This winning new canna offers stunning look of tropical islands

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This year in the plant trials, a stunning new canna called ''South Pacific Scarlet' had everybody mesmerized. Although I had somehow missed the memo that it was a 2013 All-America Selections Winner, I knew instantly which company introduced it.

For years, scores of visitors to the Fall Flower and Garden Fest at the Mississippi State University Truck Crops Experiment Station would ask me about our canna lilies that were so uniform and compact. The cannas were revolutionary at the time because they were the first seed-produced canna for the nursery industry.

Almost all cannas are produced by rhizomes, but when American Takii came out with the 'Tropical' series a few years ago, this gave the nursery industry the opportunity to put into production picture perfect cannas to be grown for garden centers and then sold to the public. They even had a 'Tropical' white or ivory which is a most rare color in cannas.

'South Pacific Scarlet' is riveting with its flaming red and yellow color, and it has the distinction of being the first F1 hybrid seed-produced canna. You can buy and plant from seeds if you wish or simply shop for them at your local garden center, planting much as you would any other canna. The 4-inch blooms are borne in 4-foot-tall plants.

The best blooming will occur in full sun, but partial shade is tolerated. Although you are buying hybrid seed produced plants you can expect them to be perennial in zones 7 through 10. In the Pittsburgh region consider growing in containers and tucking them inside the garage for the dormant season.

Amend tight, heavy soils with 3 to 4 inches of organic matter like peat or humus and till to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. While tilling the soil, incorporate 3 pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area.

We normally plant rhizomes in the spring, setting them 3 to 5 inches deep and 12 to 18 inches apart. But you will be buying container-grown plants that can be planted anytime, and these are planted at the same depth as they are growing in the container. If you do plant by seeds, prepare your seed bed generously with organic matter, planting them on top and lightly covering with the soil.

'South Pacific Scarlet' would look exceptional combined with cold hardy bananas like the Japanese fiber (Musa basjoo) or partnered with upright elephant ears, the Alocasia macorrhiza. This would absolutely give the look of the islands. Try planting a clump of 'South Pacific Scarlet' cannas flanked by 'King Tut' papyrus. You will be out shooting pictures every day. Lime green looks exceptional in combinations with this canna, so also consider plants like 'Electric Lime' coleus, 'Cuban Gold' duranta and Joseph's coats.

'South Pacific Scarlet' is also superb around water features, whether it is a fountain, babbling brook or even a dry creek bed that gives the illusion that water moves through. The main thing to remember is that for the best landscape effect, mass plant beds with large, informal drifts.

All-America Selections has a winner with 'South Pacific Scarlet' canna, and I hope you will look for it at your garden center.


Norman Winter is executive director of the Columbus Botanical Garden, Columbus, Ga., and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations Color and Style in the Garden."


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