How to Garden Like You’re in the Tropics
When You’re Stuck in the Snow

– Posted in: How-to, Seeds and Seed Starting

Editor’s note: Starting seeds is usually something cold climate gardeners do in the wi– no, I won’t say that word. But some seeds can be started now. Guest blogger Lisa Ueda shares her method for starting cannas from seed.

red canna

You, too, can grow cannas from seed!

My winter vacation destination of choice has always been the Florida Keys, where I usually fantasize about selling shells on the beach and leaving the snow behind. I find myself fascinated by the lush flower structures thriving in that great subtropical climate, so different from the Midwest. Wanting to recreate that in my own life, I’ve found that cannas are a great summer addition to my cottage gardens. With their dramatic banana leaf like foliage and impressive flower spikes, they help to draw the eye away from annuals and perennials that may be past their prime while I wait for their seed to ripen.

Seed-Grown Cannas Outperform Purchased Cannas

I was unhappy when the first cannas I brought home from my local mega store were stunted, didn’t bloom, and the rhizomes never kept. Not good. I was fortunate enough to be the lucky recipient of a large variety of canna seeds from a gardening friend who was thinning out her collection. This gave me the opportunity to boldly experiment with finding which seed starting technique would give me the highest germination rate and healthiest plants.  My seed grown cannas are easy to grow, flower abundantly, and the rhizomes, they’re massively healthy and keep VERY well during the winter.

Where to Find Canna Seed

Not everyone is lucky enough to score the kind of seed haul that I did. Park Seeds and Thompson and Morgan are two of my favorite companies, both offering canna seeds. As an active seed collector and trader, I’ve also enjoyed trading for canna seeds on the GardenWeb Seed Exchange. Being observant of forum etiquette and offering up more often than asking will increase your odds of finding the seed you’re looking for.

Start Canna Seed in January or August

Seeds started inside during January bloom the first year by July or August in my zone 4-5 garden, before being cut back by the first heavy frost, and dug and packed in peat moss for storage in my just above freezing basement. Canna rhizomes should not be kept too warm, allowed to freeze, or completely dry out. Starting in August will produce good sized seedlings but no rhizomes. Bring them inside to a Southern facing window before the first frost, and continue to water and lightly fertilize until ready to plant out after the last Spring frost.

Basic Method for Starting Cannas from Seed

Since my gardens are caught up, I thought it would be fun to try germinating seed again. The last time I wound up with a gorgeous dwarf canna with the palest yellow flowers and red speckles, ever so delicate.

Tropical Sunrise seed I start with a baggie of ‘Tropical Sunrise’ seed and a Pedi file (only used to help nick seeds, part of my essential toolkit). ‘Tropical Sunrise’ has light green leaves and a marbled peach colored flower, so I’m really looking forward to this one.
nicked canna seed Firmly grip your seed and file the seed until it exposes a little bit of white. If you carefully feel the canna seed in your fingers, you’ll notice a slight bump, that’s the embryo, file on the other side of the seed to avoid damaging it. My daughter has nimble fingers, she’s my official canna seed filer.
boiling water to treat canna seeds Next, put a small saucepan to boil with about 1″ (2.5 cm) water. Just as your water starts boiling, turn off the heat and take your pot off the stove.
canna seed in hot water Once the water stops boiling, but is still hot, take all of your prepared canna seeds and briefly drop them into the very hot water until you hear them crackling, just a few pings. It’s not the same as listening to the last few pops of popcorn in the microwave so don’t overdo it. Immediately add cold water until it’s lukewarm.
germinated canna seed Soak until the seed double in size and you begin to see a white root emerging as in this photo (just passed 6 o’clock), typically in three to five days. Plant in sterile, moist growing medium, just below the soil surface. Keep warm and continue giving ample sun and water. Using this technique gave me an 80% germination rate on two to three year old seed.

Ta da! Four week old cannas thriving on my front porch. I’m already noticing variation among the leaf form. Two with strappier shaped foliage look like they might be struggling, the remaining six with standard shaped leaves are thriving. I won’t cull the two oddballs, I’m interested in seeing what they look like if they survive.

canna seedlings

These cannas were started from seed

About the author: Lisa Ueda offers home gardening tips at The Frugal Garden. Her aim is to inspire, awaken and motivate new gardeners into discovering their inner green thumbs.

About the Author

Comments on this entry are closed.

Dave August 30, 2010, 12:14 am

A lot of very good information. I am going to try a few of your tips. By the way, I love the top photo with the house in the background. It looks like it belongs in a magazine. Great job!

Lisa August 30, 2010, 8:14 am

Thanks Dave, I do have to give photo credits to my lovely daughter, she’s my official Frugal Garden photographer and has a much steadier hand!

Lisa@thefrugalgarden August 23, 2010, 8:16 pm

It is that easy :). The girl who gave me these seeds mentioned they came from Hawaii; I’ve also enjoyed trading and growing canna seeds from as far away as Trinidad. Seeds make these monsters such a fun, transportable plant.

Nancy Bond August 23, 2010, 4:27 pm

You make it look so easy. 🙂 I do have some alpine flower seeds that my daughter brought home from Switzerland (shhh!) that I hope to start this coming win……. Great article. 🙂

Tatyana August 23, 2010, 9:39 am

What a great article! Thank you!