Sandy Moore is known as the Canna Queen of Niagara Parks in southern Ontario, but her attitude toward the exotic plants is more maternal than regal. “They're my babies,” she says of the 854 plants she grew for the Maid of the Mist beds in Niagara Falls last year. “They all have their own personalities.”
Sandy has worked for Niagara Parks as a horticulturist for 22 years, and this is her 12th season being in charge of the cannas. She propagates 20 different varieties, and there are 10 more in the greenhouse for which she has yet to find places. “There were only four varieties when I took over the job,” she says. When asked to name her favourites, she struggles to narrow down the list. But she singles out ‘Pretoria' and ‘Phaison' for their striking variegated leaves. “Even with no flowers at all, they still look great.”
When it comes to growing cannas, size matters, she says. “The bigger the plant, the better people like it.” But, like every proud parent, Sandy sees something positive in all her charges. For example, ‘Caballero', a double yellow cultivar that is not commercially available, isn't very tall but it's certainly prolific-one of her plants produced 30 canes last season.
While most cannas need full sun, Sandy has found two that do well in partial shade: ‘Peach Blush' and ‘Rosemond Cole'. The ones she grows only get morning sun, but do just as well as those grown in full sun.
Here are a few pointers that Sandy considers essential for successful canna growing:
• It's a good idea to harden off plants that were started indoors for about a week before planting them out, “just to be on the safe side.” But make sure to put them outdoors only when daytime temperatures are 15°C or higher.
• Remove all buds before planting out so the plant can concentrate on root growth rather than producing flowers.
• Plant cannas in the garden 2.5 to five centimetres below soil level so the roots can get to water.
• After an initial watering, let them dry out a bit to motivate the roots to spread out and find water. “If you're sitting in the garden and people keep bringing you glasses of water, you won't budge from your chair,” says Sandy.
• If your cannas don't start reaching for the sky, “you're doing something wrong,” says Sandy, thus confirming that it's always the parents' fault. “Usually it's not enough water.” —Christina Selby