Exotic plants

When Cannas Fail to Bloom

Question: Last year, my cousin gave me some canna bulbs and I planted them in the garden. They grew to be huge, with beautiful leaves, but they never bloomed. Why?

Celine

Montreal

This is what we all want our cannas to look like, but they often disappoint with their late or absent flowers. Photo: http://www.jparkers.co.uk

Answer: Growing cannas (Canna × generalis) is not for the impatient gardener, especially the older varieties. If you plant their rhizomes directly in the ground, they only bloom very late, often well into fall. And where summers are short, like where you live, they may not bloom at all.

Start canna rhizomes indoors in pots 4–6 weeks before the last frost to speed up their flowering. Photo: peopleplantslandscapes.blogspot.com

That’s why gardeners have traditionally started canna rhizomes (which you called bulbs) indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date. Place the rhizomes in a large pot, covering them with 3 to 4 inches (7 to 10 cm) of potting soil, then water well before placing the pot somewhere they can get a bit of heat. 70 °F (21 ° C) is a minimum. Try for 80 °F (27 °C) if you can! As soon as the shoots appear above the surface of the soil, expose the pot to full sun too and continue to keep the growing mix a bit moist. If you can convince the sprouting cannas they’re a tropical swamp, they’ll grow more quickly … and will come into bloom sooner.

When the air has warmed up outdoors (certainly above 50˚F/10˚C at night), put the pots of cannas out and start to gradually acclimatize the plants to outdoor conditions. Try 3 days in shade, 3 days in half-shade and 3 days in sun. Then you can move them their summer spot. 

You can plant cannas in the ground or keep growing them in pots. Since cannas love sun and heat, a location protected from wind often suits them very well. Do enrich the soil with compost or fertilizer, as cannas are very greedy plants!

Throughout the summer, continue to water as needed, as cannas don’’t like to dry out. You can even put their pot in a water garden so they soak constantly in water and they’ll still bloom very well, provided the water is relatively warm, that is.

With this regime, you should be able to get your cannas to bloom beautifully!

Or Try Earlier Cannas

The above treatment is the standard one for the big canna plants gardeners have been growing for generations, but there’s a whole range of new, earlier-flowering, smaller cannas you can try.

The banana canna (Canna ‘Musaefolia’) is huge … and thus, rarely blooms. Photo: http://www.brentandbeckysbulbs.com

Why is height a factor? Because the taller a canna is, the later it blooms. Thus, very tall cannas, such as the banana canna (Canna ‘Musaefolia’)—which can reach 10 to 15 feet (3 to 4.5 m) in height—almost never bloom outside the tropics: the growing season is just too short. Classic garden cannas, such as ‘Wyoming’, ‘Red King Humbert’ and ‘City of Portland’, are pretty big plants, most easily reaching 6 feet (nearly 2 m in) high and thus are also quite late to bloom, although they will flower in most climates if they’re started indoors.

The Cannova series of dwarf, early-to-flower, repeat-blooming cannas. Photo: http://www.takii.eu

But there is also a host of recently introduced dwarf cannas such as the Futurity, Canna Island, Cannova and Cannasol series, which are less than 4 feet (1.2 m) in height and therefore bloom earlier, often as early as the beginning of the summer if started indoors. In addition, most dwarf cannas produce numerous offsets, stems that will flower in their turn over the summer and therefore they often bloom non-stop once the first blooms have appeared.


In short, then, there are two secrets to being absolutely sure to get cannas to bloom in your garden. First, start them indoors to give them a head start on the season … then choose dwarf cannas: they’re just so much easier to bloom than the old standard ones!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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