By Marianne Binetti
Cannas can do it all. Huge, paddle-shape leaves with golden or red stripes make cannas my favorite can-do summer bulb for any area where beauty must replace boring. The most colorful is the variety Tropicanna, with gold or red leaf stripes. This bulb blooms by late summer in the Northwest, but who needs the flowers when the foliage is so fantastic?
Create a contemporary edge by potting cannas in a galvanized metal garbage can. Pairing the striped foliage of the cannas with the silver blue of ‘Glacier Blue’ euphorbia makes both foliage plants look better. For more color I added grassy red Cordyline Festival Grass to this grouping of foliage plants.
Tip: Gray foliage plants contrast well with bright cannas and look great in galvanized metal containers, echoing the metallic sheen of the pots.
Add late-summer and autumn drama by poking some canna bulbs into the back of a bed. The tall and narrow shapes don’t take up as much room as other tall perennials, or need staking, or spread as enthusiastically. The wide leaves contrast in texture with finer-leaf foliage plants such as hardy fuchsias. For additional dramatic color, partner cannas with brightly colored coleus.
Tip: Cannas have the brightest leaf colors in full sun, and growing them in a raised bed means the soil warms up more quickly for faster growth.
Cannas look great next to water, and these adaptable bulbs can even adjust to life as water plants, with their roots partly submerged in a pond. Just be sure the top of the cannas poke a few inches out of the water. Before you set them into water, use bulbs that are potted and have sprouted foliage. You can adjust the height of the pot in your pond with stacked bricks or blocks. In my garden I use a Tropicanna canna with Cordyline Festival Grass, and a bit of yellow Japanese Forest Grass to add contrasting leaf texture.
Tip: To bring out the stripes on Tropicanna canna, use an accent plant, like this orange-blooming agastache, in the front of the container. Orange begonias would work in a shaded site.
Cannas can be “living art,” not just on the patio but also in a garden bed of ground covers. Accent the height of the plant by using a tall, narrow pot—it takes up less room and adds more drama. Mulching with spheres of orange art glass is a simple way to call attention to the colors in canna foliage.
Canna Care Tips
- Buy presprouted canna bulbs, so you won’t waste the three weeks it takes them to sprout. (My overwintered canna bulbs don’t make a show until midsummer!) The sprouted bulbs you find at Lowe’s are easy to move into larger containers or transplant directly into the ground.
- To overwinter cannas in pots, once frost has turned the plants brown, I cut their tops off, then move the pots under the eaves to keep out winter rains. The moisture rots canna bulbs more often than the cold kills them.
- Cannas love heat and water. Fertilize once in late spring with a slow-release plant food such as Osmocote. No need to deadhead, pinch, or prune. Cannas are easy—you can do this!