Canna lily care: how to plant and grow these tropical gems

Create a tropical paradise in your garden this summer with our Canna lily care guide.

Canna Lily care guide

by Eleanor Weaver |

We're already mentally getting ready for summer; picture freshly mown lawns, deck chairs, barbecues, and gorgeous tropical flowers and displays. If you wish it, it'll come sooner right? And if you're looking for a statement plant to add fabulous design and a kaleidoscope of colour to your dream garden in the warmer months, look no further than the hugely popular Canna lily.

A favourite with garden designers, Canna lilies have bold, flashy flowers and luxurious, tonal foliage - and even better, it's easy to get growing yourself! While it might be a little early to plant them, now is the perfect time to get your hands on the dormant plant to save yourself a fortune ahead of summer.

We've shared a Canna lily care guide along with the best varieties to shop for to bring your dream, summer-holiday-ready garden to life in full force this year.

How to care for Canna lilies

The easiest way to grow Canna lilies is in a pot and fortunately, bare-root rhizomes (the subterranean plant stems) are a fraction of the cost of a potted-up, growing plant in summer.

These vibrant, funky flowers don't do well in the cold, so you should plant them in late spring or early summer when the chilly weather is less of a threat, and keep them in a frost-free spot for a few months. From early summer until the first severe frost of autumn, you can look forward to seeing some seriously gorgeous displays before they need lifting again in autumn to store away from the incoming frost. In a pot, that's easy!

Canna lily
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If you'd prefer to have your Canna lilies in your flower bed, we'd recommend sinking a nursery pot into the ground so you can still easily lift them out when the winter frost arrives. That way, you can effortlessly blend them in with your other blooms and still make sure they flourish and survive.

While you can leave your rhizomes in the ground over winter, it does affect the plant's growth and lessens the chance of you getting those stunning, tropical-like flowers. The cold will likely cause them to grow later in spring which could result in less or even no flowers at all. If you do decide to leave them outside, make sure to cover them with a thick 15cm of mulch to help keep them protected as best you can.

Pick a healthy plant

Canna lily rhizomes are available to buy online, from specialist suppliers, and some varieties are available to buy at garden centres too. If you're buying from your local garden centre, you should choose rhizomes that are firm with no mouldy growth and, ideally, haven’t produced any leaves yet. Most Canna varieties grow to be 1.5-1.8 metres high, though there are some shorter varieties that only reach 50-90cm, ideal for smaller spaces and pots.

Here are our favourite Canna lily varieties to buy for a modern garden to make a statement this summer.

Our pick of the best Canna lily varieties

Canna 'Tropicanna Gold'

Canna 'Tropicanna Gold'

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This variety is one of our favourites with the orange flowers and striking technicolour leaves. The stripy leaves of the 'Tropicanna Gold' are a treat in themselves!

Canna 'Black Knight'

Canna 'Black Knight'

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The 'Black Knight' has striking blood-red flowers and bronze-green leaves that'll add an exotic twist to your patio or bedding.

Canna 'Stuttgart'

Canna 'Stuttgart'

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The 'Stuttgart' is a larger variety with architecturally robust foliage, delicate peachy-orange flowers plus green and white variegated leaves.

Canna 'Tropicanna Black'

Canna 'Tropicanna Black'

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This variety has vibrant red flowers and dark purple, almost black, foliage. Use the dark leaves of the 'Tropicanna Black' as a dramatic backdrop in a fiery border.

Canna 'Wyoming'

Canna 'Wyoming'

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Show off the deliciously dark purple leaves of the 'Wyoming' contrasting against the large ruffled apricot-orange flowers, a colourful statement if ever we saw one.

Canna 'Pretoria'

Canna 'Pretoria'
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The 'Pretoria' is the epitome of summer with golden-orange flowers and light green leaves striped with splashes of yellow.

Canna 'Moonshine'

Canna 'Moonshine'

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With robust green leaves and creamy white petals with a flush of yellow, this Canna lily will blend in effortlessly with other flowers of a softer hue.

Canna 'Phasion'

Canna 'Phasion'

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The leaves of the 'Phasion' are the real showstopper, with each leaf variously striped in green, purple, orange, and pink. Spectacular and further enhanced with the orange flowers.

Canna 'Chocolate Sunrise'

Canna 'Chocolate Sunrise'

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Perfect for a tropical or jungle-themed garden, this gorgeous Canna is a rich mix of deep yellows and greens that'll add height to your garden displays.

Canna 'Lucifer'

Canna 'Lucifer'

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A great shorter variety, the Canna 'Lucifer' has beautiful red flowers edged in golden-yellow and surrounded in broad green foliage with wavy edges.

Keep your Canna lily alive

You've got your Canna rhizomes - next step is keeping it alive!

It's best to pot your rhizomes up as soon as possible into pots big enough to accommodate them with multipurpose variety compost around. If that's not doable, just make sure to pop them into a cold but frost-free and dark place until you're ready.

Once potted, you should store them in a frost-free place, such as a shed or garage, until the shoots begin to grow - then you'll want to move them somewhere that's still frost-free but well-lit.

When the danger of frost has subsided, normally late spring or early summer, move your pots outside to a warm and sunny spot so they can bask in the sunshine.

At the end of the season, bring your pots back inside and cut down the stems to just above compost level with a pair of secateurs. As these plants are dormant in winter, they won’t need any watering while stored. We said they were easy!

Help your Canna lily to thrive

Although Canna lilies will survive drought conditions, they will grow and flower much more lavishly if the compost remains moist. You should make sure to water them thoroughly whenever the compost starts to dry out and feed in spring with a controlled-release fertiliser for that extra boost.

We'd also recommend adding a 5-7cm deep layer of mulch around your rhizome after planting. Mulch is made up of organic material such as moss, grass, tree bark, and wood chips to help the soil retain moisture to improve fertility and suffocate weeds.

Canna lily care buys

Here's some products we recommend buying to help your Canna lily truly shine...

Terracotta Perennial Bell Pot

Terracotta Perennial Bell Pot

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You'll be able to truly show off the striking leaves and flowers of your Canna by placing it in a plain terracotta pot like this one. Measures 47cm diameter.

Whitefurze Barrel Planter

Whitefurze Barrel Planter, 50cm

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This super-affordable all-purpose patio tub comes in a barrel style with a wood-grain effect, creating a lovely feature in your garden. Measures 50cm diameter.

Gr8 Garden Large Round Glazed Effect Egg Cup Planter

Gr8 Garden Large Round Glazed Effect Egg Cup Planter
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Available in red, midnight blue, grey, green, and blue, this large planter will only add to the dramatic display from your Canna lilies. Measures 33cm diameter.

Westland 60L Multi-Purpose Compost with John Innes

Westland 60L Multi-Purpose Compost with John Innes
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This multi-purpose compost will help your plant to grow big and strong with vibrant flowers. Perfect to use from seed to bloom, the John Innes formula retains nutrients and water for longer too so your plant can thrive.

Miracle-Gro All Purpose Continuous Release Plant Food

Miracle-Gro All Purpose Continuous Release Plant Food
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These Miracle-Gro granules will feed your plant for up to six months with a unique mix of ten nutrients, removing the need for regular feeding.

RocketGro Organic Mulch 50L

RocketGro Organic Mulch 50L
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This peat-free mulch is the by-product of renewable energy production at the RocketGro farm in Somerset and is rich in bio-available nutrients and minerals to feed and protect your soil.

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