Dig and Store Cannas in Fall After Frost/Freeze

Cannas are big robust plants that add wonderful texture and color to the summer landscape.  Once Mother Nature sends a couple of hard freezes our way, it’s time to put them to bed for the winter. 

You’ll know when it’s time, as the formerly medium glossy green foliage turns to black and the whole plant starts to look like it was a large marshmallow in a bonfire.  At that point, simply dig up the swollen roots in the ground with a pitchfork.  Take care to avoid slicing into them, as this usually causes them to rot in storage.  Then, cut the blackish/greenish stems off and put them on your compost pile.  Leave the bulbs on the deck or patio for a day or two to dry slightly, then put them into a paper grocery bag, then into a 5 gallon bucket in an attached garage for the winter. 

There are several other storage containers that can be used – peach lugs, various baskets or actual patio planters that are also being stored for the winter, so adapt the procedure and materials to your own situation.  The one key factor is that once stored, it’s best to keep a little space between the bulbs (technically they’re rhizomes, but everyone calls them bulbs).  This can be accomplished by wrapping each one in a sheet of newspaper or by separating them with sawdust or wood chips.   

Check on the stored bulbs/rhizomes monthly during winter, and toss out any that have softened.  Once the threat of frost has passed in early May, they can be planted into a loosened, compost enriched soil in full sun.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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