Overwintering Cannas – Cutting Back, Lifting, Storing, Plus Tips

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I’m captivated by the tropical beauty of cannas – I love how they bring an exotic ambience to the garden. But cannas can’t live outside all winter in some grow zones, like mine! Learn how to winterize cannas so you can grow them again year after year. Overwintering cannas is as simple as digging them up and bringing the bulbs inside!

Canna rhizomes ready for lifting after frost
Canna rhizomes in our garden, ready for lifting after frost

You can even transplant cannas to other parts of your yard and garden more easily in the future when you incorporate canna lily winter care into your fall gardening chores.

Check out my complete guide on what to do with cannas at the end of the season!

How to Winterize Cannas

When frost hits and gardening season reaches its close, it’s time to winterize your cannas so you don’t lose them.

Brown canna lily foliage hit by frost
Brown canna lily foliage hit by frost

What that looks like is a multiphase process.

First, consider whether you wish to cut back the foliage first or use the stalks as leverage to help lift cannas for wintering over. Either option works when you wish to cut back canna flower stalks and foliage to make the rhizomes easier to handle.

Next, dig up canna bulbs from the ground and organize them for storage over the winter. If the foliage is still attached, you can use the stalks to help lift the cannas from the ground.

Finally, pack up the canna rhizomes for winter storage. If you haven’t already cut back the cannas and removed the stalks, you’ll want to do that prior to storing the tubers.

(You’ll also want to check on them once in a while over the winter.)

You’ll definitely want to lift canna rhizomes before a hard freeze!

According to Michigan State University’s MSU Extension, there are three important things to remember when wintering cannas and other tender perennials. “They cannot be too wet, too dry or freeze.”

Now that you understand the process of overwintering canna lilies at a high level, take a look at the step-by-step guide.

Pulling up cannas after a big frost, border collie looks on
Pulling up cannas after a big frost, our border collie looks on. You can cut the stalks after lifting, too, if you find it easier!

How to Cut Back Cannas for Winter

When cutting cannas back in the late fall, wait until after the big frost comes. The plants will suffer from the frost. This is a great time to cut them back.

Start cutting back cannas for winter using sharp and sturdy pruners to cut down the flower and leaf stalks. Make your cuts about an inch above the tuber.

Before you get started, consider if leaving the stalks intact will make lifting cannas for overwintering easier. If so, reverse these phases!

Pruners cutting back canna lily stalks before lifting rhizomes for overwintering
Pruners cutting back canna lily stalks before lifting rhizomes for overwintering

Follow these specific steps for cutting down cannas at the end of the season.

  1. Hold the pruners with your dominant hand and line them up an inch or two above the ground.
  2. Hold the canna stalks with your nondominant hand for stability.
  3. Cut the stalks off one-by-one using this technique.
  4. Discard the canna stalks with your yard waste.

The next phase will be digging up canna bulbs for winter storage.

How to Dig Up Canna Bulbs for Winter

Before OR after cutting down the stalks, you can easily dig up canna bulbs and overwinter them.

Lifting cannas with a large shovel to pop them out of the ground
Lifting cannas with a large shovel to pop them out of the ground

Follow these easy steps to lift canna lilies for winter.

  1. Use a shovel to dig at least 3 inches away from where you expect the rhizomes to be.
  2. Use the shovel to loosen dirt around the cannas in a complete circle.
  3. Use the shovel as leverage to pop the clump of cannas out of the ground.
  4. If the area is too large, you may need to do this in sections.
  5. If the stalks are still attached, you can pull them gently to lift cannas from the ground.
  6. Once possible, lift the cannas from the ground.
  7. Separate as needed to get the canna clumps in a size that is appropriate for storage.
  8. Remove any large chunks of dirt as necessary, using care not to disturb the roots.

Next, you will prepare the cannas for storage over the winter.

Shovel digging up canna lilies for storing over the winter
We dug up our canna lilies for winter storage on November 10 one year when this photo was taken.

How to Store Canna Bulbs for the Winter

The final phase of overwintering cannas is to put them in storage.

Follow these steps to safely store and winterize cannas until spring.

