Canna or canna lily (Canna spp.) is the only genus of flowering plants in the family Cannaceae, consisting of 10 species. Cannas are not true lilies, but have been assigned by the APG II system of 2003 to the order Zingiberales in the monocot clade Commelinids, together with their closest relatives, the gingers, spiral gingers, bananas, arrowroots, heliconias, and birds of paradise. The plants are distributed from southeastern North America through South America. Many are cultivated as ornamentals for their showy flowers and attractive foliage, and a number of cultivars have been developed. Edible canna, or Indian shot (Canna indica), and achira (C. discolor) have edible starchy rhizomes and are grown agriculturally in some places; the latter is sometimes listed as a synonym of C. indica.
Cannas are commonly referred to as “bulbs,” although they are not true bulbs. Canna are tropical herbs and possess rhizomes (underground stems) with erect stems. The tall or dwarf foliage displays spirally arranged leaves that may be green or bronze. The flowers are asymmetrical, with one half-functional stamen and a labellum, a petal-like structure rolled outward. The two to three “petals” are actually sterile stamens (staminodes); there are also three regular petals. Sometimes spotted variations of the scarlet, red-orange, or yellow flowers occur. Canna is among the most colorful summer bulbs, as flamboyant as their tropical American ancestry. In cool climates, cannas are fast-growing plants that can be treated as annuals to fill a space with color quickly. In warmer climates, they'll create dense stands of lush foliage and vibrant blooms throughout the summer, year after year.
Table of Contents
1 - 10 feet
1 - 6 feet
6.0 - 6.5
Growth Nutrition of Canna
Canna lilies need plenty of nitrogen to grow big and lush leaves, but they also need phosphorus and potassium to produce flowers. A good NPK ratio for canna lilies is around 13-3-3 or 12-55-6. If you are using a liquid fertilizer, these numbers indicate how many ounces of each nutrient is in every gallon of solution.
Types of Canna
This beautiful variety offers big, rich, scarlet blossoms that fade to orange over vibrant dark bronze to chocolate leaves. It attains a height of 4-6 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide.
Its vibrant red blooms contrast with lance-shaped narrow leaves. This cultivar flowers from mid-summer to fall and reach up to 3-4 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide.
This famous cultivar displays yellow blossoms with red spots over green or chocolate leaves. It grows to 3-4 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide.
City of Portland
‘City of Portland’ exhibits rich coral-pink blooms on erect stems from mid-summer to fall atop green leaves. It reaches up to 4-5 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide.
This canna is one of the first white varieties and shows off creamy-white large gladiolus blooms embellished with pale salmon-pink throats.
‘Apricot Dream’ offers clusters of large lily-like pale apricot blooms patterned with gold and deep pink throats on erect stems.
Loved for its leopard-like blooms, this award-winning cultivar showcases golden-yellow flowers mottled in red freckles atop green leaves.
This fast-growing canna variety displays clusters of fiery crimson blooms over large green leaves. It grows to 2-3 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide.
‘Phasion’ has colorful deep purple leaves with strawberry-pink veins and orange blooms. This popular variety grows up to 5-6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.
‘Pink Magic’ grows fast and produces clusters of rich pink blooms on erect stalks over striped leaves. This variety reaches 3-4 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide.
Pretoria ('Bengal Tiger')
The large vivid orange blossoms go well with green leaves and yellow-striped veins, adding a tropical feel to any garden.
Admired for its stunning leaves, ‘Erebus’ exhibits blue-green foliage with a creamy stripe near the margins and coral-pink blooms. It grows to 3-6 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide.
Yellow King Humbert
‘Yellow King Humbert’ displays deep rich yellow blooms blushed with orange over contrasting apple-green leaves. It reaches up to 4-5 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide.
This classic variety is loved for its large, scarlet blooms embellished with golden-yellow ribbon over tall stems. ‘President’ reaches up to 4-6 feet tall and 1-2 feet wide.
‘Tropicanna Gold’ boasts golden blooms with deep orange speckled throats above erect flowering stems and green gold foliage.
If you want a stunning display of orange-red blooms to attract hummingbirds in the garden, this is the one to go for. It grows to 4-7 feet tall and 2-3 feet wide.
This compact variety displays bright yellow blooms variegated with red freckles and lance-shaped green leaves. It’s ideal for sunny borders or big pots.
'Wyoming’ features beautiful, opulent orange blooms with contrasting dark burgundy leaves. It attains a height of 3-4 feet and spreads up to 1-2 feet tall.
This award-winning canna showcases arching stems and pendulous deep rose-pink blooms over green foliage. It grows to 4-7 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.
