Garden Detective

Canna lily provides fast-growing flower power

Garden Detective: Canna lily is an attractive, low-maintenance plant that loves Sacramento growing conditions.
Garden Detective: Canna lily is an attractive, low-maintenance plant that loves Sacramento growing conditions. File photo

Experts tackle readers’ garden questions.

Q: Enclosed is a picture of what I call a gladiolus. My friend says it is not one. It is something else. The leaves are 6 by 17 inches. I call them elephant leaves. Who is right? Me or my friend?

Sandra Blow, Citrus Heights

Sacramento County Master Gardener Cathryn Rakich: Your friend is correct! This is a canna lily (Canna generalis), a low-maintenance, fast-growing plant that loves the Sacramento Valley’s Mediterranean climate. These impressive plants can grow five to six feet tall and are cherished for their large tropical-like foliage and showy flowers in shades of red, yellow and orange. It is easy to see how they are related to gingers, bananas and birds of paradise.

Canna lilies grow from rhizomes (root-like underground stems that spread horizontally) and will produce multiple plants. They also do well in large containers where the rhizomes can be contained.

Cannas prefer moist conditions and will perform in nearly any well-draining soil. At least six hours of full sun will help produce the best display of the iris-like flowers from May to the end of October. After they fade, simply deadhead the blooms, which are attractive to birds and bees. If you have not seen blooms yet, chances are the plant is not receiving enough full sun.

Cannas die back in the winter – cut the dead stalks to the ground – and emerge again as soon as the temperature warms up in the spring. Periodic freezes have no effect on their vigor.

Add a layer of compost around your canna lily in early spring and late fall, and this reliable showstopper will become a backyard favorite.

Cathryn Rakich is a UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener with Sacramento County.

Garden questions?

Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties. Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

  • Sacramento: 916-875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday
  • Amador: 209-223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday; website: ceamador.ucdavis.edu
  • Butte: 530-538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays
  • Colusa: 530-458-0570; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays; website: cecolusa.ucanr.edu
  • El Dorado: 530-621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday
  • Placer: 530-889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message and calls will be returned; website: pcmg.ucanr.org/got_questions
  • Nevada: 530-273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message
  • Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: 530-242-2219; email mastergardener@shastacollege.edu
  • Solano: 707-784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned
  • Sutter, Yuba: 530-822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays
  • Yolo: 530-666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned
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