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Dealing with Canna Leaf Rollers

orange canna lily

The Canna lily is a very popular plant here in the south due to their heat tolerance. It is coincidentally the favorite food of the Canna Leaf roller ! Just kidding. It is like the “host” plant of this caterpillar and will subsequently be attacked by it wherever it grows.

They are easy to grow and seem to flourish and multiply with little care. They look great in flower beds planted in mass or along a wall. Canna Lilies bloom from Summer to Fall in zones 8 to 11. That means from Georgia to Florida. Though with this warm weather everyone is having, I’m sure they do great much further north.


Canna Lily Requirements

Canna Lilies perform best in full sun. Like most plants, we are told they “do well in rich organic, well drained soil”.

Hey! Who has that? Certainly not me.

In my experience, they will grow in relatively poor soil and will do very well in moist areas. My grandmother’s old house had a ditch behind it that stayed wet all the time. The Canna’s growing there along the banks of the ditch seemed to do very well in a very wet location!

The ones in my yard are growing in a sand and clay combination near my home’s foundation and are doing great!

Canna Lily Use

Their brilliant red, yellow, or orange flowers stand out in the landscape. They can bring a tropical look to a backyard or poolside. They can be grown in beds or do equally well in containers as your “thriller” piece.

Growing Canna Lilies

Canna Lilies will spread throughout your flower bed through rhizomes if you leave them in the ground all year. You will need to divide them every few years to keep them looking their best and not overcrowding.

If you live further North, the colder weather may require you to dig up the rhizomes and store them for the winter so as to not lose these beautiful plants due to freezing. This digging up during the cold months will also help prevent the spread of Canna Lilies.

Canna Lily Growth Habits

Most get about 4 feet tall and if you’ve ever owned one, you know once they get any taller, that they are prone to fall over with the slightest breeze. This may require staking or netting unless you decide to cut them back early.

You can dead head the flowers once bloomed and turning brown to keep your Canna Lily blooming all Summer and well into Fall.


How to Prune Canna Lilies

I really enjoy my Canna Lilies every year. A few years ago, I transplanted some beautiful dark bronze leafed Canna Lilies from my Grandmother’s old flower bed. Though I am not sure what they were called back then, I have seen them in nurseries here recently and they call them “Black Canna Lilies”. They are absolutely gorgeous when they first come out of the ground.


Once they bloom they are even more spectacular.

Be warned. All of this beauty can be ruined in a matter of days without some extra care and a good eye.

Canna leaf roller
Canna Leaf Roller Damage

What is a Canna Leaf Roller?

There is a little brown butterfly called a Skipper that will ruin your day. They look like a moth but are technically a butterfly. You’ll see them skittering about, laying their eggs very quickly all over your Canna Lilies.

The leaf roller is the resulting offspring.

I’m all about butterflies and promoting pollination in the garden but the Canna Leaf Roller is the bane of many a gardener.

Canna Leaf rollers start out as tiny yellowish caterpillar. Like all caterpillers, the canna leaf roller will grow very quickly. As it gets larger, it becomes almost translucent in appearance.

Canna leaf roller
Your Enemy

Canna Leaf rollers will use tiny strands of a silk like substance to tie the leaves of the Canna Lily together and eat them from the inside out. Leaving behind an ugly tattered leaf filled with caterpillar poop.

Canna leaf roller

This is a massively effective tactic to protect the caterpillar from predators. Therefore insuring they eat as much as possible, as quickly as possible. This means disaster for your Canna Lilies.

If you catch them early, which is dang near impossible without checking them every single day, you can keep Canna leaf roller damage to a minimum.

Once there is alot of canna leaf roller damage though, there is no choice but to cut off the damaged ones. If an entire plant is chewed up, it is best to cut it all the way back to the ground.

This will not hurt the plant at all and may even revitalize growth. If done early enough in the season, as late as October where I am, they will still have time to grow back and flower.

