Canna – fall care & winter storage (plus Host Plant for Brazilian Skipper)

My garden is largely made up of natives, but I love hummingbirds and they love Cannas.  I have added some non-native hummingbird favorites, as long as they are not problematic (invasive) and Cannas fit that category.  They bloom all summer and fall until the first frost.

Those of you with Cannas will want to dig up their tubers, if you haven’t already, before it gets too cold to perform this task.  I normally dig mine up  sometime in November for the winter.  This year I tackled it November 25th.  If you haven’t done so yet, use a mild day to get this task done before winter sets in.

If the task of digging them ALL up is just too much for you (as it is for me) , dig up just enough tubers (from just a few of your plants) so you’re sure to have enough to plant in all your favorite spots next spring (where tubers you left in the ground rotted over the winter).  Now that I’ve grown older and wiser, that’s what I do and my back is much happier with this decision.

You could leave your Canna tubers in the ground, but some, if not all of them, may ROT over the winter.  I’ve found that most of the Cannas growing in a sheltered, south-facing garden in my front yard survive the winter and resprout nicely each spring.  So I leave those in the ground and the bulk of them survive.  But nearly all the Canna tubers in my backyard gardens rot over the winter, so those are the ones I dig up each late fall.   If you do dig up Canna tubers and store them properly over the winter, you’ll have viable tubers to plant next spring plus many extras to give away to family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.

Canna tubers multiply!   If you planted 3 Canna tubers, don’t be surprised if they’ve multiplied into 30 or more.

Tubers dug up from only 10 plants (November 25)

HOW TO WINTER OVER YOUR CANNA TUBERS

I dig my Canna tubers up in late November or some years later (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 (placing my shovel well outside the exposed tubers).  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 dry leaves, shredded newspaper, or dry pine needles in the bottom of the bag (to act as insulation against freezing)
  • Lay the Canna tubers  on top
  • Cover the top layer of Canna tubers with more dry 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 nestled in 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 a thin layer of 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. 
  • Over the course of the growing season I regularly deadhead spent flowers, careful not to cut off the next bud.

BRAZILIAN SKIPPER

In recent years Brazilian Skippers have occurred in southern NJ, well north of their normal range.  They lay their eggs on Canna leaves to create the next generation.  Many of us with Cannas have had an opportunity to study the entire life cycle of this cool southern butterfly.  The eggs are creamy white and often laid here and there (as a single egg) on top of Canna leaves.  Once the caterpillar hatches it makes its way to the edge of a Canna leaf, makes two cuts (or chews), folds the bit of leaf in between over, zippers it shut with silk, and hides inside.

Look for these tell tale folded over leaf edges to find your first Brazilian Skipper caterpillars.  Monitor their growth and you’ll be sure to also find their large chrysalis.  Be careful not to be too nosy, or you may attract predators to the Brazilian Skippers’ hidey hole.

If you live in southern New Jersey, like me, report your Brazilian Skipper sightings to the South Jersey Butterfly B/Log.  It’s fun to see the history of their occurrence in southern NJ on this website.  If you live in northern New Jersey, report them to the NABA North Jersey Butterfly Club Recent Sightings page.  If you live elsewhere, report them to the North American Butterfly Association’s Recent Sightings page.

Happy Gardening,

Pat

16 Replies to “Canna – fall care & winter storage (plus Host Plant for Brazilian Skipper)”

    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.

    1. Sharon, I live in Northern New York so our conditions must be the same.
      Is your garage by heated? Mine is not. Its also detached.

      1. Carol, I don’t think you need a heated garage to store your Canna tubers. As long as they’re out of the blast of wind, wetness of snow and rain, and sheltered in a container with shredded newspaper or leaves around them, they should be find.

  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?

    1. Hi Greg, Sorry I missed seeing your question. YES. YES. YES. Hopefully you dug them up and moved your tubors to your new spot in NC. You can plant them in the spring.

  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/

  6. I just planted mines and now it’s supposed to freeze this weekend will the ground freezing this weekend hurt the bulbs?

    1. Hi Deannette, Hopefully your Cannas survived the freeze and are blooming lushly now. Mine began blooming recently (they are a bit later this year than normal because the spring was so cool) and are pulling in Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

    2. Hi there,

      I did not know I was to dig up Cannas. I live in NY so they were left underground throughout winter. Will they rebloom? It’s May 17th and no signs of blooming at all. Thanks for any advice or suggestions.

      1. Hi Yinka, Hopefully your Cannas survived. If not, and you’re able to find more, what you’ll want to do is dig up enough (and store them as I’ve directed) that you can replant each year . . . or run the risk of them rotting in the ground.

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