Cannas, those eye-catching plants with large dramatic fronds and brightly colored flowers, make a garden look like an island paradise. They offer a tropical look without all the usual fuss.
"The great thing about cannas is that they are really easy to grow," says Rick Nowakowski, owner of Nature's Curiosity Shop, a Vista retail and mail-order nursery that carries a wide variety of cannas.
"Cannas grow in almost any kind of soil, and some of them even flower most of the year in Southern California," he says. All flower in the summer and fall.
Originally from tropical South America, cannas are related to bananas and gingers, which they resemble with their large, often variegated fronds that come in a variety of colors, including green, bronze, purple and white and yellow striped.
Plants range in height from 18 inches to 8 feet, although many grow about 6 to 7 feet. Flowers come in a wide variety of colors, including red, orange, yellow, apricot, cream and pink.
The dwarf 'Pink Sensation' gets between 2 and 3 feet high. It has pink flowers and leaves striped with pink, cream and red. Pretoria grows 6 to 7 feet high and eventually as wide. It has yellow leaves with green stripes and bright orange flowers.
'Ehmanii' is a giant that grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Its magenta flowers bloom most of the year. 'Tropicana' is a multicolored canna with leaves striped in orange, chartreuse, red and green with a bright orange flower. It reaches 6 feet tall.
You'll find cannas in the nursery and through mail-order. They generally come in three to five gallon cans. For best luck, keep the following growing tips in mind.
* Place cannas in full sun to light shade.
* Cannas grow well in almost any soil, including clay, so amending is often not necessary. If you prefer to amend, use homemade or bagged compost at a rate of 25 to 30 percent.
* Containerized cannas should be planted in a high-quality potting soil. They are fast growers, so plant in a pot that is one size bigger. Except for the giant 8-foot varieties, cannas do well in containers.
* Water them often, because cannas are thirsty plants. To keep the soil moist and conserve water, mulch with homemade or bagged compost. Just make sure that the ground is never soggy.
* Cannas are also heavy feeders. Fertilize on a monthly basis with a well-balanced fertilizer. Use a liquid food for container plants, and either a liquid or granular form for the ground.
* To promote continuous flowering, when a stalk has finished, don't prune it off entirely. Instead, cut it off just below the flower pod and leave the rest of the old bloom stalk intact. The plant will create new flowers from the old stalk much more quickly than creating an entire new stalk.
* Prune cannas in the early spring, cleaning up brown leaves, old bloom stalks and any dead foliage that often appears at the center of the plant clump.
Nature's Curiosity Shop, at 1388 Sunset Drive, Vista, is open Saturday and during the week by appointment. For a free plant list, call (760) 726-1488.