Gardens Ablaze

Gladiolus
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Big beautiful blooms in every color of the rainbow, incredibly easy care, some of the best cut flowers on the planet, with summer rather than spring flowering - no wonder Gladiolus is such a popular plant for home gardening use.  Anyone from raw beginner to seasoned pro can have remarkable success just by sticking these bulbs in the ground and waiting for the show, with very little work at planting time or afterwards. Colors include literally every shade in the rainbow except true blue, with many wonderful bi-colored specimens.  All these attributes make Gladiolus a versatile super-performer with a place in virtually every landscaping plan. 

Technically, Gladiolus is grown from a "corm", which is defined as a swollen underground stem that stores nutrients in the core and that produces above-ground stems, foliage, and flowers during the growing season - pretty much the same deal as defined in the term "bulb." Glads are usually sold in packages of 6 or more, because just one doesn't really make much of a garden statement and growers are aware of this. 

To plant Glad corms, note the approximate width of the corm, and dig down 4 times that width.  For instance, a 1 inch corm width would need a hole approximately 4 inches deep.  Exact measurements are not really necessary in my experience - just use your best judgment.  Choose a well-drained site for sure because the corms will rot promptly in a waterlogged site.  A full sun situation is best, but I have seen Glads do just fine in part shade if that is all you have and you want to try them anyway.  As always, mulch is a good idea to keep weeds and watering to a minimum.  Speaking of water, 1 inch a week is plenty.  Plant with the pointy side UP.  Planting upside down will result in no plant at all no matter how long you wait.  If you can't decide, plant the corm on its side. 

One good thing about Glads is that they don't make a huge footprint in the garden.  You can plant that pack of 12 corms 5 inches apart  in a circle for a nice, compact display. Depending on weather conditions, Glads will become visible within 3-5 weeks, give or take. These plants are not picky at all, and I have had extremely good luck with them even when I didn't go nuts about giving them a lot of TLC at planting time.  As such, these are great plants for beginners - there  is a lot of room for error as long as the site is well-drained.  The picture above and left is of my very first Gladiolus blooms for 2006 and they are gorgeous!

As with any garden plant, there are a few downsides to Gladiolus, with the main one being that they almost always have to be staked once in bloom.  I personally don't like staking plants in my garden because stakes are ugly.  However, the prospect of doing without Glads is not acceptable either, so I grudgingly do my staking.  If your Glads are in a nice, sheltered space with well-drained soil and good sun, you might get away with not staking if an opportunistic storm doesn't flatten them at the height of their beauty. Otherwise, it's really not likely that they will stay upright without help.  In my experience, the sword-shaped leaves will stand up to hurricane force winds before the blooms arrive, but once that heavy flower sets up, the first good gust will knock it right to the ground to your complete horror.  Therefore, staking at some point in time is pretty much going to happen, so you might as well face it at planting time.  If you are growing Glads for cut flowers, staking each plant absolutely can't be omitted because the flower stems virtually NEVER grow straight up on their own.  Fortunately, in the case of plants grown for their garden beauty, there are other approaches to staking, some not quite as ugly.  As you already know, Glads can be planted close together, so a stake for each plant is not really necessary, as they will hold each other up to some degree.  Try placing 4 stakes like a corral around the plants and using string or twine around the edges and maybe in an X pattern inside for added support.  Or three stakes with intertwined string.   Green stakes that blend in are good (there's one visible in the picture above), or even decorative stakes with finials of you have money for such. You have to be imaginative, but staking ugliness can be minimized with a little ingenuity and these plants are worth it.

Though they are attractive summer-blooming plants, Glads only bloom for about 2 weeks, and as such unfortunately give a short-lived show.  There are two ways to get around this.  The first is by successive plantings every two weeks from the last frost date until mid June, and the second is by carefully choosing early, mid, and late blooming varieties.  I have limited space, so I generally go with two plantings in two different gardens two weeks apart and live with my sorrow after the Glads are gone, though I do always try to have strong potted seedlings of other plants for the next big show ready for planting as the Glads decline.  This year it's Zinnias.

Another problem with Glads involves bothersome Thrips. Crop rotation is recommended for sure - don't plant the Glads in the same place every year unless they happen to come up again in spring.  This is a sound gardening practice that pretty much stands true for every ornamental that is not perennial.  Thrips overwinter on Glad corms, and manifest as the plant grows.   Signs of thrip infestation include streaked leaves and misshapen flowers.  Unfortunately, the best advice is to pull the plant if you find one infected with Thrips. Thrips often overwinter on bulbs that have been dug and stored in colder climates.  They will not survive in storage that stays under about 40 degrees, so good storage practices are essential. Choosing healthy, plump corms at purchase time can avert a lot of problems later, too.  If you run across a soft or papery corm when planting, discard it and move on.  In my zone 7 garden, I have never encountered any problem whatsoever with my Glads, but I don't dig them in fall either.  For those in the cold climates, my best advice is to wash these corms thoroughly, let dry on screens or paper toweling for about 3 weeks (turning often).  The old corm will be on the bottom and the corm for next year will be on top.  Once dry, sever these two corms and retain the top one. Store in an above-freezing but below 40 degree area.  If that is not possible, watch for sales and replant yearly, as Glads are relatively inexpensive anyway.

As cut flowers, Glads are beyond gorgeous.  A perfectly-grown Glad in a cut flower arrangement is just awesome.  A whole vase of them makes me weak in the knees. Remember before cutting that Glads only produce one flower stalk per year, so if you are growing this plant for cut flowers, they should not be in the front yard landscape, as the foliage needs to remain for a month to 6 weeks for any hope of re-bloom next year (zones 7-10).  The foliage then declines gradually like Daffodils, and looks ugly as it does so - like Daffodils.   Obviously, you can cut the whole thing down after harvesting the flowers, but that negates any hope for the corm forever if you choose that option. 

As a note, Gladiolus flowers are apparently edible, but I have found little information on this aspect of Glads.  Being the brave soul I am, I pulled a piece of flower from mine,  and found it rather tasteless.  With one flower stalk per year per plant and no real taste, this plant is rightfully in the ornamental only category.   



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