How to grow canna lilies
Find out all you need to know about growing gorgeous canna lilies, in this practical Grow Guide.
Canna lilies are impressive tender perennials that offer height, dramatic foliage. Often used in bedding displays, tropical borders or large containers, canna lilies are great value for money, giving years of colour and drama. They flower from June to October.
Canna lilies will only overwinter outside in a very sheltered garden in a mild area. To overwinter cannas in most parts of the country you will need somewhere frost free to store them in winter. Alternatively cover plants with a generous mulch and keep your fingers crossed.
How to grow canna lilies
Canna lilies are perfect for growing at the back or middle of a mixed or tropical border. Plant them in a rich, moisture-retentive soil in full sun or light shade. Water in dry spells and deadhead regularly to prolong flowering.
Cana lily: jump links
- Planting canna lilies
- Caring for canna lilies
- Propagating canna lilies
- Canna lily problems
- Best canna lilies to grow
More on growing canna lilies:
Where to plant canna lilies
Canna lilies do best in a rich, moisture-retentive soil in full sun or light shade. In the garden they're perfect for the back or middle of a mixed or tropical border. Some can reach up to 2.5m in height. Even when not in flower, their impressive foliage offers the perfect foil for neighbouring flowers.
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If growing canna lilies in containers choose a large pot as they put on substantial growth in one growing season. They’re often planted individually in pots as they will soon swamp smaller plants.
Planting cannas in pots? Here's how to make the most dramatic display:
When and how to plant canna lilies
The best time to plant canna lilies is in April and May, and are usually best started off in pots. Cannas have strong underground stems, known as rhizomes. In the dormant season you'll find rhizomes for sale in bags in the garden centre or nursery. In summer they're sold as potted plants.
When planting canna rhizomes into pots, use a large (20cm) plastic pot. Ensure that any shoots are just above the surface. Place the pots in a heated greenhouse, water and wait for signs of life. From late May, after all risk of frost has passes and new shoots or roots have grown, harden off your cannas and and then plant them in the garden. They should flower in their first year.
Cannas bought as potted plants can be planted directly into the garden. Water in well and feed with a slow-release fertiliser. They rarely require support.
Canna lily care
Canna lilies rarely need staking. Water during dry spells and deadhead to keep plants flowering for as long as possible. Although canna lilies are tropical plants, they're not winter hardy although they can survive mild winters. Once the foliage starts to break down in autumn, fold this over the crown of the plant and then cover with a thick layer of straw. Alternatively, dig your canna up and overwinter in a cool, frost-free place, and plant out the following year.
Watch Keith Hayward of Hart Cannas explain how to care for cannas, including when to water them and how to overwinter them:
How to propagate canna lilies
Divide canna lilies in spring before planting them back outside in the garden, or dig them up if you have overwintered them outside (wait for all risk of frost to pass, first). Remove sections of rhizomes with at least two or three growing points, and pot on.
You can grow cannas from seed but they won't come true to type.
Growing canna lilies: problem solving
Canna lilies are trouble free if grown in the right conditions. The biggest problem you will encounter is plants that are too happy – in a few years plants can fill a dustbin-sized pot. You’ll need to have some strength to move the plants undercover or dig them out of the borders.
In recent years cannas have been affected by canna virus. It's thought that this is more prevalent on plants that are bought as rhizomes. Try to buy plants from virus-free suppliers.
Growing canna lilies: buying advice
- Always buy plants from virus-free suppliers
- Choose the size and flower/foliage colour of your canna wisely – it will make a dramatic impact on your garden so make sure it works with its surroundings
- Cannas are available from a wide range of garden centres and nurseries, but you will find more choice at specialist nurseries
Where to buy canna lilies
Canna lilies to grow
The gorgeous red-purple leaves of 'Mystique' are at their most intense if grown in full sun. The flowers are relatively small but a shocking pink colour that really catches the eye. Surround it with green-leaved plants to help the foliage stand out. Reaches 2m in height.
Height x spread: 2m x 100cm
- Buy Canna 'Mystique' from Hart Canna
'Lincroft' is a medium-sized cultivar reaching around 1.2m in height. The warm yellow flowers have bright pink spots, set against rich green foliage. Like all cannas, it needs to be grown in soil that stays moist and won't dry out.
H x S: 120cm x 100cm
Canna 'Eric Neubert'
This striking variety has blazing orange-red flowers and intense bronze-green foliage. 'Eric Neubert' is a medium-sized canna, reaching a height of around 1m.
H x S: 1m x 50cm
- Buy Canna 'Eric Neubert' from Todd's Botanics
More unusually for a canna, 'Ambassador' has creamy-orange flowers that are more subtle compared to many other varieties. The large green leaves resemble those of bananas. Good for a spot in partial shade where the flowers can stand out more. Reaches 1.5m tall.
H x S: 1.5m x 60cm
- Buy Canna 'Ambassador' from Suttons
'Striata' has striking green leaves bearing yellow stripes, which complement the bright orange flowers (not pictured), and any other orange- or yellow-flowered plants growing nearby. Grows to 1.9m in height.
H x S: 1.9m x 50cm
- Buy Canna 'Striata' from Burncoose
'Champion' has gorgeous dusky pink flowers set against a foil of bronze foliage. This short variety looks beautiful growing alongside cream-, orange- and pink-flowered plants and is great for containers.
H x S: 80cm x 50cm
- Buy Canna 'Champion' from Hart Canna
The lava-coloured flowers of 'Semaphore' dazzle against its bronze leaves. This is a compact, dwarf variety that reaches around 80cm in height.
H x S: 80cm x 60cm
- Buy Canna 'Sephamore' from J Parker's