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There is life in the ground: When it is stirred up, it goes into the person who stirs it.

~ author unknown ~

Canna - Dig 'em or leave 'em?

It's that time of year again! Holidays - yes, they are around the corner, but that's not what I'm thinking about. It's time to do something with the Cannas.

Those of us that grow cannas in USDA Zones 7 and below are faced with having to make a decision every fall: Dig 'em or leave 'em?

Searching the internet for information and help turns up many sites and about as many different opinions. So, how do you decide which of these recommendations might be the best for you?

Do I have to dig?

That decision depends on your hardiness zone and on how much canna risk you are willing to take.

Zones 5 and below - there's not much of a question, your cannas will be goners unless you dig them up!

Zones 6 and 7 - you will need to make a decision:

  • leave 'em - and hope for the best. A heavy layer of mulch, compost and/or leaf litter will help in giving your roots a chance of making it through the winter. Do you bag up your fall leaves and put them by the curb to be taken to the dump? While not necesarily the most attractive option, put your leaf bags right on top of your canna beds, or better yet, rake your leaves on top of your cannas.
  • dig 'em - definitely the most labor intensive choice and unfortunately, not guaranteed to result in 100% survival. If this is your first season with these beauties, some trial and error is required to learn what storage method will work best for you.
  • my favorite choice: 50/50 - leave some and dig some! In our garden, 75% of slow growers, rare and/or expensive varieties are dug, the remaining selections may have a few 'insurance rhizomes' dug as time and storage space permits.
Zones 8 and higher - lucky you, just leave them in the ground!

When to dig?

Once your decision has been made, much of the literature suggests waiting for a frost to kill back the foliage. In our experience, this isn't necesary. It's much more fun to pick a sunny day and make canna digging a family activity!

There's something to do for everyone:

  • Trimming - cut off all stalks an inch or two above the ground
  • Digging - use a garden fork (a shovel is more likely to cut and injure rhizomes) and lift the clumps out of the ground
  • Cleaning - wash most of the dirt off in a bucket or wheelbarrow of water
  • Dividing - break or cut into manageable pieces with at least an eye or two per section and trim roots
  • Sorting - decide which rhizomes to store, give away or put back in the ground
  • Labeling - handwritten or computer generated completely with a pictures (a job for your teen who is attached to the mouse and keyboard?)
Best of all, since you picked a nice day - fire up the grill and toss on some of your familys favorite foods after you're done!


Cannas like to be stored in the dark at temperatures between 35 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, an unheated basement or garage is ideal. Regardless of which storage option you select, check your canna about once a month - you may need to mist them and discard any rhizomes that have gone 'bad' or change your storage method. Buckets, paper bags and plastic or cardboard boxes are all suitable containers. Rhizomes need air exchange - do not seal off containers.

  • Dry - pack canna between layers of newspaper - best if your storage location is on the warmer side of the temperature range. If you notice lots of shrinkage, mist until the newspaper becomes damp and recheck in a few days.
  • Damp - pack canna between layers of damp peat moss or wood shavings - best if your storage location is on the colder side of the temperature range. If you notice rot or new shoots, they are too moist and/or your location is too warm, repack them using the newspaper method.
  • Potted - if the rhizome is very small and/or it's a valuable variety, pot up and place in a sunny window or greenhouse.

As I mentioned in the beginning, storing canna takes some trial and error. The variables that determine success are moisture and temperature. I hope my suggestions have helped you and if you aren't growing canna yet - you'll consider them for the next growing season.


November in the Garden:

Canna Cleopatra:
Canna City of Portland:
Canna Watermelon: