Yes, You Canna

Amazingly colorful and easy to grow, these Southern favorites belong in your garden. Here are some new ones to try.

Steve Bender
Yes, You Canna
Van Chaplin, Lacy Kerr Robinson, and Allen Rokach

Dear Reader,
We here at Gardening Central have been studying you. Hours of painstaking and perfectly legal research have revealed the following truths about how you choose plants for your garden.

Truth #1: You want color, color, color.

Truth #2: You want it now, now, now.

Truth #3: You want it easy, easy, easy.

Taken together, what do these startling facts mean? That you should be growing cannas.

Native to the Southeast as well as South America, cannas aren't shy. Wherever you plant them, they loudly introduce themselves through audacious blossoms and leaves. Red, orange, salmon, coral, pink, cream, or bicolored flowers bloom on 3- to 7-foot stalks in summer and fall. Huge, banana-like leaves stretch from 1 to 4 feet long. Typical leaves are green or bronze, but many new selections sport foliage so shockingly loud you might want to cover them at night to avoid disturbing your neighbors.

Our Favorite Ones
Two special cannas are illuminating gardens as never before. 'Tropicanna' (also known as 'Phaison') must be seen to be believed. Who could have dreamed up colors like this--deep purple foliage striped with yellow, pink, and red with golden-orange flowers to boot? When backlit by the sun, the leaves glow so brightly you'd swear they're radioactive. On the downside, 'Tropicanna' is quite susceptible to canna leaf roller caterpillars and needs frequent feeding to keep its foliage looking bright. But if you follow our growing tips, you shouldn't have much trouble.

 

'Bengal Tiger' (also known as 'Pretoria') is just as eye-popping. This selection combines deep orange blossoms with incredibly vivid green-and-yellow striped leaves. It's easier to grow than 'Tropicanna' and doesn't need as much fertilizer. Leaf rollers usually aren't a big deal either.

Other excellent cannas include 'Black Knight' (beautiful, black-bronze foliage and velvety, deep red flowers), 'Durban' (reddish purple leaves with yellow stripes and scarlet flowers), 'Minerva' (green-and-white striped leaves and yellow flowers), and 'Tropicanna Gold' (green-and-gold striped leaves and orange-yellow blooms with dark orange speckles).

Caring for Cannas
Look for potted cannas at home-and-garden centers. Plant them so the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface. Cannas like lots of water. They will even grow with wet roots, but the soil need not be boggy, just moist. They are also heavy feeders and prefer soil containing plenty of organic matter such as composted manure and chopped leaves. Ragged and dull foliage tells you that they're hungry, so feed plants weekly with a water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer. They will soon perk up.

 

Cannas grow best in full sun and high heat, forming spreading colonies. Cut each flower stalk to the ground after it finishes blooming; new ones will appear and flower into early fall. In the Lower, Coastal, and Tropical South, plants will over-winter. Elsewhere, lift the rootlike rhizomes in fall, and store indoors until spring. Divide clumps every three or four years. Make sure each piece of rhizome has a bud or "eye," or it may not grow.

As mentioned before, canna leaf rollers can be serious pests. These caterpillars roll up canna leaves and then feed and pupate inside, eventually emerging as adult moths. Infested leaves look ratty. To control leaf rollers, promptly cut off and destroy all infested leaves. Spray new foliage according to label directions with a systemic insecticide such as Orthene. Also try applying a fertilizer with disulfoton, such as Bayer Advanced Garden 2-in-1 Systemic Rose & Flower Care.

In the Garden
Give cannas room. Most grow to be big plants, 4 to 7 feet tall and 3 to 4 feet wide. Display them in a mass planting, in a mixed flower border, in a large container, or by the edge of a pond. But be mindful of overdoing the gaudy-leafed kinds, lest you blind your neighbors. We at Gardening Central will be watching.