Preventing Canna Leaf Rollers from Overwintering

Any pruning done to get rid of leaves or plants damaged by Canna Leaf Rollers must be disposed of and not composted or left near the plants. Also when the plant dies back in Winter, it should be pruned all the way to the ground.

Reason being, the Canna Leaf Roller larvae will overwinter in the dead leaves and stems and will emerge in Spring, ready to wreak havoc once more!

canna leaf roller

Treating and Preventing Canna Leaf Roller Infestation

There are a couple of ways to thwart these pests. Knowing what kills canna leaf rollers is the best way to start controlling them.


The first basic way is to inspect the leaves and look for the caterpillars and remove them by hand. Problem is, these guys are extremely difficult to find if they aren’t already the size they would be if they have eaten enough of the plant to cause irreparable damage.


The other is with chemicals. No one really likes to use too many harsh chemicals in their garden. There’s malathion, and byfenthrin to name a few. They smell horrible and will kill many other beneficial insects.


Another way to go, which is best in my opinion, is to use any product with the Baccillus Thuringeinsis bacteria, or BT for short. It is based on a naturally occurring bacteria found in soil that effects the digestive system of the caterpillar. It takes a couple of days to see results but it’s very effective and mild on most plants.

Spinosad is another newly released bacteria based pesticide. It’s effects are supposed to last 5 days or more. It provides a much longer lasting solution that works in much the same way as BT.


I’m going to assume you’re going the highly effective, more environmentally friendly organic route.

When you mix the bacteria in water as directed on the product package, make sure to shake up your sprayer regularly as you apply.

I always set mine to a fine mist so it covers widely and lightly.

As you spray, it will seem to bead up and roll off most plants that I’ve ever used it on but there’s enough staying on it to do the job.

Baccilus Thurengiensis will degrade in sunlight so it’s best to apply late in the evening. That’s the time most caterpillars come out to eat anyway.

Make sure to spray the underside of the leaves thoroughly. Spray into the newly formed leaves that may still be curled up. There’s no need to spray the flowers.

Rain will wash it off and you’ll need to reapply regularly for it to be effective, as with many pesticides.

This is a really time consuming part of gardening but if you want to keep your Canna Lilies looking their best, it’s a very necessary job for most people growing then.

I hope these guidelines help you to keep your Canna Lilies looking their best!

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This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. Glenn

    Yep, I got ’em. Some are 2″ long. Been killing them by hand. And as you’d predict, I’m losing to them. Will apply Bonide Chemical 802 Bacillus Thuricide tomorrow. But, a similar BacThur was only moderately successful. Hate to apply to malathion, but . . .

    1. ErickDStyron

      Hate that, because the beauty of my particular cannas are in the bronze colored leaves. it doesn’t take long for them to ruin the overall look, then you can’t enjoy the plant the full season. Hope you are successful. Good luck!

  2. Carolyne

    Thoroughly enjoyed your article and guide to rid the slimy worms from my cannas. Do you know why the forever (10+ years) green leaves are this year green with white stripes? The same thing occurred with my amaryllis. They seem healthy and are definitely striking, but this really has aroused my curiosity.

    1. ErickDStyron

      so without a pic, I am guessing if there is no damage, and it is stripes on every leaf, you may have a recessive genetic trait showing up, which is how plant developers get their variegated plants! which is so unbelievably cool btw. is it possible to send a pic? maybe on Facebook messenger or something? there should be a link on my homepage

  3. Carolyn Nentwick

    several of my leaves are eaten and/or have holes . Saw one of these pesky worms and killed it almost 3 inches long. Had another on my deck slithering and smashed it. Is there any homemade remedy that I can spray on the leaves. like soap and or salt. your article is very informative

    1. ErickDStyron

      I’m sorry I’ve never had anything be successful other than the BT. Spinosad works great for most anything though I’ve found from my vegetable garden and it will stay on the plant longer than the BT.

    2. Jo

      Mine are fine eating the plants they are nearly all hone to seed anyway.

