Gladioli produce tall spikes of large blossoms in a rainbow of colors. Glads grow from corms (bulb-like structures) that are not winter-hardy in northern states. They must either be dug in September and stored until planting time the following May, or replaced annually. Some gladiolus experts recommend treating them as annuals because you are more likely to get large, healthy blooms each year that way, and you don't have to fuss with storing them.
Choose a location in full sunlight. Well-drained soil is essential. Loosen the soil to a depth of ten or 12 inches. Fertilize, if necessary. Start planting in mid-May, then again every two weeks through mid-June. This schedule will keep the flowers coming form July through August. You could also choose early, mid-season, and late cultivars, plant them all in May, and still enjoy continuous bloom for much of the summer. The final strategy to extend bloom time would be to plant different sized corms. Larger corms bloom somewhat earlier than smaller corms of the same variety.
Plant corms that are 1¼ inch or larger in diameter. Choose corms that are relatively tall and plump, shaped like a chocolate kiss, rather than wide and flat. Thick corms produce good quality flowers. Plant corms with the pointed side up, about four times as deep as their diameter. Space the corms six to eight inches apart.
Label your corms and put in stakes or other support structures when you plant them. Gladiolus flower spikes blow over easily in the wind. If you stake them first thing, you can avoid the likelihood of damaging their roots with the stakes
Apply a layer of mulch such as straw, grass clippings, or pine needles to help keep weeds down. Pull or hoe any weeds that come up. Mulch will also help conserve moisture in the soil, cutting down on surface evaporation. Adequate rainfall or watering is still needed for best quality blooms, so be sure your glads receive an inch or water each week, if possible.
Bring a sharp knife or florist's shears and a tall bucket of lukewarm water to the garden with you. Cut the flower spikes first thing in the morning or at night, not during the heat of day. Cut spikes with only one, two, or possibly three flowers open; the rest will open in order, up the spike. Allow at least four leaves to remain on the plant if you wish to re-use the corms. Cut diagonally through the stalk and place it in the lukewarm water immediately. Once you've collected all the glads you want cut, put the bucket in a cool, dark place for a few hours so the blooms "harden off". Use floral preservative in the vase water before arranging the glads. As lower flowers fade, nip them off. Cut about an inch of stem off the bottom of each spike every few days.
Dig gladiolus corms once the foliage has been killed by frost. Shake off excess soil and cut the stem off just above each corm. "Cure" corms for about three weeks in a warm, dry, airy place.Store them in a well-ventilated place that's dark, dry, and cool. Ideal storage temperatures range from 35° to 45° F; the cooler the better, as long as they are not allowed to freeze.
Based on Growing Gladiolus, a Wright County Extension publication by Jill MacKenzie. For more information, go to: http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/h149gladiolus.html
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