How To Tips On Digging, Planting and Growing Gladiolus Bulbs

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Summary: The following article is by gladiolus enthusiast Carlos Larus. Carlos shares his planting and growing process. One of the best ways to improve your success is by reading what others are doing and adapting some of the “tricks” to your growth toolbox.

As a Gladiolus enthusiast, I am a strong believer that there is no other flower with a better claim to a place in your back yard.

Gladiolus (plural gladioli) comes in a greater variety of colors, sizes and shapes than any other flower I have seen and gladiolous are easy to grow in nearly any climate. The flower spikes are among the longest lasting and most useful of any common flower.

Unfortunately few people realize the wide range of colors and types that can be found because nearly all glads which one sees in a florist shop are white, salmon or red.

This is because the gladiolus is a bread and butter item to the florist and is mainly used in floral pieces requiring a mass of color. The less common colors are ideal for smaller decorative arrangements in the home.

Glads Easy To Grow

You can easily grow gladiolus in any type of soil, except an area with poor drainage, and will tolerate either acid or alkaline soil. So make sure that you will plant gladiolus plants in a well-drained soil. When I give some of my bulbs to a friend who has not grown glads before, I am invariably asked how to grow them.

My stock answer is to plant in May, six inches deep and six inches apart in a place with all-day sun if possible and provide plenty of water. Then dig in October, remove the old dead bulbs at the base after three weeks and store in a cool, not freezing, place over winter.

That is the easy answer and it will give good results. However, if you want to grow glads that are bigger and better than your neighbors,’ read on.

I’m not sure that I should write an article on glads for the back yard gardener. I do grow glads in my back yard, but a quarter of an acre is a little more than most readers will probably want.

The fact, however, that I plant so much as a hobby only has forced me continually to seek any new technique that will improve the results without extra work or that will simplify my task.

Glads A First Year Grower

On the assumption that this is the first year you will grow glads, let us begin with your purchase of bulbs. To do so you can go online or you can order through a catalog.

There are a number of specialized catalogs that include only glads, but they are primarily for the enthusiast who wants the newer and fancier varieties, for which he is willing to pay a premium price.

There are thousands of varieties of glads, all different. Some 200 new varieties are placed on the market each year at prices ranging as high as $5 to $10 a bulb or more. Older and more common varieties sell for much less.

Here’s a list of gladiolus varieties you may consider growing:

Gladiolus byzantinus – also known as gladiolus communis or eastern gladiolus. This flowering plant species grows up to one meter in height.

Gladiolus callianthus – or gladiolus murielae, a species native to eastern Africa. It is a cormous perennial known for its fragrant flowers.

Gladiolus x hortulanus – Most of the gladiolus grown today are hybrids designated to this group.

Hardy gladiolus – summer-flowering bulbs group that are cold-hardy than other gladiolus varieties.

To provide a number of different colors, either buy mixed varieties or a few bulbs of several varieties. If you want satisfactory blooms the first year make sure the bulbs are at least an inch in diameter.

 

Thrip Control on Gladiolus Bulbs

After purchasing Gladiolus bulbs it is a good idea to dust them with a powdery chemical known as carbaryl (Sevin). In small quantities this can be done by shaking them in a bag with about a quarter teaspoonful of Sevin per dozen bulbs.

The Sevin is to kill any thrips, the only insect that is a real problem. Thrips are small and inconspicuous but they can cause your bulbs to shrivel over winter and in the summer can cause the gladiolus flowers to curl and fail to open.

Young thrips are a light buff color and about 1/32 of an inch long. The adult is about 1/16 of an inch long and is black with a white belt.

Glads can be planted as early in the spring as the ground can be easily worked. We usually begin planting the summer-flowering bulbs last week in April and continue over a four week period. Plant where they will receive plenty of sun, the more the better.

Different varieties take different periods of time to bloom. If you have a mixture or several varieties, you can plant all bulbs at the same time and can expect them to bloom over a period of three or four weeks.

In our climate most varieties bloom from 65 to 100 days after planting. We usually have blooms from early July until about mid October when the first freeze ends the season.

Some people treat their bulbs or corms before planting as a protection against disease. I have found that if I throw away any unhealthy looking bulbs before planting, I do not really need any pre-planting treatment.

In a warmer climate or if you have had disease problems in the past you may want to soak your bulbs for 15 minutes immediately before planting in a solution of carbaryl – Sevin in a gallon of water. Read the label for rates per gallon.

Glads The Planting Process

I have mechanized the planting process. With a four-wheel tractor and furrower I dig a trench six inches deep. For only a few gladiolus corms, it is easy to hand-dig a continuous trench six inches deep.

Spread evenly on the bottom of the trench superphosphate or bone meal at the rate of about three pounds per 100 feet of row. Then cultivate the bottom of trench lightly to mix in the fertilizer.

