how-to slideshow: wake up, cannas, wake up

cannas ready to put up after storageOUT OF THE BASEMENT THEY CAME YESTERDAY, the cannas I’d stored after frost last fall. It’s easy to keep these prolific rhizomes year to year and even have plenty to give away. All they ask is a little trimming of the dead bits in early spring, and for a headstart, perhaps potting up now while you wait for the weather to settle. Here’s how it goes, in a slideshow of images from yesterday’s canna cleanup:

Required equipment: a tarp, potting soil (confession: I use leftover from last year for this, not fresh), and leftover nursery pots, plus a pruning shears and perhaps a sharp knife.  (Click on the first thumbnail to get started, then toggle from slide to slide by clicking the arrows next to each caption.)

  1. A proceedure I now know well. I started my Cannas off indoors at the end of Feb.

    I’m growing canna Phasion, aka Durban and will eventually put them into a stone planter at the front of the house.

    Seeing those rhizomes come through winter in good nick is a beautiful thing.


  2. Sarah O says:

    I’ve been wondering recently, would it serve any purpose to do the same sort of thing with dahlias? I often can’t plant out my tubers until late May/early June, and I wonder if I might not get a longer bloom period out of them if they had a little head start in pots.

  3. “Most bulbs take up little room” — one bulb, but I want huge clumps and clusters for a really big show. Byzantine glads are blooming here now and I can hardly wait for the single bulbs to form bigger clumps. It is happening!

    Cannas here in zone 8b remain in the ground. They’re putting up first leaves now.

  4. margaret says:

    Hi, Sarah O, and yes, I definitely would pot up dahlias earlier to get a headstart. Plus, since they are more succulent, they can get iffy if they have to sit in storage any longer than is absolutely necessary.

    Welcome, Nell Jean. My friends in the PNW leave theirs in the ground, as do other mid-Atlantic friends, but not here. That said, I have had a rhizome accidentally left in the ground when I took most of a clump but missed part, resprout the next year occasionally. I wouldn’t risk it here, but you can (jealous!).

    1. Polina says:

      Dahlias should be dug up and dried before putting into carton boxes (they shouldn’t touch each other and covered with packing peanuts, even newspapers .Close up the box and cover with some old towels, keep in unheated garage… I have had saved my dahlias for many years now. .even some that look somewhat dead wake up and grow….they sure have 9 lives….

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Genatac. I do not know…I have tried overwintering the purple-leaf ‘Black Magic’ in a pot of water in my basement, and the jury is out on how it will do this spring…looks OK. As for the taro types with those giant tubers, I have never tried, and I have read various things (all of which says to first cure them before storage so they are dry on the surface, some of which says to dust with sulfur, others not). More homework for me. But as for potting them up early for a headstart: YES! Definitely.

    2. Polina says:

      I keep mine indoors , it gets some sun light all winter …while some of the leaves withered away I still have couple left and the plant is thriving…that is my second year overwintering indoors. Picked up this plant practically dead my neighbor threw out couple years ago and brought it back to life….

  5. langhowellrooffltonc says:

    I’ve been transplanting our cannas and mixing them with asiatic lillies in the center of new circular beds. Gold dust aucuba will be planted close around that center with the bed outlined with tall nandina bushs. The two circular beds are six feet in diameter and on both sides of the very symetrical 1893 farmhouse front.

    If container plantings can include a variety of textures, colors, and shapes, why can’t that same approach be used in garden beds. I call them “mixed clump” beds.

    My first “mixed clump” bed included a beech, a redbud, a mimosa, a maple, and nandina.

    After a dismal dull winter, I have resolved to add winter green in our yard. Nandina is the least expensive way to do this. This new bed will be brightly colored in summer with the bright yellow cannas and orange asiatic lillies.

  6. Eric says:

    I did this a few weeks ago with my Phasion/Tropicana cannas. Excellent side show! I bought the one canna last spring and now looks like I’ll have about 7. I potted them and placed them in my garage to keep from freezing since I live in Michigan and we just got ANOTHER snow storm. Please bring on spring! I haven’t had cannas for over 10 years but can’t resist this colorful Phasion version I found.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Eric. Yes, the canna varieties for sale lately are just too handsome to resist, aren’t they? Thanks for the good words, and do stop in soon again.

  7. elsa says:

    Thanks for ALL the advice Margaret. Today I was wondering if it was time to get the dahlias out of the basement and I came here. ;-) I love your blog, here I find answer for all my questions.

  8. Barbara says:

    thanks for the great instructions on the cannas. I was fortunate to have a fellow gardener from my community garden share his cannas and each year after I have given away hundreds just from his generous gift 3 years ago. I can’t wait to take a peek in my basement to see how they fared over this long winter. I will start potting them up very shortly. thanks so much for all the inspiring ideas and guidance. Love your blog!!! and really enjoyed your presentation at the Spring Garden Day on March 13th.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Barbara; glad the canna information helped. The weather’s is supposed to start turning a bit more favorable so I think I will water mine in the next day or two as well, and really get them going. Do come visit again, and thanks for the kind words.

