Canna – fall care & winter storage

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  sometime in November for the winter.  This year I’m running late and  ran out today before the predicted snow to do the deed.   Those of you who have Cannas  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).  Some of the ones I’ve left in the ground make it through the winter (especially in a south-facing garden), but most rot.   If you dig them up and store them properly over the winter, you’ll have viable tubers to plant next spring & some extras to give away to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors.

Canna tubers multiply!   If you planted 3 Canna tubers, don’t be surprised if they’ve multiplied into 30 Canna tubers.  For about 5 years I dug up all my Canna tubers each fall.  This was very labor intensive, but it enabled me to give 100s  away each spring (the extras after I’d planted what I wanted).

Tubers dug up from only 10 plants (December 5, 2018)

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 up enough for my own garden needs.   My back is much happier with this decision too.

HOW TO WINTER OVER YOUR CANNA TUBERS

I dig my Canna tubers up in late November or early December (before the ground freezes).  My step-by-step process follows:

This is what Cannas look like after the first frost, browned and limp, no longer green
  • I cut the stems off at the ground to make the task of digging the tubers up more manageable

  • I scrape away any mulch to expose all the tubers
By fall, one small tuber planted in spring has multiplied into a sprawling array of tubers
  • With a shovel or pitch fork I dig down under the tubers (starting my dig well beyond  the exposed tubers and cut off stalks).  I  loosen the tubers and pry the enormous mass  out of the ground

  • You can break big ones apart into smaller and more manageable tubers
  • Tap the dirt off the Canna 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 (to act as insulation against freezing)
  • Lay the Canna tubers  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).  Tuck more of the insulating material (leaves, pine needles) down around the edges.
  • Pull the bag shut
  • We put our Canna tubers in the crawl space under our house because we don’t have a garage or basement.  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.
We’ve recycled a friend’s grape tray (that he gave us after wine making) and use it to contain our bag of tubers and pine needles. It is shallow so we can easily slide it into our crawl space under the house

PLANTING CANNAS IN 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 (sometimes numerous 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

10 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).

  5. My Cannas were in a very large pot. I have brought that pot in along with the rest of my potted plants and put them in my florida room (glass walls all around on 3 sides). During the winter since the leaves are all off the trees, the room is warm with plenty of sun. Is that safe for my Cannas, or do I really need to pull them from the pot.

    1. Hi Marianne, I think that should be safe. You’ll have to let us know how they do over the winter (stay green and keep blooming?). If you live in southern NJ or further south, there was a natural history happening this summer and fall like we’ve never seen before. Many Brazilian Skippers showed up in southern NJ and laid their eggs on Cannas. Their caterpillars zippered shut the leaves and grew larger and larger in the safety of the closed leaf. If your plants have any caterpillars or pupa in closed leaves, there’s a chance that they will emerge and fly around in your florida room this winter. To see the blog posts about this neat natural history occurrence (with photos of the Brazilian Skipper in all of its life stages … to help with your search image) go to: https://blogs.stockton.edu/sjbfs/2018/09/17/beth-polvino-documenting-my-brazilian-skippers/

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