There are some wonderful, old-fashioned perennials that just keep on blooming in spite of a hot Texas summer. You may have heard of cannas, but what about spider lilies and crinums? They all grow quickly to form an impressive display of tropical-looking foliage and colorful flowers.
For a lush tropical look, few perennials can top canna lilies. This old garden favorite is easy to grow, blooms for weeks on end and has broad, flat leaves the size of a tennis racket. Flowering on stems from 2 to 8 feet tall, the softball sized flowers are similar to iris.
Although referred to as lilies, cannas comprise the family Cannaceae and are related to gingers and bananas. Cannas — Canna indica — have survived in gardens for decades often handed down from one gardener to another. Flower colors of older forms are typically red, orange, yellow or a combination of these colors with bronze, green or dark maroon foliage.
Oldie, but goodie
An old hybrid, Canna “Minerva” (aka “Striped Beauty”), is still popular and available. With variegated leaves of white and green stripes, a five-foot-tall stalk is topped with creamy yellow flowers. Fertilize after the first flush of flowers for continuous blooms. Cut off the entire stalk once flowers fade. Cannas thrive in amended soil with average water requirements. However, most are ideal for planting near water’s edge.
Modern varieties offer a wider selection of flower color and are often more compact plants with exceptional foliage colors.
Canna “Bengal Tiger” is a showstopper, with a journey that began in India, appearing next in South Africa, then leaping to Europe and the United States. Dramatic stalks of green- and yellow-striped leaves grow to 6 feet tall and are topped with bright orange flowers that are favored by hummingbird. Another impressive canna is “Tropicana.” Its rich variegated foliage of purple, red, yellow, orange and green is reason enough to include it in your summer garden.
Some cannas have even received the Dallas Arboretum’s “FlameProofTM” Texas Plant Award — Canna “Tropical Rose” and “Tropical Yellow.”
In spring, purchase fresh rhizomes or container grown nursery plants that may be offered at local garden centers. If you are fortunate enough to have a gardener friend, ask if they have some cannas to share. Plants are easily divided and transplanted. For optimal blooms, plant in full sun, but they do tolerate some shade.
Their most common pest is the canna leaf roller — a caterpillar that matures into a small yellowish-brown butterfly. Web-like threads on rolled leaves are signals they are present. Unroll leaves and remove the pest or spray Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) solution into the rolled leaves.
If you want more, consider two members of the amaryllis family — crinum and spider lily.
Crinums are one of the most passed along and cherished of southern bulbs. They grow large, dark green leaves from bulbs that get to the size of a volleyball. The best known is the “milk and wine” version, Crinum x herbertii. It has survived for decades in Texas cemeteries, abandoned home sites and has naturalized in roadside ditches. In fact, it is often called the “ditch lily.” Milky white, 5-inch trumpet shaped blooms have wine-colored stripes.
Another beautiful one is “Ellen Bosanquet,” which has dark, rosy pink blooms. It is in the Demonstration Idea Garden at our county Extension office. There is another group of this variety, blooming now at the corner of Texas Avenue and East 27th Street. They were planted decades ago and faithfully bloom every summer.
I must mention one other crinum that is the favorite of Bill Welch, Texas A&M AgriLife extension specialist. It is “Mrs. James Hendry” with beautiful, pale pink trumpet blooms that are so fragrant. Welch grows them in rows, as one would vegetables, just to have plenty to enjoy as exceptional cut flowers.
Finally, there is the white spider lily. There are at least two flowering bulbs with this common name. The one for summer long blooms is the white Hymenocallis. They are an easy-to-grow, moisture-loving bulb, making them perfect for rain gardens or drainage ways that stay wet for extended periods. It has an exotic looking flower with a central cup, similar to a daffodil. It is surrounded by long, tendril like petals. Hence the name, spider lily.
All these summer bloomers are very low maintenance and look great poolside or near a patio. They attract pollinators and brighten up the summer landscape. If you’re looking for plants that will flourish in the heat of a Texas summer, then look no further. These winners will look great in your garden from May right up until frost.
Charla Anthony is the horticulturist for Brazos County at Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, 2619 Texas 21 W., Bryan, Texas 77803. Send gardening questions to email@example.com.