  9. Cathie says:

    I do not pamper cannas at all. In the fall I trim the bulbs, throw them in a garbage bag and put the bag in the basement. Come spring, I divide the bulbs, loosen the soil, lay the bulbs on top of the loosen soil, put decayed leaves and mulch on top, water and wait. It makes “digging” out in the fall very easy. And they all grow!
    I always have extra to sell at our Master Gardener’s plant sale in the spring.

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Cathie. Yes, they need little TLC, considering how generous they are with giving us lots of free divisions. See you soon again, I hope. Thanks for your tips.

  10. Jane says:

    I was given a Pretoria canna a few years ago and so crossed over into dig and store. Frost in the NW Corner of CT nails them in September, barely into their blooming, as the sunniest spot I have for them still has morning shade. This year, they sprouted from their leaf mulch soon after they were put in the garage, and they sported foot high small leaves all winter in the filtered light from the garage door’s frosted windows. I’ve been leaving the door open so they get full light and air in this “July” weather. My hope is this year the head start will have them blooming earlier, maybe even August! Has anyone else had this sort of experience?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Stephy. I do water them once, but then I let them start to wake up. I don’t want to rot them off while they are dormant. If they get dry, I water again…but I am careful to not let them stand in water or to water too frequently (especially at the relatively cold end of the season, in early spring).

  11. Alex says:


    I was wondering if you could answer a question for me. I bought four cannas from Home Depot last summer in New York. They bloomed at the end of summer, and were beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn’t know I was supposed to dig up my cannas before winter, and left them in the ground. The leaves obviously browned and wilted, and I left them like that until the end of winter. At the start of spring, I pruned the leaves and stalks so that they were just a few inches above the ground. After I read that I was supposed to have dug up the rhizomes before the winter, I dug up the root cluster of one today. The roots and rhizomes appeared healthy, white on the inside and free of rot. If I am lucky enough to have my cannas come back, when would I see shoots above the ground? It’s only been in the 60’s here for a few weeks and it still gets into the 40’s at night. Is there anything I could do at this point to help them, or should I just leave them alone? Thanks for the help anyone!

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Alex. You won’t see shoots until the soil really warms up — even late this month, I’d expect. I wouldn’t give up yet. If you are in the city area, you might have overwintered them since we had good snow cover generally, and they can be hardy in Zone 7ish anyhow. Maybe pot up the ones you dug in potting soil and leave the rest in the ground?

  12. Alex says:

    Thanks for the advice Margaret. I’ll try to be patient haha. I’m just anxious to see if these guys come back up again despite the cold winter we had here on Long Island. From what I saw with the roots, I think they’ll be ok. Do the new buds generally tend to grow around the old dead stalks? I left the original stalks cut down to a few inches because I wasn’t sure if those grew again or if new stalks would just grow around those.

  13. Stephanie says:

    Some of the cannas I planted a few years ago (and forgot to dig up) emerged the following spring and bloomed. I think they made it through the winter because they’re in a sunny spot against my house. Amazing for northwestern CT, though.

    1. Dave Luzi says:

      Hi Stephanie. I too live in north western Connecticut and this is my second year wintering over canna rhizomes in the cool section of my basement. Do you start your plants indoors to get a headstart? If so what month do you start them? I’m thinking I might start mine the first week of March.

      1. margaret says:

        Hi, Dave. For years I liked to pot them up in March sometime in old nursery pots, then transplant outside in May (I am in the same zone as you). But in recent years I just haul them out of the cellar in April when the weather is semi-settled (even if there may still be frost) and when the ground can be worked and the soil is warmish, and plant them in the ground (or their big pots). Works fine. They are tough. The headstart indoors gives you more foliage sooner, but it also requires work (and a bright, warmish space for them to live that extra month).

  14. Jim Celark says:

    I live in NJ and have pulled up my canna bulbs each fall. I had stored a box of cannas to give to someone when I visited. That person lives in Ithaca NY and has shorter growing season. If bulbs dont get planted this summer, will they survive the winter in my basement to be planted next spring

    1. margaret says:

      So I think you mean that they would not have been in the ground from fall 2020 to spring 2022? I don’t know if they will hold up that long without desiccating, so why not put them in some old nursery pots and give them water and let them at least grow a bit this season to be sure?

  15. Gina Guess says:

    This is the first time I have actually seen how to care for my cannas in the fall. I have seen and heard written descriptions but pictures with written instructions are always best. I have never successfully wintered my cannas because I was doing it wrong.

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