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Canna Lilies

Canna Leaves image by Jennifer Grush from

How to Propagate Canna Lilies

Canna lilies grow from rhizomes that spread underground. The plants grow from eyes on the rhizomes, with each eye capable of producing a new plant. The most common propagation method involves dividing the rhizome into pieces. Canna lilies also grow from seed, but this method is used less often because of the ease of dividing the rhizomes.

Propagation of Canna Lilies by Division

Dig up the canna rhizomes in the fall after a damaging frost. Cut the plants back and dig up the rhizomes. Shake off excess soil or gently wash soil away with a garden hose.

Hold the rhizome in high humidity for a few days to cure the root and avoid drying.

Place the rhizomes in a box of moist sphagnum moss or vermiculite and store in a cool place until spring.

Divide the rhizomes in the spring, before planting. Each tuber contains a clump of rhizomes with several eyes. Break the rhizome into sections, leaving one to three eyes per piece.

Plant the rhizomes 12 to 18 inches apart and 5 inches deep. Start pieces containing only one eye in a small pot and transplant them to the garden when the plant is established.

Growing Canna Lilies from Seed

Collect seed from spent flowers. Soak the seeds for one to two days. Nick the soaked seed with a file or knife edge to speed up germination.

Plant the seeds in peat pots or small pots with seed starter mix. Keep the soil moist. Seeds germinate in one to two weeks.

Transplant the canna lilies to the garden in the spring.


In cold climates, cannas must be dug up every fall. In zones 8 to 11 they can be left in the ground over the winter.

How to Dig Up Canna Bulbs

Cut the canna foliage back so that about 4 inches are left above the ground.

Dig up the bulbs using a garden fork, trowel or shovel. On all sides of the plant, dig about 6 inches deep and then pull down on the handle to lift the bulb out of the soil.

Shake off most of the excess soil, but leave a bit on. Then, lay the bulbs out in a dry area (not in the sun) on some newspaper for several hours before storing.

Pack the bulbs in a single layer in a cardboard box, separated and covered by clean peat moss, perlite or sand. The rhizomes should not touch each other. If your storage area is very dry, enclose them in a plastic bag. Punch holes in the bag so air can circulate.

Keep them in a dry, dark place around 50 degrees until it is time to plant them.

How to Care for Canna Lilies in the Winter

Dig up canna lilies after or just before the first hard frost if you live in Zone 5 or above (see References for a gardening zone map). Brush off the dirt gently and store the lily corms in a dark location that is cool (below 55 degrees Fahrenheit) but stays above freezing. Be sure they have sufficient air circulation; too much humidity will cause them to mold and rot. Divide and replant in the spring after the ground thaws.

Leave canna lily corms in the ground in the Southern states, Zone 6 or below.

Cut back the foliage, after it begins dying, to a few inches above the ground, then mulch heavily all around and on the base of the plant, sprinkling mulch over the remaining foliage to create a warm layer of about 3 or 4 inches.

Rake the mulch back in early spring, after the last frost and as the ground starts warming up.

Dig up and divide the canna lily corms every two to three years.

How to Divide Canna Lilies

Using your shovel, dig up the entire clump of canna lilies in the spring, only after any threat of a spring frost is gone.

Shake off the excess soil from the rhizomes without damaging the roots. Carefully brush off the dirt so you can see the eyes (growth nodes) on the rhizomes.

Break the rhizomes into pieces with three eyes each. The canna lily rhizomes have natural breaking points. Discard the old rhizomes that do not contain any eyes.

Clean and rinse off the canna lily rhizomes with a bleach solution of one part bleach and nine parts water to reduce the risk of plant diseases that may infect the canna lily rhizomes.

Replant the rhizomes 1 to 2 feet apart, depending on the type of cultivar. Dwarf-type canna lilies are planted closer together than tall types.


Canna lilies are heavy feeders. Start fertilizing canna lilies in early spring and continue monthly feeding while the canna lilies are blooming. Use 2 pounds of 5-percent nitrogen fertilizer for every 100 square feet. Fertilizer containing 10-percent nitrogen should be spread at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.


Do not leave the flower shoots on the canna lily. If the flower shoot is not removed after the flower wilts, then all the nutrition and energy will go into producing seeds. Deadheading the canna lilies will encourage them to bloom all summer long.

How to Soak Canna Bulbs

Dust the canna rhizomes of any storage medium that has clung to them with a small, clean paint brush or soft, clean terry-cloth towel. Rub gently but do not disturb or abrade the skin.

Fill a clean bowl or bucket with tepid water to cover the rhizomes.

Soak the canna rhizomes for two to three hours in the tepid water. Set the bowl or bucket in a location with warm ambient temperatures around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pull the rhizomes from the water and set on several layers of newsprint to drain. Plant the rhizomes in nutrient-rich soil garden or potting soil with the eyes facing up toward the sun; water well.

