Southern cannas can grow up north
Cannas (Canna generalis) were a common sight growing up in the South, but with a little care, they can be grown here and saved each year for another round of beauty in the garden. There are so many cannas to choose from these days.
Cannas can range from yellow to orange to red, with bright green banana-like leaves, or veined, red, bronze, along with the orchid like outstanding flowers. These tropical plants range from 18 inches to 10 feet tall, and 1 1/2 to 6 feet wide. So when making a choice, be sure to check the details so you are not surprised by a really short one or a really tall one. For the really tall ones, make sure to allow room.
Cannas are rhizomes (underground stems). You can plant these rhizomes in pots about four to six weeks before the last frost (now), in large, enriched soil, set the rhizome eye up, horizontal, about 3 to 4 inches below the soil line.
These are Zone 7 to 10 plants, so they need warmth to grow, along with rich moist soil. As they begin to grow inside your home or other warm location, they will need 6 to 8 hours of sun daily (a grow light is best for this) and a warm temperature of 70 to 75 degrees (using a warm pad is best). Check them daily for drying, as moisture is important to keep them growing. The top can dry, but 1 inch below must be kept moist to ensure a beautiful plant when you go to transplant in a few weeks.
Transplant your young plants into a container or directly into a flower bed after all danger of frost has passed, and the nights stay above 40 degrees. In the sunny yard, dig a hole twice as wide as the pot, and slide the ball into the hole, trying not to disturb any roots. Then backfill and enjoy. You can add compost and be sure not to plant them in a wet spot that does not drain. Mulch heavily around plants to keep out weeds, grasses, and to keep moist. Consistent moisture will make for the most beautiful plants with high quality blooms.
The rhizomes should be gathered after the plant dies back, cleaned off (no water), wrapped in newspaper to keep safe, and store in a cool dark place for the winter. Then, you can get them out next spring to begin another year of tropical beauty in the garden.
For details on starting, growing and choosing new cannas for your garden this year, go to http://go.osu.edu/canna.
Hughes is an Ohio State University Mahoning County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.