In the Garden:
Middle South
June, 2009
Regional Report

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In Sharon Thompson's garden, blooms of Rosa 'Natchitoches Noisette' provide a pleasing color echo to the bronzy-purple foliage of Canna hybrid 'Wyoming.'

Count on Cannas

Are you looking for a flowering plant to add stunning height, bold texture, and bright color to the garden? If so, it's a no-brainer. Count on cannas.

A recent visit to the garden of my friend Sharon Thompson proved the point. In her lakeside landscape, Sharon grows wide swatches of burgundy-leaved 'Wyoming' and green- and yellow-striped 'Bengal Tiger' in an expansive bed of woody and herbaceous plants. There, the cannas proudly proclaim their presence, like a pair of drama-queens among genteel ladies.

Native to southeastern states, as well as parts of the West Indies and Central and South America, cannas are among the showiest, and in some cases the gaudiest, plants in the summer garden. Lush and tropical-looking, they feature large, banana-like leaves and tall flower stalks of vibrant blooms.

Flowers can be red, orange, salmon, coral, pink, or cream, and some are bicolored or speckled. Foliage is green, burgundy, or bronze, and some varieties display shocking stripes of red, pink, yellow, white, or cream. When backlit by the sun, large multi-colored leaves glow like stained glass.

Depending on the cultivar, cannas reach between 3 and 7 feet tall. The loftiest are stand-outs at the back of the border, while dwarf selections make excellent container plants. Wherever you grow them, cannas will be a focal point; they just can't help clamoring for attention.

Like Sharon, mix cannas with traditional garden plants such as daylilies, coneflowers, and roses to give the garden more punch. Or, create a simmering oasis by planting them with other tropical plants such as hibiscus, pentas, lantanas, elephant ears, gingers, castor beans, mandevillas, brugmansias, bananas, and hardy palms.

Here are a few tips to ensure success:

Like most tropical-type plants, cannas grow best in full sun and high heat. If you purchase container-grown selections, place them so the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface. If you choose bare root rhizomes, plant them 4 inches deep in a horizontal position with the eye facing up.

Give cannas plenty of room. Many grow into big plants as much as 3 to 4 feet wide, so space them at least 18 inches apart. A single specimen can anchor a small bed, but they look best in groups.

Although tolerant of dry conditions, cannas prefer plenty of moisture and can even grow in water. They're also heavy feeders. Before planting, amend the soil with organic matter such as compost, leaf mold, or soil conditioner. Then, during the growing season, feed plants with a water-soluble 20-20-20 fertilizer at least twice a month.

Cannas can be deadheaded for continual bloom. Cut each stalk to the ground after it finishes blooming, ensuring new stalks and flowers into the autumn months. If you prefer foliage only, just remove the flower spike.

After a hard frost kills the foliage, cut the stalks off at the ground, chop them up, and remove them to the compost pile, but leave rhizomes to overwinter in place. Cannas are hardy in the Middle South.

Too many cannas can equal too much of a good thing. To avoid landscape schizophrenia, limit your garden to one variegated type and one or two green, burgundy, or bronze-leaved selections.


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