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Vermont Garden Journal: Canna Lillies

AP Photo/Tesselaar Plants

Friday, August 9, 2013 at 5:56 p.m. and Sunday, August 11, 2013 at 9:35 a.m. I'm Charlie Nardozzi and this is the Vermont Garden Journal. This native American, semi-tropical bulb is known for its banana-sized leaves and colorful flowers. Originally the fleshy rhizomes were used as a food crop to make a starchy paste, called achira, which is used around the world.

The Vietnamese make cellophane noodles from this paste. The colorful flowers produce pea-sized, black or brown seeds that were used by Indians for jewelry, beads and even shotgun pellets. The seeds also were used to make jute and paper. What is this versatile plant? Surprise, it's the canna lily.

Canna lilies were popular during the Victorian era. However, with the advent of the cottage gardens around the turn of the 20th century, they fell out of favor. Now they're making a comeback. I love the huge, colorful leaves as much as the flower stalks because they give me color all summer long. Varieties such as 'Tropicanna',  'Bengal Tiger' and 'Red Stripe' feature yellow, orange, pink or red striped leaves. There are even dark colored leaf varieties, such as 'Australia' and 'Black Knight', that contrast amazingly with red or orange flowers.

Canna lilies grow up to 5 to 6 feet tall so place them in the back of a border or grouped near a house or garage. Since they come into their own by late summer, I like to plant them behind roses, daisies, daylilies and other perennials to give my border a color boost.

Plant canna lily rhizomes in well-drained fertile soil in early June after the soil has warmed. Give them plenty of water and with the warm weather they will shoot up. I like growing them in containers to give the cannas added height and stature. In fall either leave them to die or dig your canna lilies before a killing frost and store them as you would dahlias.

And now for this week's tip: Start planting your fall crops of lettuce and spinach now while the ground is warm. Keep seeds moist and protected from slugs and insects and you'll be enjoying a fall crop of these hardy greens.

Next week on The Vermont Garden Journal I'll be talking about plums. Until then,  I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Growing Cannas in your Garden
Canna Lilies

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