Canna Lilies: a Touch of Tropics for Your Garden

Spring in the northeast means it's finally warm enough to garden again. If you're yearning for something more exotic, I recommend you give canna lilies a try. These tropical plants can add a touch of the tropics to your garden, and they're surprisingly easy to care for.

Canna Lilies

Ah, the canna. It reminds me of the tropics with their large, green foliage.

Canna plants actually grow from rhizomes, which are thick, fleshy roots that store nutrients and water. Rhizomes are similar to bulbs, in that they can be replanted to produce new plants. However, unlike bulbs, rhizomes typically grow horizontally rather than vertically. This means that they require plenty of space to spread out and thrive. So if you're planning on growing cannas, make sure to give them plenty of room to roam.

I love tropical plants, but we’re located in zone 6, central New Jersey to be exact. So our choices are limited. To make matters more complicated, we have herds of deer that freely roam our neighborhood. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy watching the wildlife in the yard, but they have eaten so many supposedly "deer-resistant" plants. 

Last year, a super sweet neighbor gifted us a box of canna lily bulbs. I have adored them from nearby homes for years, so I planted them right away and anxiously awaited their blooms.

He's an avid gardener and told me a few important canna planting guides:

- Choose a sunny spot in your garden. Canna lilies need at least six hours of sunlight a day to thrive.

- Prepare the soil before planting. Canna lilies prefer well-drained soil, so amend your garden bed with some compost or peat moss if necessary.

- Plant the rhizomes about eight inches apart. 

It took over two months for it to grow. By mid summer it had grown full height and did not disappoint.

 Canna lilies - Essex DesignsFrom summer to fall, canna lilies add curb appeal.


What I love about canna lilies is that they're not fussy plants and relatively easy to care for. These are resilient plants, but they perform best in full sun in organically rich, well-drained soils. 

The best part: they're deer resistant!

Touch of the tropics in the garden

Cana lilies flowers come in a variety of colors, from bright reds and oranges to yellows and grows our of broad flat leaves. Ours is the Canna 'Brilliant' which has red blooms that stand out cheerfully against the yellow siding of my house.

I was pleasantly surprised that it also attracted more wild life: hummingbirds. I knew they were around, but it was our first time seeing them in our yard. In fact, we tried one of those bird feeders with sweet water but never actually saw one. My 9-year-old and 11-year-old were ecstatic to see one hover and dart around the crimson blooms.





Typically, canna lilies thrive in zones 8-11, so the rhizomes can be kept in the ground. If you reside in a colder zone, the rhizomes need to be dug up and stored over the winter before replanting them in the spring. 

Overwintering is protecting the plants from freezing temperatures. It's not difficult, and we store ours in a cardboard box in the garage. 

It turns out, there's another term for this: zone pushing. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, but I proudly call myself a zone pusher because it saves me money. 


Canna lily


You may safely re-plant your overwintered canna bulbs outside once the risk of frost has passed and the soil temperature is above 60° F. In New Jersey, that usually happens in late spring. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to it.





Do you have a favorite plant in the garden? Let me know in the comments below.




Hi Doug. Our cannas grew up to 5’ – 6’ tall. Peonies and roses are lovely perennials in our zones.


Hi Karen, so nice to meet someone from NJ!
You’re right that there is nothing off limits if deer are hungry.


hI Gwendolyn,
My wife is the gardener in the family. I have heard the name before but I cannot identify just where they grow in our yard. I think they are getting the luxury of an indoor winter here in southern Ontario.
How tall do they grow?
My favourite flowers are the Peonies and of course the Roses. It is hard to choose a favourite when there are so many beauties to choose from.


I love canna lilies and yours are such a gorgeous color! We have yellow cannas and a red amaryllis. My favorite flower in our garden will always be a rose.

Karen Sammer

I think your flowers are beautiful. I also live in Central Jersey and among many deer. We’ve found that deer really aren’t picky either and if they get hungry enough, nothing is off limits. I may have to try to grow some canna lilies too. I love when we get the occasional hummingbird in our yard, so if we can attract more I’ll be happy. Thanks for the info.

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