The Basics: Cannas and Callas

Hot Colors Provide a Tropical Look

Cannas and calla lilies are great summer flowers that can be grown in containers or in the garden. Their bold foliage and exotic flowers make a big splash with little effort. Here's how to grow these tender beauties:

The Dwarf Canna Mixture can be used in the garden or in containers.


Originally from the West Indies and South America, cannas are one of the showiest summer bulbs you can grow. These lush tropical plants produce large—sometimes colorful—leaves, and tall flower stalks with vibrant blossoms. Depending on the variety, cannas can grow a few feet tall to more than 10 feet tall. Dwarf varieties look great in large containers combined with petunias, sweet potato vines, and other low-growing annuals. Larger varieties make a strong, elegant statement planted at the back of flower beds or grouped together in showy islands of color. Because they tolerate moist soils, cannas can also be planted along ponds or in a wet spot in the yard.

Cannas are generally grouped by leaf color. One of the most popular green-leafed varieties is 'City of Portland', which has soft, salmon-colored blooms. For containers, consider the Dwarf Canna Mixture, a blend of hot tropical colors on 3-foot plants. 'Ambassador' is similar in size, but it has reddish leaves and red flowers.

Planting and Care: Because they are topical plants, cannas thrive in full sun, with plenty of summer heat and consistently moist soil. Wait until the soil has warmed and all threat of frost has passed before planting cannas outdoors. Rhizomes should be planted horizontally, 4 to 6 inches deep, and spaced 1 to 2 feet apart. For earlier flowers, cannas can be planted in pots and started indoors or in a greenhouse about one month before mild weather arrives.

Cannas grow and flower best when fertilized monthly. Keep plants well watered and weeded. Because cannas are tropical plants, they will overwinter outdoors only in frost-free areas (USDA zones 9 and 10). In most areas you'll need to dig up the tubers in fall and store them indoors. After frost kills back the foliage, dig the tubers, and store them in a cool, dark, frost-free place.

Calla Lilies

Add a touch of tropical elegance to your garden with White Calla Lilies.

This South African native is known primarily as a florist flower, but is becoming popular for use outdoors in containers and in cutting gardens. The broad, trumpet-like flowers (technically a spathe or modified leaf) come in a range of colors from white to yellow to rose and burgundy. Most varieties grow less than 2 feet tall. The sword-like green foliage often has attractive white freckles. Some popular varieties include salmon-colored 'Cameo', pink-colored 'Superba', bright yellow 'Golden', and the classic 'White'. Callas look great planted under trees and in other protected spots with shade-loving plants such as caladium, hosta, and impatiens. They are also attractive in pots and planters, providing a late-summer surprise when other flowers begin to fade.

Planting and Care: Plant callas outdoors in a location that gets bright, morning light. They appreciate some afternoon shade—especially in hot-summer areas. Callas grow best in a moist soil amended with organic matter. Set rhizomes 4 to 6 inches deep and 1 to 2 feet apart. They can be planted 6 to 12 inches apart when grown in pots. Fertilize monthly. Keep well watered and weeded.

Callas are frost-sensitive, but in USDA zones 8 and 9 they can be left in the ground if mulched with bark or straw before winter. In colder areas, lift the rhizomes after first frost, clean off excess soil, let dry out of the direct sun for a few days, then store in a dry location that remains between 50 and 60 degrees F. Plant in spring after the soil has warmed and all danger of frost has passed.

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