Canna Lilies

Growing Canna Lilies

Canna Lilies are not Lilies!

These fabulous wildly exotic plants are kissing cousins to Bananas and Ginger plants.

Order: Zingiberales, Family: Cannaceae, Genus: Canna

Although Canna Lilies originally came from the tropics, most of the cultivars have been developed in temperate areas. They will survive a wide range of conditions

canna lily

Canna Lilies have many uses

Canna Lilies are multi-talented plants. They have been grown for their spectacular foliage which can be various shades of green, variegated or a fabulous bronze colour.

Some Canna Lilies have lovely flowers and produce seeds. In my garden growing canna lilies has rewarded me by providing exuberant exotic foliage with the addition of bright red flower spikes.

Cannas are not only grown for their appearance, but also for their large starchy rhizomes.

These are used for human and animal food. The foliage is useful as fodder and the young shoots are eaten when they are tender. The inner core is crispy and mildly sweet and can be added to salads (I've tasted them and give them thumbs up.)

Seeds have been used as beads and inside rattles. They are also ground into tortillas.

Canna plants have also been used to produce paper

I planted quite a lot of cannas this year in my new house and the flowers were attracting lots of hummingbirds.


Growing Canna Lilies

Canna Lilies are a favourite of gardeners everywhere because of their good nature and reliable show. They are also safe around pets and children since they are not poisonous at all.

Given proper drainage they will thrive in most soils although I've had more success in lighter mixes. They don't like wet feet. They can tolerate dry conditions better.

Cannas are fast growing plants and can reach 6 feet.

They are usually grown by planting a rhizome. I never bury the Canna rhizome very deep, 4-6 inches below the surface is all they need. Plant them in the spring once the ground has warmed up a bit and there is no frost. I put mine in May, otherwise they start growing in the peat moss I overwinter them in.

I've heard that commercial growers sometimes grow them as sterile cuttings in growing medium. They produce seeds but I've never tried growing them by seed because it's so easy to propagate them using the rhizomes.

Garden store will often sell the young plants in the spring, looking innocent in smallish pots. As soon as you give them a bit more space they take off and grow at a surprising rate in good conditions. The Variegated types are slower. There are also "dwarf" varieties.

Canna lilies do very well in pots. I've grown them for years in my little back garden using 12-14 pots. The plants in the photo above are in a plastic pot and are well over 4 feet high.

canna lily

Plastic pots are better, Cannas can shatter a clay pot if the rhizome grow too big. I also have them in large garbage cans and they love this.

Canna Lilies like several hours of sun if they can get it. They will survive surprising amount of shade but flowers will not be as numerous. Plants on the left survive in mostly bright shade and camouflage the composter. Cats are often sleeping around the plant keeping an eye open for mice.

In the fall I dig up the rhyzomes, let them dry a bit, then pack them up in rubbermaid containers filled with peat moss. I put them in the cool basement for the winter. They survive just fine.


Pests and Diseases

canna leaf roller

Canna Lilies are hardy plants and are wonderfully free from problems.

Canna Lilies are delicious to Canna Leaf Rollers. These are little butterflies called skipper butterflies that produce a caterpillar that will shred a Canna Lily. They roll up the leaf and eat them. If you see the leaves getting gummed up with silk, you can open it up and remove the caterpillar. The leaf then gets a cleaning.


There are insecticides that can control these bugs. I try to avoid them and between picking out the big bad guys by hand and letting the good bugs deal with the little bad guys, I don't seem to have much trouble.

Canna lily with a Japanese Beetle

One day I had the visit from a few Japanese Beetles

I know gardeners everywhere despise them but they are very lovely insects with their bright copper bodies and iridescent head. They have little furry skirts of white hair tufts. I left them alone on their Canna and they ate a leaf to lace. One afternoon there was wild Japanese beetle romance and sex, then they disappeared. They are large insects and can be picked off by hand. This is what I do if there are more than just a couple.


There are also some viruses which attack Canna lilies. I've never seen any. Here is the Wikipedia article on Canna Virus.

After the first frost you can dig up the roots dry them a bit and store them for planting next spring.


I try to be accurate and check my information, but mistakes happen.

email me if you find mistakes, I'll fix them and we'll all benefit: Christine