Canna Lily Winter Care

Canna lilies have tender tubers. In warm climates where winter temperatures rarely drop below 40 degrees F, mulching the flower bed would be sufficient to protect them frost and freezing. In most places, like here in Cincinnati where fall and winter temperatures will drop below freezing, canna lilies will need special care to survive cold temperatures.  You may also need to store your Dahlias, Gladiolus and other tender weather bulbs and tubers.  This technique works for every bulb I have ever stored over the cold winter months.


Before you dig up your tubers you need to think of where you will store them.  You can use a box, large bucket or heavy plastic garbage bag and fill it with damp sand, sphagnum peat moss, coarse sawdust or vermiculite particles.   I prefer to keep mine in 4′ frames with screen material stapled to the bottom.  I like this because it is easy to spray the bulbs and tubers to remove the remaining dirt and it allows air to circulate during storage.

Allow the first fall frost to blacken the foliage of the canna lilies.

You can dig them up as long as the soil is workable and snow or frost hasn’t crusted the soil surface.  Start digging  6 inches away from the base of the plant. Use the shovel to loosen the roots.  I lightly tap the tuber on the ground to remove any loose soil.

 I lay the tubers in my tray and move it into the garage and spray with a hose loosening and removing any additional soil.  I allow the tubers to rest and dry over 1-3 days.
Once the bulbs are dried I cover the tubers with peat moss and store them in a cool, dark but slightly moist condition, between 40 and 50 degrees F. I will check the tubers throughout the winter season and if moss is bone dry I will mist the moss lightly with water.
Make sure to label the container or the individual bulb with a permanent marker, you don’t want to be guessing what you are planting come spring time.


    • amy says

      Thanks Nancy, I just finished pulling all my bulbs last week. Then yesterday our temperature got up above 70 degrees. It was a nice surprise, but I much would have preferred pulling them yesterday instead of last week when it was a high of 50. Hope all is well where you are.

  1. Brian Barto says

    Thank you for your website as I am a first time grower of Canna Lilies this year. Just for the heck of it I had decided to plant the bulbs in large flower containers (6) along the front patio with annuals around the base of the pots along with 12 very small bulbs (along the back fence) as they were $4.00 per 6 pack bags at the Nursery last Spring. Wow! What a showcase they became, what was an “oh what the heck planting” turned into a showcase of compliments and total beauty of the neighborhood. People believe I did it on purpose and have a very Large Green Thumb, quite the contrary, I only fed them at planting with a 3-5 month time fertilizer, watered and oh my, my did they ever grow, grow and grow height and widthwise and very stocky; and flowering?, Wow! They are still blooming!
    I live in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania (Bucks County), and I guess I need to pull them out of the pots soon to store the bulbs for the winter along with my also newly grown (13) Elephant Ear plants that made me and everyone that saw them giggle looking at them all summer long. I would hate to let them die after such enjoyment.
    So now the hard part; looks as if I have to pull them up and store them.

    The Canna Lilies in the large pots look as if they were pot bound as numerous shoots have been growing around the original small tuber and became new plants, yet, never flowering. I imagine there are a lot of tubers in the pot, or one Huge one. I want to leave the Canna’s in their pots till after Halloween (big holiday thing around here) if I can, as of October 10th I have now decided to label them as Corn Stalks as they are starting to brown a bit for a big Halloween party scheduled. I imagine they will have to be separated. I bought a Machete if I need to cut them apart before storage according to your directions. What about the cut or break area? Will they rot? Should I buy some sort of powder or something like they do with potatoes when they cut them up so they don’t? It gets cold during the winter here, I imagine I will put wrap them in brown paper bags and newspaper and put them in labeled cardboard boxes (a lot) and into a closest as the garage gets well below freezing. What do you think? I’d hate to find them all rotten in the spring time.

    • Amy Stafford says

      Hi Brian, Your Cannas sound amazing. I think that Cannas make the most impact if they are planted in a grouping (even though the growers say to space them apart). I say let your neighbors think you planned the whole thing! :)

      You should have no problem leaving them till after Halloween, even if we have a frost and a bit of snow (which is predicted) and the cornstalk idea is a great. You only need to worry when the ground starts to freeze, and as warm as the temperature of the soil is right now that shouldn’t be a problem.

      After autumn frost blackens the foliage, remove the stems and leaves leaving 2-3″, you can use clippers or swing your machete if you want though it shouldn’t be necessary, unless you just want to swing the machete. Lift out your tubers with a shovel, don’t break apart yet, you will do that part when you replant in the spring. With that being said, if you have breakage don’t worry.
      I store all of my tubers in barely-moist peat or leaf mold, spacing so that they are not touching. Store them in frost-free conditions 45-50 degrees is best, basement or the coolest room in your house, closet closest to garage door?? Not the garage if it gets to freezing. You don’t want to store in cardboard box since you want to try to keep the peat moss somewhat moist. Try a plastic storage bin without the lid so that their is a bit of air circulation.

      I have never stored my Cannas in newspaper I can’t say if this works well or not, but I have read where people have done it this way with success. I would just check them out once a month to make sure they are not drying out or rotting.

