Home Outdoor PlantsFlowers Iris, Cannas & Elephant Ears, oh my!

Iris, Cannas & Elephant Ears, oh my!

by Dawn
elephant ear leaf

Easy-Care Plants for Beginning Gardeners

When my husband and I bought our first house, all that bare soil in front of the house screamed its need for flowers, so off to the nursery we went. 

The rest, as they say, is history.  The gardening bug bit and bit hard, and I’ve never looked back.

Funny enough, my dad was bitten by the bug at about the same time.  I don’t remember, twenty or so years later, who started first, but start we did.

Among other things, my dad grew irises, cannas, and elephant ears, and they’re all great for anyone getting started with organic flower gardening.  They laugh at most bugs and diseases, at least here in the Northeast US. 

The cannas and elephant ears need to be dug up and stored in the winter in Zones 7 and colder, but really not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and if you’re willing to buy new ones each year, you don’t even have to do that.

Front porch with cannas

As you can see, they’re all now sitting nicely on my front porch waiting to dry out and be put away.   This all takes a couple of weeks so, while other people have nice cool Halloween and fall decorations up on their porches, mine looks like this.  Oh well, I like these better anyway.

The coolest thing about cannas and elephant ears is they can be planted in the ground, in pots or even underwater (although still in pots that are just barely submerged). 

Summer of 2016 here in CT was really dry, like drought dry, and everyone did just fine.  I hate to admit it, but, well, I’m lazy.   As in, “flowers don’t get watered because I have better things to do” lazy.  These guys just don’t care.  This year was ridiculously wet and humid, and just about everything got moldy (including the humans!).  Again, these guys didn’t care.

Elephant ear leaf

I grew this elephant ear this summer and it had the largest leaf I’ve ever grown at 22 ½” x 31 ½”! Yes, it is possible that I keep track of these things….. 

The best thing about these plants is that they, or their ancestors anyway, all came from my dad’s garden over 10 years ago.  Although it’s a bit of work to dig them each year (did I mention they reproduce like horny little bunnies over the summer?), they’re such a tangible connection to my dad they always make me smile. 

I know he would be proud they’re still thriving after all these years.  In fact, I’m pretty sure he’s laughing.  You see, when I dug the irises from his garden after his death, it was past flowering season so I couldn’t distinguish one color from the other, but figured since he had a nice mix of purples and yellows, if I randomly picked, the odds would be good that I’d get a decent mix. 

Ha!  First off, it’s a good thing I don’t gamble because the odds are definitely NOT in my favor!  Second, it’s a good thing I’m fond of yellow.  Yup, just yellow.

I’ve since added a few other colors, peach, white and purple, but the yellows always do better and come back over and over, and I’m sure it’s my dad reminding me not to cry when I think of him.   Instead, he wants me to be happy and enjoy every sunny summer day in my garden.

Growing Tips for Elephant Ear

Elephant ear (Genus Colocasia or Alocasia)- Listed as hardy in zones 7 through 11 or 12, but most agree that any zone colder than 8 is a chancy proposition unless they’re lifted in fall and planted back outside after the last frost, around Memorial Day here in CT. 

Flowering is uncommon (I’ve personally never seen one flower, although maybe they do in more southern regions, I don’t know), but their huge and very pretty leaves make up for the lack of flowers. 

Different species can tolerate conditions all the way from full sun to full shade, and mine have grown in all but the deepest shade and done very well. 

My particular species seems to prefer more sun (the one in the above pic got about 7-8 hours of sun during the summer), but there are so many varieties, it’s best to check the care tags when you buy them to see what your particular kind likes.

Growing Tips for Iris

Iris (Iris germanica)- Very popular flowering plants because they are super easy to grow and come in a range of colors from white to yellow to peach to purple, among others.  Hardy in zones 4-9. 

One note about irises is that you should not plant the rhizomes deeply.  In fact, they should be partially visible above the soil surface, as they are very prone to rot. 

You might also read that you should cut back the leaves after flowering.  Don’t! The rhizomes need the leaves to carry on collecting nutrients in the summer to strengthen them for the following year. 

DO cut down the flower stalks after flowering, though, as they can cause problems with rot. 

Every 3 to 5 years, if your irises are doing well, you’ll have to dig them up and replant them, as they’ll get too crowded and stop flowering.  You can either share the bounty with other gardeners or spread them around your garden, whichever you prefer.  I’ve done both.

Growing Tips for Canna

Canna (Canna x generalis)- Very popular for their large showy flowers, which attract hummingbirds like crazy.  In the Northeast, they bloom in late summer to fall when other things are done and my hummingbirds just go nuts for them. 

As mentioned, they need to be lifted if you live in zone 7 or colder.  “Technically”, you’re supposed to store them in barely moist peat moss or leaf mold for the winter.  Remember how I mentioned that I’m lazy?  Mine sit in my basement in a closet in those plastic trays you get from the nurseries when you buy an obscene amount of plants at one time.  (No one else ever does that, do they?)  Just like that, bare naked little tubers waiting for spring.  By spring, most of them already have little green shoots and can’t wait to get back into the ground. 

Don’t plant them before your last frost though, around the time you would plant tomatoes. That’s around Memorial Day here in CT, although it varies depending on where you live.  You can find a frost date calculator here to help you out if you’re not sure.

Posts Related to Iris, Cannas & Elephant Ears in the Garden

I hope this post has been helpful and that you’ve enjoyed it. There are some pinnable images below so you can pin this post for later. As always, smile and have a crazy organic day!

large elephant ear leaf
purple iris flower
pink canna flower
orange spotted canna

Iris, Cannas and Elephant Ears: Easy Care Plants for New Gardeners

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