Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Over wintering Cannas.

Richley coloured and exotic tropical foliage are sure signs that a plant likes moist conditions. Given those conditions Cannas will produce leaves almost as big as a banana plant. Our own plants were originally intended to form a mass planting scheme at the foot of the raised south terrace of the house.

There were several good examples of the plant growing in the neighbourhood, though when studied it was obvious they benefited from the protection of nearby buildings, orchards and shrubs. Our own wind swept site was therefore problematic, and having experienced the severe Tramontana winds of the last year we decided the Cannas leaves would at the very least look scorched if not tattered and torn.

There was however a narrow bed bordering the patio area, outside the cassita which houses our gas supply. The bed was protected on its northern side by a small wall and fence and the naturally free draining soil could be fairly easily enriched. Beyond the wall is the access road to the house bordered by a standing of oak trees.

Options for the Cannas included, raising them from seed, or buy bulbs or plants. We didn’t know anyone in the area who might split their own cannas to supply us. Seed raising would take too long, we had a barren plot and needed a quicker result. In the garden centres they were displaying the smallest of bulbs at 2€ each. Flowering plants in a four litre pot were 8€ each.

Having scoured the behind the scenes sections of several plant centres we found our bargains. The Cannas had bloomed and were looking a bit tatty and pot bound, they were really bursting out of their pots. Priced at 4€ each they were worth trying.

When we arrived home, we soaked the plants in water for a couple of hours before trimming away the ragged leaves and spent blooms. The pots had to be cut away to free the plants, though the roots looked healthy enough.

The shape of the bed really dictated that we should plant them in a row spaced at about 60cms. We prepared the bed by removing the rocks and weeds that are ever present here, before we enriched the soil by digging in some recycled compost from the national scheme. Once planted we kept the plants watered and soon they rewarded us by quickly regenerating themselves producing exotic foliage and flowers.

The fence behind the Cannas was used to grow runner beans the green foliage and red flowers of the beans complemented the lush red foliage of the Cannas. The remaining summer and autumn days the cannas thrived though we knew we were facing a problem. What did we do with the Cannas in winter? They were tender plants that do not like frost at all. Back in the UK most people lifted their plants and over wintered them somewhere warm. The Catalan countryside around us was no stranger to cold weather though snow we were told only happened once in fifty years. Funny thing was that that was the previous year!

We decided to leave them were they were but would not water them from early December; the cold combined with the wet we thought was the real threat to the plants. That winter produced temperatures of minus 12c. I saw snow twice so much for the influence of the Mediterranean Sea.

The drier soil stopped the bulbs rotting in cold wet ground, and a protective layer of compost protected the shoots. The Cannas survived they are now very robust plants and soon will be big enough to divide.

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