  1. Place chunks of canna bulbs into plastic bags or plastic bins / totes.
  2. If using bags, set the plastic bags inside plastic totes or bins without lids.
  3. Label the different types of cannas you may have.
  4. Set the bins in a dry, cool, dark place, such as your basement.
  5. Check on the overwintering canna bulbs once every few weeks for moisture needs.
  6. If cannas are sprouting, lightly mist the rhizomes with a spray bottle to replenish them. Be sure to keep the canna bulbs ventilated to prevent mold. If it is too early, you can consider moving them to a colder place.
Freshly dug canna lily bulbs in a plastic bin for overwinter storage
Freshly dug canna lily bulbs in a plastic bin for overwinter storage

When overwintering canna bulbs, you may find that the plants actually start sprouting towards the beginning of spring while in storage.

This is totally okay and they should do just fine when you transplant them outside!

Continue to check for signs of growth and moisture needs until you are able to replant them.

Storing canna bulbs over winter is the simplest thing for me. It is almost “set it and forget it” except I do check a few times to make sure they don’t dry out. (They never do!)

Canna rhizomes in a plastic bin or bucket
These cannas came out of the ground much cleaner than one might expect!

How to Winterize Cannas – Tips

When overwintering canna lily plants, try not to overthink it. These simple tips are truly all you need for canna winter care.

  1. Cut back cannas after frost. Cut them down within one inch of the ground / tuber.
  2. Dig up cannas before the ground freezes. You can also dig them the same day you cut the back.
  3. Store cannas in a plastic bag inside an open plastic bin or tote. Keep good ventilation.
  4. Label the different varieties of cannas that you have. Keep them separate to avoid confusion.
  5. Check on cannas occasionally. Once every three weeks or so should be sufficient to make sure they don’t dry out.
  6. Spray a little water if they do dry out. Be sure to maintain the ventilation to avoid mold.

These canna winter care tips should help these lovely tropical perennials survive the winter and thrive in the new season!

Young daughter and border collie in the garden helping to lift cannas for winter storage
Here’s my youngest daughter and our border collie in the garden helping to lift cannas for winter storage

Overwintering Canna Lilies in Pots

Overwintering cannas in pots is another possibility if you have the space.

Most of the time, the extra soil takes up quite a bit of room, but if you only have a few cannas to overwinter, you can try storing the pot in the basement as well.

Try these tips:

  1. Cut back the foliage as you would at the end of the season.
  2. Leave the canna rhizomes intact in the pot.
  3. Simply stop watering once you do so.
  4. Store the pot in a cool, dark, dry place that remains above 40 degrees.
  5. Check throughout the winter for signs of growth.

Giving cannas a rest period during the year helps the plants to thrive.

Hand in a green gardening glove digging up canna lily rhizomes
Lifting cannas to help them survive the winter


Depending on where you live, canna lilies may or may not survive winter in the ground. Cannas are hardy to zone 7. If you are unsure, you can dig up and overwinter canna lilies in your basement or unheated garage.

Where we live in PA Zone 6b, we are pretty close to the cannas’ hardiness tolerance, but every year we lose some if I don’t dig them up.

Luckily those that are along the foundation will come back to some extent. We always lose some to the freeze, but some are insulated enough and do come back.

If you are unsure about your own zone, you can always dig up some of your cannas to be on the safe side.

If you don’t overwinter your canna lilies, they may or may not return next year. Dead canna bulbs that did not survive the winter outdoors will often be totally mushy, and possibly blackened in color. Cannas that have died may also be totally dried up and hard, particularly if improperly stored over the winter.

For best results, store canna bulbs in a well-ventilated area that is dark, dry, and cool. After lifting cannas, place the rhizomes in a plastic grocery bag and set the bag inside a plastic container, allowing air to circulate. Check periodically for signs of growth.

Border collie hanging out in the garden while digging up cannas for winter storage
Our garden dog loved being with us no matter what gardening tasks we were doing! Here she chilled out with us while we dug up cannas.

When focusing on canna lily care, winter is a really important consideration. In many grow zones, cannas are considered tender perennials, which means they can die if it gets too cold.

Learning how to winter canna bulbs allows you to keep growing your favorite varieties year after year!

By the way, be sure to check out my other blog post for more canna lily care tips!

Do you have any further tips on how to winterize cannas or any questions we can answer? Hit us up in the comments – we love hearing from you!

Happy Gardening!

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