The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

Go Tropical with Cannas

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator

Dig out your Hawaiian shirt and grab your Jimmy Buffet parrot. The tropical look is in. The big bold leaves of cannas are appearing in gardens everywhere. These are not your Grandma's cannas either. New hybrid cannas have given us a tropical splash of magnificently colored leaves and new flower colors.

Hybrid cannas (Canna x generalis) come in a variety of flower colors, leaf colors and plant sizes. Plants range from one to eight feet tall. Most hybrids fall in the 4–6 foot tall category. Cannas are cold hardy to zone 7. However in our colder areas the large fleshy rhizomes can be dug after the first frost and easily stored in a cool spot indoors for the winter. They can be replanted in the garden here in mid-May. Rhizomes may rot if they are planted too early in cold wet soils. If you want a jump-start on their growth, start them in pots in a sunny spot indoors.

Rhizomes may be divided at digging time in fall or in spring. If divided in fall, be sure to allow cut ends to cure in a dry warm place for a couple days before storing for the winter.

Cannas do best in a sunny garden. Cannas respond well to additional fertilization and water. Although they will grow fine in most garden areas, they are water lovers. They can even be grown along the edges of ponds or in other wet spots.

Allan Armitage's new book, Armitage's Manual of Annuals, Biennials and Half-Hardy Perennials, describes many of the canna hybrids. If you are interested in many of the tender plants we use in the garden, you will love this book. It has information on plants I have not found anywhere else.

Here are just some of the cannas available.

  • 'Bengal Tiger' also sold as 'Pretoria'was one of the first hybrid cannas I ever saw. What a knock out! I was hooked on cannas. It has bright yellow and green variegated leaves with orange flowers.
  • 'Cleopatra' has green leaves with burgundy stripes and yellow flowers with red spots.
  • 'Futurity Pink' is a nice size at only two and one half to three feet tall with clear pink flowers and dark burgundy leaves.
  • 'Tropical Red' and 'Tropical Rose' are additional canna hybrids for small areas. Plants reach twelve to eighteen inches tall and have green leaves.
  • 'Kansas City' has lovely clear primrose yellow flowers with green and white leaves.
  • 'The President' is nice if you want the more traditional coloration with green leaves and red flowers. At three to three and one half feet tall it fits into most gardens.
  • 'Tropicana' also sold as 'Phaison' is another one of my tried-and-true favorites. The dark bronze burgundy and pink leaves are magnificent.

Be sure to visit the U of I Extension Master Gardener Idea Garden at the U of I Arboretum on south Lincoln in Urbana. Hold on to your socks because you are sure to see some great cannas.

If you have admired the beautiful public flower gardens in Champaign and Urbana and want to know how they do it, be sure to register for Champaign County Flower Power on Saturday January 26 from 9-11:30 am at the Champaign Extension auditorium. The program was specifically designed for volunteer groups gardening at schools, subdivisions, churches or synagogues. However anyone who loves to garden with flowers will appreciate the information. Greg Sancken of the Champaign Park District and Randy Hauser of Urbana Park District will share their tips on plant selection, design and garden maintenance. Please register by January 23 by sending $10 per organization to the Champaign Extension 801 North Country Fair Drive Champaign, Il 61821. Ph 217-333-7672.

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