You could use a balanced commercial or organic fertilizer instead of superphosphate or bone meal, but tests have shown that in the first few weeks of growth glads use primarily phosphorus.

Bulbs are then placed in the trench about six inches apart. Before covering I dust the bulbs lightly with Sevin, which I find is the simplest way of obtaining good disease control. In most areas not even this treatment should be necessary.

The trench is then covered and there is nothing to do for about a month except keep up with the weeds. Glad foliage normally appears in about two weeks. Nature usually provides adequate rain at that time of year.

A little dryness does no harm as it will encourage the tuberous roots to go deeper where the soil is cooler and more moist.

Side Dressing of Fertilizer

When the foliage is about a foot high it is time to side dress with a balanced fertilizer. On very light soils, a fertilizer low in nitrogen, such as about 5-10-10, is preferable.

For best results I fertilize again when bloom spikes first come into sight. Both times application is at the rate of about three pounds per 100 feet of row and is in a band which extends to three or four inches away from the plants.

With the first application of fertilizer it is time to begin watering. I like to provide the equivalent of about an inch of rain a week. When less than that amount falls naturally, the sprinkler is turned on.

After the growing season, watering can be discontinued. The villian thrips have previously been mentioned. Dusting bulbs with Sevin will kill thrips on your bulbs, but unfortunately they frequently migrate from someone else’s glads or from onions.

To prevent any damage, it is best to spray or dust weekly with Sevin or malathion, beginning when the foliage is about a foot high and continuing until the flowering season is over. Dusting Gladiolus is simpler, but spraying is more effective. Be sure to cover the bloom spikes.

Primarily Useful As A Cut Flower

The gladiolus is primarily useful as cut flowers. The normal time to cut a bloom spike for house use is the day the first flower is fully open. You will probably want a stem about 15 to 20 inches below the first floret, but try not to damage any more leaves than necessary.

Many people use a knife and cut down one side of the spike to the desired stem length, then across and up the other side of the spike.

With a little practice you may find you can pick a spike without a knife by pulling some of the outside leaves away from the stem and breaking the stem off at the desired height. There does not seem to be any way to make an individual glad flower last more than two days.

By keeping the spike in water, removing dead flowers and cutting the stem a little shorter daily, each spike will last a week.

How to Dig Gladiolus Bulbs

Gladiolus must be dug each fall and stored over winter because, first, they can be killed by freezing, and, second, they multiply and would give poor results in future years even if they did not freeze.

Bulbs should be given at least a month after bloom before digging in order to develop a sound bulb for the next year. Digging is simple if a spading fork is used.

The underground crop includes one or more new bulbs on top of the old one and usually a number of bulblets around the base. Foliage should be cut off as close as possible to the new bulb.

Bulbs and bulblets should be spread out in a warm dry place to cure and after about three weeks the old bulb can be popped off and discarded.

Bulblets, if planted next year, will grow into small bulbs the first season and probably will bloom the following year. If the old bulbs are not separated from the new ones in three to four weeks, the process will be much more difficult.

After cleaning, the new bulbs should be dusted with Sevin and stored where the temperature varies between 40 and 60 degrees. In a place that is warm and humid, they may sprout before planting time.

It is difficult to list the good, low-priced varieties that can readily be found in stores or catalogs, because there are so many.

All-America Gladiolus Selections, each year operates trial gardens throughout the United States in a search for medium-priced glads of top quality. To be chosen, a new variety must stand the test of time – it must prove hardy in varying climates, and be a show-winning glad.

The AAGS winners are a good guide for your choice of new glads. Do not forget the small or miniature glads, which are useful as garden flowers and for decorative arrangements.

Now that you know all about growing glads, you should be warned that all the so-called experts in the business call them either gladiolus – with the accent on the “O” – or glads for short. The person who uses any of the many other pronunciations or words is considered to know very little about glads.

Glads can be planted as early in the spring as the ground can be easily worked. We usually begin planting the last week in April and continue over a four week period.

Plant where they will receive plenty of sun, the more the better. Different varieties take different periods of time to bloom. If you have a mixture or several varieties, you can plant all bulbs at the same time and can expect them to bloom over a period of three or four weeks.

In our climate most varieties bloom from 65 to 100 days after planting. We usually have blooms from early July until about mid October when the first freeze ends the season.

Some people treat their bulbs before planting as a protection against disease. I have found that if I throw away any unhealthy looking bulbs before planting, I do not really need any pre-planting treatment.

In a warmer climate or if you have had disease problems in the past you may want to soak your bulbs for 15 minutes immediately before planting in a solution of carbaryl – Sevin in a gallon of water. Read the label for rates per gallon.

by Carlos Larus

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