  4. Misty

    Awesome article! I couldn’t find anything else in pests having to do with my canna’s. There is a glue like substance around the edge of most of the stems on my canna lily. Does this sound like it might be the same thing?

    1. ErickDStyron

      More than likely. They will stick the leaves together at the seam before it unfurls. sometimes you can see the silk, but if they’re small, it’ll just look like a film of glue on the edge of the leaves.

  5. Zanna

    Hi there! I’m glad I found your blog because I was very curious about the canna leaf roller! However, I think it is a “skipper” rather than a “skitter” butterfly. I think there’s some more info here: thanks!

    1. ErickDStyron

      thank you! I’ll check it out and adjust.

  6. Kale

    2nd year and mine are 15 feet tall and growing! I did not expect that! And there is definite leaf roller damage but it is up too high to reach.

  7. Joyce Williams

    If you use the the Baccilus Thurengiensis will it enter the soil and move to other plants. The reason I am asking is I also grow plants for other butterflies, i.e. monarchs, black swallowtails, etc and I do not want them to be killed.

    1. ErickDStyron

      it stays on the leaves you spray or on, and only lasts like a day. just don’t spray it on the plants you have for other butterflies. it is soil derived but it won’t transfer to soil if you spray it on leaves

  8. Adrian

    I just found your blog and really like it! One question, please. I want to remove the leaf rollers manually. I don’t want to kill them. Yes, I do know I’m crazy. My question is this: If I unroll the leaves and remove the little worms, is there someplace I can put them where they will have a chance to survive — preferably far from my cannas? Or will this kill them? Please don’t think this is a joke. I just hate to kill anything .

    1. ErickDStyron

      I have found literally no information of them eating anything else, so removing them would probably kill them. They are very tender and use the leaves for protection. There are many other leaf rollers.I have some on my Abutilon, but the ones on the canna specifically feed on canna from what I’ve seen and read

  9. Adrian

    I just saw that Spinosad is highly toxic to bees and shouldn’t be sprayed near flowering plants or before or during a storm.

  10. Brett Stuart

    If you catch it before blooms and use pesticides your pollinators are safe. Having said that leaf miners and rollers are the Bain in my existence. I hate the things and have tried everything but a good fire.

  11. Elizabeth Bodnam

    This is my first year growing Red Canna and I already need help! Is there a way for me to show you a picture of the leaf, please?

    1. ErickDStyron

      i have a Facebook group and you can join and message in there.. sorry i missed this somehow

      1. Susan

        What is the name of your fb group? Thanks

        1. ErickDStyron

          Garden Down South

  12. Andy

    Large leaf rollers ate my canna in the last two weeks in North Texas. 100s of caterpillars. It’s late August, so I’m just going to chop it down to the ground, remove cuttings and mulch. Planted these canna last year and had no caterpillars. But they were discovered and devoured this year.

    1. ErickDStyron

      They skipped mine roughly 2 years ago, and this year I only saw a couple early May. I still wonder if it’s because I transplanted them to the south side of the house

  13. Dana

    I found this article while searching for leaf roller info—just discovered two on my potted cannas! Ugh! Do they leave a sticky substance on the leaves, or is that possibly something else?? Several leaves have a shiny, sticky substance all over them, in a kind of lacy pattern (not “trails”).

    1. ErickDStyron

      i haven’t noticed this on mine but snails and slugs love to eat canna also so that’s probably what’s making the trails


    How about a systemic in early spring after i prune my lillies down to the ground before the leaves start growing?

    1. ErickDStyron

      never have tried it personally but sounds like a great idea

  15. Pat Eckert

    Our canna Lily’s were great the 1st season, but now will not bloom and look terrible! May be the bug you talk about but we’ve cut the back, removing cuttings, and nothing seems to make them better. When we planted them, they were getting sun half the day, but other plants have grown around them causing them to be in mostly shade. Could this be why they are not flourishing?

    1. ErickDStyron

      Canna need intense full sun for 6 or more hours to bloom alot, in my experience

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