Canna Lilies That Grow in the Shade

Canna Stuttgart

Canna Stuttgart has cream-colored leaves streaked with bright green. Its flowers are a peach color. It needs to have protection from the sun or its leaves will burn, so plant it where it will receive only morning sun or in dappled shade, and give it plenty of water.

Canna Pretoria

Canna Pretoria goes by several names, including Bengal Tiger and Aureostriata. It has green leaves with narrow yellow stripes and produces orange flowers. It takes part shade and is very heat-tolerant. Canna Striped Beauty has similar leaves but yellow blooms.

Canna Pink Sunburst

Canna Pink Sunburst has leaves striped in green, red and orange, and the whole leaf has a pink cast. Its flowers are a salmon pink. It is a shorter variety, growing to 3 feet tall, and tolerates part shade. Other dark-leaved cannas will grow in part shade but will take on a greenish cast.


Cannas need moist soil and regular water. They grow 5 to 6 feet tall and flower in late summer. They are hardy to USDA zone 7 and should be mulched in winter after the foliage has been killed by frost. In colder climates, lift the rhizomes in fall and store them in moist peat moss or vermiculite over the winter.

Cooking With Canna Tubers

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Scrub the canna tubers with a potato brush under running water until any dirt particles are removed.

Poke the canna tubers with a fork at least six times along the cannas' surface.

Wrap the canna tubers in tin foil.

Bake the canna tubers for one hour.

Remove the tubers from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes, to allow the juices time to redistribute.

What If Canna Bulbs Get Moldy?

Canna bulbs that are moldy throughout and soft will not grow into healthy plants. Bulbs should be stored in a cool, dry location to prevent molding.

How Do I Split a Canna Tuber?

Brush off any excess soil on the canna tubers prior to splitting them. Locate the growing eyes on the tubers, which resemble the buds on a potato.

Break apart the tuber with the tip of the trowel into sections that have three to five eyes on each. Canna tubers have natural breaking points that are narrower then the rest of the root, so try and break them apart in these areas.

Mix one part bleach with nine parts water. Rinse each split tuber piece in this solution to kill any disease organisms present on the roots.


Dig up the tubers carefully so they aren't damaged by your trowel. Dig around them then slide the trowel under them to lift them instead of pulling them up or digging right above them.

Plant any small sections of tuber as long as they have at least one growing eye. These may take a year or two longer to produce full-size plants but they are still viable.

Replant the divided tubers to a 6 inch depth with the eyes facing upward, spacing them 1 to 2 feet apart in the bed.


Sterilize any tools used to cut the tubers with the bleach solution, otherwise you may spread disease to the tubers.

Dispose of any soft or diseased-looking roots; otherwise, they can spread rot to the healthy tubers.

When Should You Plant Canna Lilies?

The best time to plant canna lilies is in the spring after the last frost, when the ground is warm. You can plant cannas earlier inside and then transfer them outside.

Winter Care of Canna Plants

canna indica image by Jürgen Hust from

Allow the canna plants to die back in the fall. During the die back process, plant energy created by the leaves from solar or sun energy is transferred to the rhizome. The rhizome stores up the energy for the following growing season.

Cut the canna plants down to the soil line after their leaves turn brown. Use a sharp pair of scissors or a pair of pruning shears to cut away the foliage.

Dig up the canna rhizomes after cutting down the foliage. The first hard frost of winter will kill the foliage causing it to turn brown. Slip on a pair of gardening gloves and use your hands to remove the rhizomes from the soil, carefully.

Place the canna rhizomes, along with their attached soil, into a plastic flowerpot to overwinter. Store the flowerpot in an area with a constant temperature of approximately 50 degrees F. A cool area such as a basement, shed or garage should suffice.

Keep the canna rhizomes moist over the winter. If the attached soil appears dry, mist the rhizomes with a spray bottle of water to moisten. Allowing the rhizomes to dry out can affect their viability.

Winter Care for Canna Lilies

Cut the canna lily plants back to about 6 inches above the ground level after the first hard, killing frost. Cut the plants back only after the foliage dies.

Dig up each canna lily clump with the rhizomes. Carefully lift up the rhizomes using a shovel, spade or hand-held garden trowel, digging down at least 12 inches into the soil to minimize damage to the plant.

Brush off the soil from the canna lily rhizomes. Place the rhizomes into a cardboard box lined with plastic and filled with peat moss or perlite.

Arrange the canna lily rhizomes in the box so that they aren’t touching each other. Store the box in a dry, dark area at an air temperature of 45 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit.


Instead of lifting up the rhizomes and storing them for the winter, you can protect the canna lilies by spreading a 4- to 6-inch-thick layer of mulch over the rhizomes. Only use this winter protection method if the mulch will be sufficient to keep the rhizomes from freezing during the cold season in your region.


Don’t replant the canna lily rhizomes until all danger of frost has passed in the spring. Wait until the soil has warmed up.

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