Canna – fall care & winter storage

(small)Ruby-thoated Hummingbird on Canna by Pat Sutton-w-sig
Ruby-throated Hummingbird nectaring on Canna in Pat Sutton’s garden

Now that it’s early December I’d like to share a late fall garden task for those of us living in the Northeast where winters can be harsh.

I normally try to dig up my Cannas by sometime in November for the winter.  This year I’m running late and took advantage of this lovely warm day to do the deed.  For about 5 years I gave away 100+ Canna tubers each spring, the extras I had no need for.  Those of you who got Cannas from me will want to dig them up, if you haven’t already, before it gets too cold to perform this task.

You could leave your Canna tubers in the ground, but they may rot over the winter, so it’s a lottery (you may lose them all).  If you planted 3 Canna tubers, don’t be surprised if they’ve multiplied into 30 Canna tubers — hence me being able to give so many away all those years.  If you dig them up and store them properly over the winter, you’ll have a secure source of tubers to plant next spring & lots of extras to give away to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors.

If the task of digging them all up is just too much for you, dig up the tubers from just a few of your plants so you’re sure to have enough to plant next spring.  That’s what I’ve been doing in recent years, only digging enough up for my purposes.  Some of the ones I’ve left in the ground make it through the winter (especially in a south-facing garden), but most rot.

HOW TO WINTER OVER YOUR CANNA TUBERS

I dig my Canna tubers up in late November or early December (before it’s too cold to tackle this task).  Here is my step-by-step process:

  • I cut off the top growth (so they’re more manageable)
  • I dig down with a shovel or pitch fork, beyond where the exposed tubers are showing and the now-cut stalks, get under the tubers, and pry them up
  • You can break big ones apart into smaller and more manageable tubers
  • Place a large plastic bag in a shallow tray or a crate
  • Put a layer of leaves, shredded newspaper, or pine needles in the bottom of the bag
  • Tap the dirt off the Canna tubers and lay them on top of the leaves, shredded newspaper, or pine needles . . . layer by layer
  • Cover the top layer of Canna tubers with more leaves, shredded newspaper, or pine needles (to protect them from a brutal cold winter) and tuck more of the insulating material down around the edges.
  • Pull the bag shut
  • Because we don’t have a garage or basement, we then slide the tray or crate full of Canna tubers under our house into the crawl space.  A  friend with a basement, puts hers into trash cans with leaves or shredded newspaper and keeps them in her basement.  You could probably store the crate or trash can full of Canna tubers in a garage as well.

SPRING

  • Once the ground is warm, plant single canna tubers here and there around the garden in spots that get full sun.  They are a lovely accent in the garden.  Or you might enjoy planting  a border or a circular bed of them (they make a great “hide and seek” spot for kids to play in).
  • Don’t plant your canna tubers too deep, otherwise they’ll take forever to peek through the soil & bloom.  Simply scrape away a shallow area (not a deep hole), lay down the Canna tuber, and cover it with soil.
  • One tuber will grow into several tubers and send up a number of stalks that will bloom all summer and right through late fall until the first frost, drawing in constant nectaring hummingbirds. 

Happy Gardening,

Pat

8 Replies to “Canna – fall care & winter storage”

    1. Debbie, canna tubors multiply, so you’ll want to take them out of the pot and follow my instructions above. Next spring plant some in your original pot, but you’ll find you have many more to plant elsewhere. Enjoy!

  1. I store mine in my garage in a cardboard box or flower pot and with nothing to cover them. I planted a dozen and dug up 90 last Fall and now I will wait until this first frost and dig up these. They are so beautiful and mine were 8-10ft. tall. We live in northern Michigan.

  2. I live inn Florida now and will be moving to Western North Carolina in November. If i dig up my canna lily now and move them to North Carolina will they survive?

  3. how timely ~ we’re going to dig ours too; hopefully this coming weekend. They just now are finally dying down. We dig up the tubers every year then plant them as a border around our veggie garden. They look nice and hummingbirds really love the blooms!! And, like you said we always have plenty of extras to share with friends. I like the idea of putting them in a trash can in the garage. I may try that with some. We usually put them in large trash bags in peat moss and store them in our basement.
    Happy Holidays!

  4. I just purchased my first Canna plant here in S.W. Florida. It is in a pot and has several flowers. If I put it in the ground before I leave for S. Jersey in April will it survive.? Or should I dig up the tubers as described above to rest for the summer? I return to Florida in November.

    1. Hi Carol, sorry that I missed seeing your question until now. I guess I got gobbled up by the Holidays. The care I share for Canna tubers is for those of us that have a frozen winter. If we leave the tubers in the ground after our 1st frost, there’s a chance that they will rot over the freeze-thaw-freeze-thaw stretch of winter. If your Canna is blooming, leave it exactly where it is. Here in NJ, when mine stop blooming (after the 1st frost) is my cue to dig them up and protect them through the winter. For all I know you may have blooming Cannas all year long in Florida. Best to ask folks living there who already are growing Cannas, how theirs fare and if there is any need to dig them up. Good luck and have fun learning about gardening in FL (far different than NJ).

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