors in cold climates to get a head start.
Different Types Of Cannas
There are tons of different cultivars of canna lilies, and each has its own unique characteristics. Some have colorful or variegated leaves, while others are prized for their brightly colored or uniquely patterned flowers.
Both the flowers and foliage come in a variety of colors and combinations, which makes it super fun to mix and match several different types.
The foliage alone is enough to catch anyone’s attention, it’s like a piece of artwork. The contrast of the flowers against the leaves on many varieties is striking.
- Madame Butterfly – One of the shorter varieties, only growing 3-6ft high. The large, salmon pink flowers are graceful and fluttering.
- Bengal Tiger – The variegated foliage contrasts vividly with the bright orange flowers, growing from 4-6ft tall.
- Tropicana – Has fantastic striped multi-colored foliage in greens and purples, complemented with orange flowers. Grows an average height of 4-6ft tall.
- Indian Shot (Canna indica) – The bright green foliage contrasts with the delicate, narrow petals of the reddish-orange flowers with their yellow margins. Can grow anywhere from 3-8ft tall.
- Stuttgart – Known for its lovely white and green leaves, with elegant, light coral pink flowers. One of the taller varieties, reaching 6-8ft tall.
Where To Grow Canna Lilies
Canna lilies are versatile, and will grow just about anywhere. They grow equally well in the ground as they do in containers. Heck, some types can even be planted in a pond.
Either way, be sure to find a location that is protected from strong winds. The leaves will rip when it’s windy, so a protected spot is best.
Growing Cannas In The Garden
You can plant canna lilies just about anywhere in your garden. Mix them with other annual flowers, or create an entire bed just dedicated to them. You really can’t go wrong.
If you want to plant them in your garden, then choose a full sun location that has rich, fertile soil. An area that gets a consistent amount of water is also the best choice.
Planting Canna Lilies In A Pond
Believe it or not, canna lilies can actually grow in water. They make an excellent shallow plant for ponds, and can thrive there.
If you want to give it a try, rinse the dirt from the roots, then plant it into a container using aquatic potting soil. Place it in the shallowest part of the pond, so that the container is sitting half in and half out of the water.
Only try this if you have extras though. Because once they canna lilies grow in water, it’s extremely difficult to successfully overwinter the rhizomes.
Canna Lily Care In Pots
The large tropical leaves and tall flower spikes are great for use in a mixed summer container, and look equally impressive in a pot on their own. Perfect for a sunny deck or patio.
Any variety can be grown in a pot, as long as you choose one that is deep enough for them. Though dwarf varieties are the best choice for containers.
Choose a pot that is large enough for the type of canna lily you plan to grow. The taller the plant, the larger the container should be. Make sure the pot has adequate drainage holes.
How To Grow Canna Lilies
Before jumping into the details of all the canna lily care requirements, it’s important to understand how and when to plant them. This will give you the best success.
When To Plant Canna Bulbs
Canna lily bulbs can be planted into the garden once the soil has warmed up in the spring. Start them in pots in late winter or early spring if you live in a cold climate with a short growing season.
Planting them into the ground early is not beneficial, so it’s best to wait until all chances of frost are gone. If you plant them prematurely, they could be damaged by a late frost, or the bulbs could rot in the cold, wet soil.
Should You Soak Canna Bulbs Before Planting?
This is a question I get a lot, so I thought I’d answer it here. Soaking canna bulbs before planting them is not required.
However, soaking them for 12-24 hours could help break dormancy faster. Try adding a little fish emulsion or compost tea to the water before soaking them to give them even more of a boost.
How To Plant Canna Bulbs
Canna flower bulbs are very easy to plant. You could literally just dig a hole, dump the rhizomes in, cover them with dirt, and most of them would grow just fine.
But, you’re probably going to want to be a bit more intentional about it than that. Ideally, you should lay the bulbs into the hole with the pointy tips facing up or to the side.
You don’t have to be super careful here. Even if you don’t place them perfectly, they will figure out which way is up.
How Deep To Plant Canna Bulbs
It’s best to plant them 2-3 times deeper than the size of the bulb. Don’t plant them too deep, or they may not grow.
So, the larger bulbs should be planted deeper than the smallest ones. You can layer them, or spread them out a bit if you prefer.
How Far Apart To Plant Canna Lily Bulbs
Ideally, you should space larger bulbs 12-18″ apart. I would recommend sticking to that spacing if you live in a warm climate where they are perennials.
But, since the canna lilies are only in the ground for a few months in my garden, my rule of thumb is to just space the rhizomes out so that they aren’t touching each other.
If you’re in a cold climate like I am, you really don’t need to be too picky about the spacing, since they won’t have much time to become overcrowded.
How Long Does It Take For Canna Bulbs To Sprout?
From the time you plant canna rhizomes into the ground or pots, it takes about 4-6 weeks for them to start to sprout. The warmer it is, the faster they will grow.
That’s why it’s a good idea to start them in pots indoors several weeks before you can transplant them outside.
Canna Lily Care & Growing Instructions
Canna lilies are very easy to grow. But, like any plant, they do have ideal conditions that they prefer in order to stay healthy and perform their best. Follow these detailed care tips for best results…
When it comes to soil, cannas aren’t super fussy. But they do prefer a rich, fertile soil that is well draining, and also retains water.
