In the heat of August, many plants look as if they are barely hanging in there. Not so cannas.
Cannas thrive on scorching days. These tropical plants resemble tiki torches aflame with flowers in lipstick red, banana yellow and the orange of a ripe apricot. Some of the most vigorous and dramatic cannas can shoot up 5 to 7 feet.
Ventura County horticulturist John Schoustra says the trick to spectacular cannas is pruning.
"The minute you see seedpods, cut off that stem all the way to the ground, which makes room for a new vigorous one," he says. "That keeps the plants growing and ensures they bloom for a lot longer, into cooler weather."
Viruses have beset many of the plants in recent years. Schoustra recommends an orange-blossomed canna called Intrigue, which seems resistant to disease.
"It's so tough it can almost be grown with succulents," he says.
Which raises the important question of water: These Victorian-era perennials can slurp up a lot of it, but there are ways to make do with less. Once the plants are established, try watering them deeply once a week, even every few weeks. Generous helpings of mulch can help to hold in water and provide nutrients. Though you may need to water generously in summer, you usually can cut back in September.
Cannas like humidity and don't mind a splash of chlorine, so they are fine poolside. They prefer warm nights; you can keep them snug by planting them near a wall, which will radiate heat after sundown.
Some varieties have exquisite foliage, but if you need to hide the homely bases, try shorter, mounding plants. A cool blue agapanthus is a good complement to the sizzling colors of cannas.