      When spring rolls around and you are ready to replant cut the tubers apart with a sharp knife so that each piece contains one eye on a substantial piece of rootstock.

      I hope this helps, if you have any other questions let me know. Good luck!

      • Brian Barto says

        Okay; I will do as you suggest for the Canna Lilies and their winter storage. I wasn’t aware of the ‘splitting in the spring time’. I never thought of the “Grouping” idea. I think I will try this in the various corners of the back yard and side fencing in the spring and allow a larger bit of room for any width growth. Kind of a cool idea of yours now that I think about it, the heck with the so-called experts, let’s have some fun! I hope I have a lot of new Canna roots to play around with (I had thought they were bulbs), as when I do something, well, to be honest, I tend to be quite “extreme”. How many would you “group”? Is there a suggested minimum or maximum? Oh heck, let’s have some massive fun and experiment, I’ll buy a bunch more roots from the nursery at do a test massive test trial. I will use the new machete on the Elephant Ear plants to whack the foliage off them and reduce the stem to 2-3″ above ground foliage also and store them. At least I get to use the new Machete. Brian.

  2. melissa says

    Hi, I’ve been growing canna lilies for the past 2 summers. We have so many that it’s virtually impossible to dig them up. Last year we left them through the ridiculous Long Island winter. They came up with aveangance! I’ve been reading that putting extra mulch will keep them over the winter.
    What do your experiences say? :0)

    • Amy Stafford says

      Hey Mellissa,
      I have left mine in the ground in the past with an extra layer of mulch with mixed results. About half of them rotted and the second year I lost them all. I know some people would prefer to leave them in the ground and buy new each year.
      Thanks for commenting.

    • Brian Barto says

      Hi Melissa; I have absolutely NO experience with Canna’s or Elephant Ear plants, other than growing stuff since I was three years old. I am now 58 and still having as much fun growing and trying different plants as I was then. That’s why I like Amy’s website; She has “NEW IDEAS” and “AN OPEN MIND” to gardening. My other experiences are as a Bee Keeper over the last twenty five years and, way, way, way too many hobbies and profitable businesses along the way that I can keep up with. Just the way I am! Extreme, but, never, ever boring at any dinner conversation no matter what subject on Earth, and very knowledgeable. I am going to give that new Mulch idea of yours a try for some of the Canna’s that I left in the ground where my house has overhangs from the roof and weren’t effected as much by the first few frosts. No blame to your idea if they are totally wiped out! Only kidding Melissa! I bet out there in Long Island you sure have some severe windy cold winters! Yet, so beautiful in the Spring, Summer and Fall, what a beautiful balance.
      I have two tropical palm type trees and a tropical Holy Hock type of tree under my house overhangs that I bought cheap and planted in the spring, they have all quadrupled their sizes over the spring and summer months, of which the frost didn’t hit them as of yet, though the temperatures will very soon drop and continue to drop, and drop as I am sure you know.
      The Holly Hock tree gave me so much pleasure by blooming each and every day that I find it hard to let it die. I have no room for it in the house, and to board it in a greenhouse which they advertise around here is just too expensive for the $5.00 each I paid for them, so far. I am going to try the idea of bunching up a lot of bag Mulch/compost mixed with peat moss around them, and maybe a four inch 5-6″ circular trench maybe 2′ outside the stem zone. Perhaps I will set up the Holly Hock with a fairly tight sleeve to breath around its stem base. PVC or Vinyl breathable collar? I wonder about a burlap cover for the Holly Hock?
      The Palms; I was thinking of cutting back the foliage and layering the mulch/peat moss over the cut marks 4-6 inches above the stem cut; I hope I don’t suffocate them after cutting back the foliage for a more thermal blanket, yet I imagine the mulch mixture to settle to 50-20% or less compression, or even more after a few rains and the snow comes, melts, then melts again. How much Mulch do you think would be adequate? I’m going to gamble on maybe the entire 2-cubic yard bag for each plant to make sure. Need to decide fairly quickly as I am sure the temperature will soon drop even more as it has been in the 30’s a few mornings in the last week and will continue onward; so I need to make a rescue attempt “either way”. Got any ideas? Any try/idea is better than what I have now; None are worse then not giving an idea; at least a try! What do you think? Brian.

  3. Brian Barto says

    Oh-My-Gosh!! I dug up the Canna Lilies and my Elephant Ear plants yesterday. When I dug up the Cannas I thought I was digging up potato vines! I never would have imagined the large quantities I yielded from both the Canna’s and the Elephant Ear plants! Hey? Anyone want to buy some? I’m in the Money if so! Amy; I am drying them out per your instructions. I got to use the Machete on the large bases of the Elephant Ear large, thick stalks. I wonder if you could eat these things? Canna wise I got fifteen too twenty per stalk. Does this happen every year? My Gosh I am a happy planter indeed. I will have plenty for the spring if they survive and a heck of a lot to give away. That was F-U-N!!!! Thanks Amy!!!

    • Amy Stafford says

      Brian, you got it going on!! Yes, the Canna’s like to reproduce if they are happy, obviously yours were very happy. Also, glad to hear you got to swing your Machete! Have a warm winter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge