As summer progresses, it is a great time to enjoy our beautiful lawns, gardens, and flower beds. As I have visited different gardens, yards, and conservatories, I always find there will be a certain flower that catches the eye and adds color, texture, and variety to the setting. Inadvertently it will be some variety of gladiolus that stands out and really makes a flower bed “POP”. Most commonly used for floral arrangements, these flowers come in all different colors from almost black to green to red to white with many variations and mixtures of colors. They have been extensively researched and crossed to develop new varieties and colors by plant breeders all over the world.
They originated in South Africa, Asia, and Europe. One interesting aspect of gladiolus is that the florets are edible and have a pea-like flavor. According to the CIS Bulletin 909 from the University of Idaho, these florets can make colorful additions to summertime salads. The florets can also be stuffed whole with a filling, dipped in batter and fried like squash blossoms.
Gladiolus are started from corms, which many times are referred to as bulbs, but are actually not bulbs. A corm has a bulbous shape, but has a mass of tissue inside that stores energy for the upcoming growing season. The mother corm is planted and within the growing season, a new corm develops and grows a fibrous root system. It also grows small cormels that are commonly referred to as bulbets, and can be removed at the end of the season to be planted the following spring to increase the number of glads you have in your garden. The best way to get quality planting stock is to order from a reputable bulb catalog. Sharing plants from neighbors can spread fungal diseases, so if you do this, inspect the starts prior to planting to verify health and vigor.
Glads are very adaptable to different soil types, but they enjoy an organic matter rich planting media. Well composted manure can be mixed into the soil prior to planting to help increase the nutrient value of the soil. Plant your glads in full sun for best growing and flowering results. A small amount of shade is not an issue, but full sun is best. Depending on variety, corms will take around 8 to 12 weeks after planting to flower. These flowers do not tolerate overly wet conditions, but still need plenty of water.
Harvesting the corms of glads is done 6 to 8 weeks after blooming is completed, and before the leaves have turned yellow. If you wait till after the leaves have yellow, it will be getting cool outside and the corms can start to develop diseases in the soil. Most of the time, corms left in the ground here in our area do not come back the following spring, so harvesting is important. Dig the corms with a spading fork, gently knock off the soil, and cut the leaves off. Place them in a tray or basket to dry. They will need to be cured, and to do this, place them in shallow layers in a box outside in the sunshine for two days. Following this, they will need more curing for about 3-4 weeks at around 80 degrees to form a corky layer on the outside of the corm. After this they can be stored in a well ventilated room through the winter at temperatures of 40 to 60 degrees. Hotter than 60 can cause premature sprouting, and cooler than 40 can cause the plants to have only green growth the following year.
For more details about gladiolus you can order the CIS Bulletin 909 “Gladiolus in the Home Garden” from the University of Idaho Extension website.