Native to Northern Argentina, this beautiful variety offers raspberry flowers that look stunning with red or orange staminodes.
It boasts dark red-orange erect blooms and lush green mid-sized leaves. Compacta is from Southern Brazil and Northern Argentina.
Canna flaccida or Water Canna
Water Canna is native to the wetlands of southeastern USA. It has large, lightly scented yellow flowers and narrow, glaucous blue-gray leaves.
This canna displays dainty pale yellow and orange flowers. It belongs to the wetlands of tropical America.
This cultivar is native to Columbia, Peru, and Costa Rica, showing large dangling pink to red flowers and large green leaves.
Native to the forests of South America and the Caribbean, this canna features curved, small orange blooms and large oblong-shaped green leaves.
Canna patens are from Northern Argentina and produce yellow blooms with wide red edges. It is also called Indian shot, edible canna, and African arrowroot.
It grows flowers in the shades of red to yellow with green leaves. This variety belongs to Costa Rica, Southern Mexico, and tropical South America.
This variety produces bi-colored blooms with scarlet petals and large stemless arching leaves. This perennial can grow up to 3-5 feet tall.
It grows bright yellow to scarlet and magenta blooms with blue to burgundy, bronze-green leaves.
This canna is indigenous to Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Belize, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, and Colombia. It produces orange-red blossoms and large green leaves.
Cannas will tolerate partial shade, but require at least 4 hours of direct sun. They need fertile, moist soil. Before planting, loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 13 inches, then mix in 2 to 4 inches of compost.
When to Plant Cannas
Cannas cannot tolerate cold temperatures. Plant outdoors in late spring or early summer. Soil must be 60ºF or warmer. In short-season areas, start cannas in pots indoors or in a greenhouse to transplant outdoors at the right time.
We always plant around the same time that we put tomato plants in the ground. See our Planting Calendar for tomato-planting dates in your region.
Some people ask how to determine soil temps: Check online for state extension websites that publish this information for your state. Or, dig a small hole two inches deep and insert an old-fashioned mercury thermometer into your soil. Or, buy a soil thermometer at local nursery or hardware store.
How to Plant Cannas
Dig a hole 2 to 3 inches deep and set the rhizome in it, with the “eyes” (bumps or nodes, which are growth sprouts) pointed up.
Cover with 1 to 2 inches of soil, Tamp firmly.
Space rhizomes 1 to 4 feet apart.
If possible, position plants out of strong wind. Their large, soft leaves are vulnerable to damage.
Water thoroughly, then withhold water for as long as 3 weeks, and watch for signs of growth.
When planting new rhizomes, or those dug up and stored to winter over, make sure that each divided piece has at least one eye. From it, new leaves will grow.
Blooms should appear in 10 to 12 weeks.
In the garden, plant canna rhizomes horizontally in a planting hole four to six inches deep, fill the planting hole with soil and then add a thick layer of mulch. Space rhizomes 18 to 24 inches apart and don't bury them deeper than two to three inches, as planting them too deep will stunt the plant's growth. Cannas also don't like to be crowded, and if other plants encroach they might not bloom. To prevent overcrowding, divide them every two to three years.
Canna leaves have a waxy coating that helps resist fungal diseases. They are also generally resistant to pest problems, although you might find caterpillars or grasshoppers eating the leaves—remove them by hand.
These plants prefer full sun to grow vibrant leaves and flowers, but they can survive in partial sun.
Cannas can tolerate a variety of soils with proper drainage. They prefer rich soils that are high in organic matter. A soil pH of roughly 6.5 is ideal, but cannas can handle a wide range of acidic to neutral soils.
Water your canna once or twice a week. The soil should be kept uniformly moist but not soggy. Overly wet soil can lead to rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Cannas are sensitive to cold temperatures and frost, but they thrive in temperatures up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. In areas that have relatively cool springtime temperatures, canna growth might start slowly.
In cooler climates, you can get a head start on the growing season by starting them indoors in pots and then move them outdoors once they are actively growing and all danger of frost has passed.
These plants are native to tropical zones, so they do well in warm and humid conditions. If you live in a dry climate, you can raise the humidity around a container-grown plant by placing it on a dish filled with water and pebbles, making sure the bottom of the pot isn't touching the water.
Cannas are heavy feeders. Feed them monthly, or at least twice during the growing season, once in early spring, and again in mid-summer, with a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus, such as 5-10-5, to encourage blooming. You can also use plenty of compost or organic fertilizer to provide the plants with extra nutrients.
