Are Canna Lilies Annual, Biennial, or Perennial Plants?

Are you thinking of planting some canna lilies in your garden, but want to make sure they'll come back every year before you start putting them in the ground? In this article, gardening expert Paige Foley examines if these popular flowers are considered annual, biennial, or perennial plants!

An image of a perennial canna lily that has vibrant orange blooms. The flowers have an edge of yellow color all the way around, and there is green foliage that is out of focus in the background.

Canna lilies are not a true lily, but have a similar flower structure. They are part of the cannaceae family which consists of 10 different species. There are numerous varieties to choose from and you can’t go wrong with any choice. Canna lilies bloom in orange, red, and yellow, and a few other colors in between.

Canna lilies have been grown for centuries all across the world. They are well known for their exotic blooms and large banana plant-like leaves. Their vibrant blooms last from mid-summer to first frost so you can enjoy them all season long. They are also well known for their animal and deer repellent properties.

So you’ve decided to plant some canna lilies in your garden, but can’t figure out if they will come back every spring, or if you’ll be stuck replanting them every year? Let’s take a deeper look to see if they are considered annual, biennial, or perennial plants depending on your hardiness zone.

The Short Answer

Depending on your hardiness zone, canna lilies can be grown perennially or as an annual. They have a high tolerance for hot, humid conditions but low tolerance for freezing conditions. Because they grow from rhizomes, they can be lifted in the fall and stored overwinter in colder climates. If you live in warmer climates, you can leave them in the ground and they will return year after year.

The Long Answer

Canna lilies are technically classified as perennial flowering plants but in certain regions are treated like an annual. They produce rhizomes which are underground stems that produce roots from the button and shouts from the eyes. These rhizomes are sensitive to freezing temperatures and can not survive cold winter conditions.

The rhizomes will need to be overwintered and replanted in the spring each year if you experience freezing temperatures.  Any rhizomes left in the ground will not survive the winter and not regrow in the spring.

If you live in warmer climates where you don’t experience freezing temperatures, they will not have to be overwintered. In these climates, they will regrow each spring. Simply cut back dead foliage and wait for warmer weather in the spring.

Due to their ability to spread, be sure to allow enough space for growth during the season. In warmer regions, consider thinning tm out every two years. This will keep foliage and bloom production at a max.

About Canna Lilies

An image of a big group of canna lilies growing in the garden. There is bright green foliage, and flowers that are growing tall towards the top of each stem. The red of the flowers has a slight orange tint to it, making portions of the flower seem almost coral in color.
These exotic flowers will bring a tropical look to your garden.

Have you ever gone on vacation to a tropical destination and wanted to bring those bright and beautiful flowers home? If so, consider planting them in your container or garden bed. Native to tropical regions of the United States, South America and Caribbean Islands, they will bring a little tropical flare to any yard.

Their exotic blooms come in red, pink, orange, and yellow to name a few. Their foliage can be variegated with white and pinks veins or green and purple dinner plate size leaves. The flowers are a cluster of color atop tall stems.

Canna lilies come in three different sizes. They can be a dwarf variety which has a minimum height of 2 feet and a maximum height of 4 feet. Dwarf varieties are excellent in containers, along buildings or low garden beds to add height.

They can be standard sized, which is usually between 4 and 6 feet tall. The other size is a giant variety, they can reach heights over 8 feet tall. These varieties would look great at the back of a garden, along a plain fence or a backdrop to a water feature. All three types prefer to be planted in full sun.

This low maintenance perennial is easy to care for due to their ability to self-clean during the growing season. If you live in colder regions, you will have to do a little more work in the fall. Continue reading to determine if they are suited for your region.

Hardiness Zones

A flower that's blooming with an extremely vivid color of pink at the top of the stems of the plant. The green foliage from the plant is visible all around the flower. The Flowers are a light pink on the outside, fading into a deeper almost more red pink at the center of each petal.
They can be grown as annuals in zones 3 to 7, and as perennials in hardiness zones 8 to 11.

Canna lilies can be grown in hardiness zones 3 to 11, which is impressive for a tropical plant. There are some things to consider if you are planting in zones 3 to . These zones typically see soils that fall below 32° F which isn’t ideal for rhizomes.

In zones 3 to 7, they should be considered as flowering annuals. This is because after the first frost in the fall, you will need to lift their rhizomes from the soil. You will have to store the rhizomes in a cool, dry, dark place overwinter. Once conditions are ideal in the spring, you can replant the rhizomes and they will grow once again.

In hardiness zone 8-11, you can leave them in the ground and they will regrow in the spring. Soil temperatures typically don’t fall below 32° F in these regions and the rhizomes will survive the winter.

Since you don’t have to remove our them every year, be aware of disease and overcrowding. Diseases have a tendency to overwinter on old plant material and can carry over from year to year.

They are well known to spread very quickly, which can cause too many rhizomes in one area. Overcrowding is an issue and will cause loss in bloom and foliage production. To avoid overcrowding, remove a few rhizomes from the area every 2 years. You can also dig up rhizomes during the season to allow more room for existing canna plants.

Growing as a Perennial

An image of a flowering plant that's in full bloom in the garden. There is some green foliage at the base, and bright red flowers at the tips. The flowers are bright red, and there are many flowers that are small, and thin.
These tall perennials need enough space to spread and do not tolerate overcrowding.

If you live in hardiness zones 8 to 11, they can grow as a perennial. Perennial simply means that your plant will return year after year. You plant your perennial one time and for many years you can enjoy beautiful blooms.

Did you know Cannas can grow indoors? They do surprisingly well in containers inside and outside. If you choose to grow them indoors, they perform as a flowering perennial. Because they are indoors year round, you will have to thin them out more regularly. They will quickly spread and begin to overcrowd in a pot.

Cannas are known to spread as they grow. If you choose a small area, they will most likely consume the area in one season. Overcrowding can cause loss in foliage and bloom production. Give adequate spacing during planting and choose a location that allows plenty of space to spread.

Diseases are more abundant in warmer zones where they are treated as perennials. The diseases can overwinter on dead plant material and carry over to next year’s plants. Keep your planting area free of debris to prevent diseases from spreading.

Growing as an Annual

An image of a yellow canna lily flower in full bloom. Green foliage is also visible, but it is somewhat out of focus. The yellow blooms are a bright vivid yellow color, and there are multiple thin blooms at the tip of the stems. There are about ten different small flowers, with four of them fully bloomed coming out of one plant s
When growing in zones 3-7, you need to lift the rhizomes out of the soil and overwinter them during the colder months.

Cannas require a little more work in colder climates. You can treat them annually and let them die off each year, and just replant them in the spring. If you want to keep the same plants, you’ll need to overwinter the rhizomes and keep them someplace warm for the wintertime. This applies to hardiness zones 3-7.

You can lift your rhizomes once your region has experienced its first frost. It’s important to wait until the foliage dies from the frost to lift them. The frost initiates dormancy so they can be overwintered properly. If they don’t let them enter dormancy they run the risk of rotting in storage.

You will want to overwinter the rhizomes in a cool, dark place until spring. Once temperatures are ideal for planting, you can replant the rhizomes. Make sure you watch the forecast and plant once the risk of frost has passed.

If you choose to plant in a container, you will have to bring that container indoors and store it until spring. If you plant in cold soils, they will be slow to germinate. You could also risk killing the rhizomes and no one wants that!

Final Thoughts

Canna lilies are considered perennials in warmer climates and act like annuals in colder climates. They are extremely versatile and come in a variety of blooms, and foliage. They will also work well in virtually any yard. While they may take a little more work in colder climates, their beautiful blooms are absolutely worth it!

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