Consistently moist soil is ideal. So, it’s best to plant them in an area where water doesn’t pool, but the soil holds moisture well.
Canna lilies will definitely bloom much better and more reliably when you feed them regularly during the summer. You can learn all about fertilizing flowers here, but below are a few quick tips.
Choose an organic fertilizer that is high in phosphorus. Mix slow-release granules into the hole when you plant the bulbs. Then top dress the plants 2-3 times during the growing season.
Canna lilies grow best in full sun (6 hours or more). They will tolerate partial shade, but won’t bloom as well. They love the heat, and thrive in hot, humid conditions.
However, if you live in a really hot climate, then plant them in an area that gets shade during the afternoon when the sun is at its strongest. Hot, dry sun can fade the flowers – and in extreme cases, can burn the leaves.
Cannas love moisture, and they’re perfect for growing in areas that get a lot of water. Like I mentioned above, some can even be planted in a shallow pond.
However, when growing them in containers or the garden, the soil should never be constantly saturated, or the bulbs could rot.
They will tolerate dry soil conditions, as long as they are watered regularly. In that case, give them deep waterings weekly, but never let the soil dry completely.
If you struggle with this, then I recommend getting yourself an expensive moisture meter to help you water your cannas perfectly every time.
They are usually pest free plants, but there are a few bugs to watch out for. Japanese beetles love canna lilies. Slugs and snails can also be a problem.
These bugs usually only cause unsightly damage to the leaves, and won’t actually kill the plant. But, if left uncontrolled, they can make your cannas look less than beautiful.
Though pruning isn’t a crucial part of canna lily care, deadheading faded flowers on a regular basis will encourage new blooms.
You can also cut off any wind or bug damaged, brown, or yellowing leaves as necessary to keep the plant looking its best.
Canna Lily Propagation Tips
There are only two methods you can use to propagate cannas: seeds or division. Some varieties will produce seeds, which you can save and plant again next year.
Otherwise, you can divide the rhizomes to produce new plants. The easiest and best time to do that is in the fall right after you dig up the bulbs, or in the spring before planting.
Canna Lily Winter Care Tips
The best part about growing cannas is that they are very easy to overwinter indoors. That way, you can keep your favorites year after year!
Dig the rhizomes in the fall before the ground freezes and cut off all of the foliage. It’s ok to allow frost to kill the leaves before lifting the bulbs.
Pack them in peat moss, or leave containerized bulbs right in the pot. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place over the winter, taking care that they don’t dry out completely.
Troubleshooting Common Canna Lily Problems
The hardest part about canna lily care is when your plants have problems, and you have no idea why. So, in this section, I’ll talk about some problems you may run into, and give you tips for how to fix them.
- Leaves turning brown – Either the soil is too dry, or this could be caused by damage from bugs or wind. Ensure that the soil is never getting fully dry between waterings, and check for bugs. If heavy winds are the culprit, it’s best to relocate the plant.
- Not flowering – Your canna lily is probably in an area with too much shade, or it isn’t getting enough fertilizer. They need full sun and regular feedings to bloom their best.
- Canna lily not growing – It probably isn’t getting enough sun or fertilizer. Insufficient water can also stunt their growth.
- Leaves splitting – High winds and storms can damage the broad leaves, especially if they are weak from not being watered frequently enough.
Canna Lily Plant Care FAQs
In this section, I will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about canna lily plant care. If you can’t find an answer to your question anywhere, then ask it in the comments below.
Are canna lilies easy to grow?
Yes, canna lilies are super easy to grow, and are very low maintenance once established. As long as you provide the right conditions for them, and give them the proper care, then you will be successful.
Do canna lilies need full sun?
Yes, cannas grow best with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. They will tolerate slightly less than that, but they may not flower if they get too much shade.
How do I know if my canna bulbs are dead?
If they are either completely dried out or rotted through, then you can consider your canna bulbs dead. Also, if they don’t grow after 2 months of planting them in warm soil, then they probably never will.
How tall do canna lilies grow?
Some canna lilies can grow to be 10ft tall, while others are much shorter, and range anywhere from 3+ feet tall.
Do canna lilies spread?
Yes, but canna lilies are not aggressive spreaders. The clumps will get wider ever year, but they don’t spread out too far, and will stay in one place.
However, the seeds can be dispersed farther out. So you may find seedlings around your garden in the spring if you allow them to set seed.
Will cannas come back every year?
That depends on where you live. Cannas are tropical plants, but the rhizomes can survive in the ground overwinter as long as they don’t freeze.
So, if you live in a warmer climate, then yes, they will come back. If the ground freezes where you live, then no, they won’t grow back.
Can canna lilies grow indoors?
Since canna lilies need 6+ hours of direct sunlight, they do not grow very well indoors. You could certainly give it a try if you have powerful grow lights that you can keep on for 12-14 hours a day. But watch out for bugs like spider mites.
Growing canna lilies in pots or the garden doesn’t take much work, and is very rewarding! Use them to add a tropical feel to your flower beds and outdoor containers. With the proper care, you can enjoy their gorgeous, bright blooms all summer long.
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Share your canna lily plant care tips in the comments below.