Pruning and Propagating Cannas
Cannas generally do not need pruning, but deadheading the flower stalks (once the flowers have faded) will produce more blooms. If you prize the foliage of your cannas over their flowers, you can cut off the flower stalks before they bloom to enable the plants to direct their energy toward the foliage.
Cannas are readily propagated by digging up the rhizomes and dividing them for replanting. Do this early in the spring or in the fall.
Carefully dig up the entire plant with a shovel, taking care not to damage the rhizomes or the roots of the mother plant.
Trim the above-ground growth with sharp pruners so only about one inch extends from the crown (where the stems meet the rhizomes).
Clean excess soil from the rhizomes and note where the old rhizomes meet the new.
Cut along these joints to separate the rhizomes, making sure each piece has one or more eyes. If dividing in the fall, store the rhizomes for the winter, then replant in the spring.
Plant each rhizome division in prepared soil at a depth of four to six inches.
Cut canna flower stems for indoor arrangement. The flowers carry their tropical appeal in the vase. The flowers die in a day or two. However, the foliage continues to make a beautiful backdrop to many bouquets.
Potting and Repotting Cannas
Cannas are large plants, so bigger is better in terms of choosing an appropriate container size. Choose a container that is no smaller than 16 inches in diameter with adequate drainage holes. A large container is not only important for aesthetic reasons of scale but it gives the plant space to grow a strong and healthy root system. A large container reduces the chance of the plant becoming top heavy and tipping over as it matures.
Make sure the container has good drainage, and fill it with quality potting soil. Because cannas are heavy feeders, mix some slow-release fertilizer into your potting soil before planting.
If you live in a cold-winter climate and have saved rhizomes from last year's plants, you can get a head start on the next growing season by potting up the rhizomes indoors four to six weeks before the last frost in spring. Maintain adequate moisture but do not make the soil overly wet. Move the pots outdoors or plant them in the ground after the danger of frost has passed.
In colder climates, after the first frost in fall, cut down the canna to the ground. Carefully dig up the rhizome clumps and store them through the winter in dry peat moss, coconut coir, or vermiculite in a location where the temperature does not drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray the rhizomes with water once in a while to prevent them from drying out, but don't allow the rhizomes to sit in a consistently damp medium.
You can bring container-grown plants indoors for the winter.
Pests and Plant Diseases
Slugs, snails, and Japanese beetles delight in chewing holes in canna leaves and flowers. But the worst pest is a caterpillar known as the canna leaf roller. The canna leaf roller moth lays its eggs in the bud of a growing stalk, and the hatching caterpillars leave a sticky webbing that prevents the leaf from unfurling. Remove a leaf if you see that it's unable to unfurl, and consider spraying the plant with insecticidal soap if pests are present
Cannas can have several other problems. They are susceptible to rust fungus, canna mosaic virus, and aster yellows. Observe foliage that appears sickly and discolored. With rust fungus, you often can simply remove the affected leaves. But if the plant is infect with canna mosaic virus and aster yellows, you should dispose of the entire plant.
Some species and many cultivars are widely grown in the garden in temperate and subtropical regions. Sometimes, they are also grown as potted plants. A large number of ornamental cultivars have been developed. They can be used in herbaceous borders, tropical plantings, and as a patio or decking plant.
Internationally, cannas are one of the most popular garden plants, and a large horticultural industry depends on the plant.
The rhizomes of cannas are rich in starch, and have many uses in agriculture. All of the plant material has commercial value, rhizomes for starch (consumption by humans and livestock), stems and foliage for animal fodder, young shoots as a vegetable, and young seeds as an addition to tortillas.
The seeds are used as beads in jewelry.
The seeds are used as the mobile elements of the kayamb, a musical instrument from Réunion, as well as the hosho, a gourd rattle from Zimbabwe, where the seeds are known as hota seeds.
In more remote regions of India, cannas are fermented to produce alcohol.
The plant yields a fibre from the stem, which is used as a jute substitute.
A fibre obtained from the leaves is used for making paper. The leaves are harvested in late summer after the plant has flowered, they are scraped to remove the outer skin, and are then soaked in water for two hours prior to cooking. The fibres are cooked for 24 hours with lye and then beaten in a blender. They make a light tan to brown paper.
A purple dye is obtained from the seed.
Smoke from the burning leaves is said to be insecticidal.
Cannas are used to extract many undesirable pollutants in a wetland environment as they have a high tolerance to contaminants.
In Thailand, cannas are a traditional gift for Father's Day.
In Vietnam, canna starch is used to make cellophane noodles known as miến dong.
Cannas attract hummingbirds, so can be part of a pollinator and wildlife habitat strategy.