Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Day For Cannas

It takes a while to grasp that not all failures are self-imposed, the result of ignorance, carelessness or inexperience. It takes a while to grasp that a garden isn't a testing ground for character and to stop asking, what did I do wrong? Maybe nothing.
~Eleanor Perényi, Green Thoughts, 1981

I spend some of my time volunteering at my local municipal greenhouse. There they grow the plants for the city’s park gardens, conservatory and create the huge hanging baskets that line some of the main streets. At the greenhouse this was Canna week.

Cannas are native to the tropical and sub-tropical Americas and West Indies. South Americans reportedly used the rootstock for food. They are grown for their fantastic foliage and flowers and some species can grow to over 6 feet tall. Leaf color can be green, bronze, maroon, orangey, solid or striped.

Three to four weeks ago the cannas that jazzed our city parks were dug up to make way for fall plantings. They were then piled up outdoors and covered with permeable cloth at the greenhouse. We’ve had a few hard frosts here which blackened the leaves, so the time was right to prepare them for winter storage. They’ll be replanted in spring when the gardens are designed for summer color.

While others tended the poinsettias, my task was to cut off all the Canna’s foliage down to the rhizomes (tuberous rootstocks) and place them on wire racks to dry out for winter storage. It was pouring buckets that day, so I was a muddy mess pronto.

Around here, Cannas are normally hardy. Most people leave them in the ground or pots. Last year was my first year to plant Canna in my garden. I bought Canna indica from Their catalog reports it is a Canna from the Indies introduced to Europe 400 years ago. The leaves were reason enough to have it…bright green and looked just like a banana leaf, but the red flowers intrigued me more. Indica’s flowers look so delicate, unlike the typical Canna and are reportedly a hummingbird magnet. Planted in late April, it came up too late in the spring for the flowers to form but the leaves were fabulous! A must have for the leaves alone, I am hooked. What a statement they made in my garden which has mostly medium to small leafed perennials.

To get it safely though winter in the ground, after cutting down the leaf stalks, I filled a small garbage can with leaves and turned the whole lot upside down over the rhizome. It worked great, as in the spring I could easily find the firm, white rhizome. So I waited…and waited…till June and it never came up! I dug around and found a rotted brown mass of fiber where the rhizome had been. Somehow it had disappeared. Boo hoo! I was so looking forward to having it again and seeing the flowers this time.

So I bought another, this time Canna ‘Ermine’ pictured here.  It also has big stately green leaves but with a white flower and butter yellow throat. It was wonderful too. Last week I dug it up after frost blackened the leaves. This winter I’m storing the rhizome in the garage so it won’t freeze, but cold enough to become dormant and I will plant again in spring. I don’t know anyone around here who dig or lose their Cannas over the winter but I don’t want to lose mine again. It’s been a long time since I considered anything worth digging, storing and replanting, but I’d like Canna back again next year.

Do you grow Canna? Are your winter temps not optimal for its survival? Do you dig it to save it or plant new every year? If you’ve never tried one I encourage you to give it a go next spring. If you mail order you’ll want to get your orders in now for best selection.

In bloom in my garden today: Kirengeshoma palmata, Borage, Daphne, Digitalis (foxglove), Salvia, Nepeta (cat mint), Solanum crispum (potato vine), Phygelius (cape fushia) Schizostylis (river lily), Alyssum

Food ready for the birds: Caryopteris seeds, Mountain Ash berries, Pyracantha berries, Echinacea seeds, Coreopsis seeds, Liatris seeds.

Author’s photo


Shari B. said...

I wonder if a Canna indica would grow where my mom lives in Ohio, she LOVES hummingbirds and puts out feeders for them. Might be a great gift idea, thanks so much!

Joan said...

Hi Shari,
Well I would think it would grow in pots for sure, but she would have to protect the pots in the winter or simply lift out the rhizome and store it. They don't have to be planted deep. Old House Gardens where I bought mine is located in Michigan. It gets cold there and I think is not winter hardy in the ground but can be bought yearly as an annual or stored. If she contacted them they could give her good cold winter storage advice for that area. They are nice folks.