Anyone who knows cannas associates them immediately with the word greedy : Cannas need more water and fertilizer than average plants. It's no wonder--they are bog plants from tropical and subtropical regions of South America, where they colonize at the edges of swamps. In Southern California gardens, where tropical plants grow with ease, the effect they lend is paradisiacal--the single, straight stalks of glossy, green leaves (which resemble banana leaves) have hot-colored flowers blooming at the top.
The word canna means stem or cane, derived from the Greek word for stem, kanna. Those stems, depending on the variety, range in size from King Humberts, looming at nearly seven feet, to the lowest-growing strain, the Seven Dwarfs, which attains a height of only 18 inches.
Flowers generally bloom from June to Thanksgiving, although given the proper care in frost-free areas, they have been known to bloom all year.
On each stem, there are two or three clusters of flowers that bloom in succession; the topmost cluster blooms first. For better-looking blooms, break off the flowers as soon as they start looking tired. (The flowers do not make good cut flowers, lasting two days maximum.)
Cannas are grown most effectively in groups of a single color or planted in a bed with an edging of annuals, such as pansies, Iceland poppies or ranunculus. Dwarfs are best in borders. The taller ones, which grow quickly, work well as screens or against a wall or fence. Any size canna can be grown in containers.
For the largest selection of varieties and the best quality, visit or call Sarver Nursery, on Sarver Lane in San Marcos, (619) 744-0600 (closed Sundays). Rosalind Sarver, known to nursery people as the Canna Queen, grows and markets 40 varieties. At this time of year, Sarver sells three sizes of rhizomes. In the summer, when she has acres and acres of cannas in bloom, she sells them potted in one- or five-gallon cans.
Cannas will grow everywhere--the desert, the coast and even where it freezes. Just give them plenty of water, full sun and a loose, moist, rich soil with lots of humus. They have been known to grow in low spots of the garden that don't drain. Fine specimens have been seen growing behind a nursery in a drainage ditch where the water runoff collected.
Plant them five inches deep, about 10 inches apart--they will start to fill in after the first season. (Gophers love cannas. A good way to prevent their getting to the rhizomes is to dig a hole in the ground and mold one-half-inch galvanized wire mesh to it. Then fill the hole with soil and rhizomes.)