July 24, 2014

Cannas bring tropical beauty to a garden

Cannas are still among the most treasured flowers in the garden because the tropical look is hard to beat.

This season has been a wake-up call for me: Cannas are still among the most treasured flowers in the garden. I love gingers and occasionally I will fret with heliconia or bird of paradise, but the tropical look of the canna is hard to beat.

Bengal Tiger has always been my favorite except for the time my LSU counterparts started welcoming me into the Tiger Nation. But this variegated green- and yellow-leafed canna with deep orange flowers is indeed truly incredible. In full scorching sun it looks a little more golden, while in shadier locations lime green almost predominates.

New gardeners are discovering it every year, but would you believe it was imported from India in 1963? Here at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens we have ours combined with flowering bananas for an island paradise setting. The key to your happiness is to use enough to create a show. Spot planting rarely entices you to linger or grab for the camera.

My next favorite is Tropicanna. It is hard for me to believe I first wrote about it in 1997. The leaves are really the most exotic in the canna world. It is a struggle to adequately describe the beauty, as each leaf is different. There are green and gold variegations broadly colored with burgundy, rust and pink. To see these backlit by the sun is a botanical treat. We used these in proximity to a large Fantasy crape myrtle with picturesque rust bark and nearby golden yellow yarrow.

In addition to quantity with cannas, it is also about companionship and letting your creative side show. The canna calls for you to be fearless when it comes to preconceived partnerships or rules. Whether you want the Caribbean island look, Grandma’s cottage garden, a backyard hummingbird garden, or a style that reflects more tradition, cannas can do it all for you.

In our cottage garden, one of the most stunning combinations uses salmon-colored cannas and purple bee balm. This combination stretched my comfort zone but has proven to be a Kodak moment for several visitors.

Regardless of the variety you choose, the best blooming will occur in full sun, though partial shade is tolerated. While the plants can thrive in soggy conditions, they will be more cold-hardy in soils that are fertile yet well-drained. Though you are buying hybrid seed produced plants or those grown from tissue culture, you can expect them to be perennial in zones 7 through 10. In colder regions consider digging the rhizomes for storage or growing in containers and tucking them inside the garage for the dormant season.

Soil preparation pays dividends with cannas. Amend tight, heavy soils with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like peat or humus, and till to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. While tilling the soil, incorporate 3 pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area.

If you haven’t tried cannas in a few years, it is probably time you took notice at your garden center.

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