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Growing Gladioli { Get to know your garden intimately part 13 }

Updated on October 1, 2015

Gladiolus are showy and very handsome flowers



This series of articles is aimed at the beginner to gardening and to those who are not sure which plant to grow where and,indeed,how to grow them. So far in this series we have looked at our gardens their aspects soil types and how to deal with them,and moved on to review some of the species we may like to grow. Carnations and Pinks,Dahlias, and Auriculas have already been reviewed here we look at one of my favourite plants for the flower garden-the Gladiolus.

A field of Gladioli


Gladiolus 'Flevo Amica'


Gladioli 'bulbs'

The 50 pence coin gives a clue to the size of the  bulbs.
The 50 pence coin gives a clue to the size of the bulbs. | Source

Gladiolus 'Pricilla'


Gladiolus ' Red Cascade'


What are Gladioli and how to grow them

Gladiolus are a genus of corms,{ bulb like structures} each producing a spike of funnel shaped flowers and a fan of erect sword shaped leaves from which they take their name,from gladius meaning a sword. The leaves occur on the basal part of the flower stem.

They are a great addition to mixed borders,they are suitable for cutting and make impressive displays. Many hybrids are also suitable for exhibiting.

Growing them at a glance.---Most are frost hardy to half hardy. They require a sunny and fertile well drained soil. Water well in summer and support cultivars by canes. In Autumn the half hardy types need to be lifted,cut off the stems and dry the corms in a frost free cool place. Pot spring flowering species and cultivars in autumn and place them in a cool greenhouse or cold frame.After flowering,dry off for summer months and re-pot in autumn.

Gladiolus may be propagated by seed or by removal of small cormletts from the parent plant. Although they can be propagated by seed to increase your stock,this is a long process until the flowering period { up to three years} and is usually left to breeders. We can obtain new corms ready to plant and flower in the same season from nurseries,on line and garden centres.

Once we have a stock they can readily be increased with a little time and know how. When we lift our corms we shall see a number of smaller corms attached to the root system. These need to be removed cleaned and dried in a frost free place. They may then be planted out in spring about two inches deep.

It would be prudent to mention that while the corms are in storage they are vulnerable to attack from various rots.To help stop this possibility healthy corms should be dusted with a fungicide before drying. Store them in an airy cool frost free place.

Growing gladioli in more detail. In order to grow these handsome garden favourites to the best effect the ground requires some preparation and alight sandy soil suits their requirements best. If our soil is heavy we must make sure there is adequate drainage.This cab be achieved by spreading horticultural sand {available in bags at the garden centre} thickly over the surface then lightly forked in.

Professional growers would 'trench' the ground. This meant digging to a depth of Eighteen inches,putting in manure {slow release fertilizer is fine for the modern day gardener} and another layer at nine inches. This was usually done in October of the previous year. In spring when the surface was dry they would then lightly fork it over.

The corms need the soil to be a suitable condition,which is generally about April depending on the location and situation. The base of the 'bulb' is placed four inches below the surface of the ground. Put dry clean sand over and above them and the soil placed back over them. However, the soil is often wet when the time for planting occurs. In this case we will still need to put sand beneath them but cover them with dry soil,or dry compost to give them a chance to start well. If we require a succession of flowering plants we can plant the corms at two weekly intervals until the end of May.

The new growth soon appears above ground if the weather is favourable. I find that hoeing around the plants will not only keep the weeds down but also help to keep the soil loose so that it aids drainage. When the plants begin to show that a flower spike is developing,canes should be placed near them,they then may be tied to prevent them from toppling over.

Should dry weather set we must water them freely,and, it is advisable that we put a mulch around the base of the plants to prevent evaporation. Our objective is to produce the best flower spikes possible.

The foliage of Gladioli remain green well into late autumn,but the corms should be lifted by the end of October. {Unless you live in a frost free location} When we fork them out we need to cut the foliage away close to the crown of the bulb, and shake off any excess soil. Remove any cormletts and treat as described above.

Yellow giant hybridus


What are Hybrids ?

Included in the text I have mentioned Hybrids, and the name will crop up in seed and flower catalogues. So what are Hybrids ? Sexual crosses between botanically distinct species or genera are known as Hybrids and are indicated by a multiplication sign. If the cross is between species in different genera the result is referred to as an intergenetic hybrid. When two{or even three} genera are concerned, the name given is a condensed form of names of the genera involved. x Cupressocyparis covers hybrids between all species of Chamaecyparis and Cupressus.

We need not need to get to deeply involved with Hybrids of three genera,for the most common hybrids are hybrids between two species in the same genus,referred to as interspecific hybrids. These are given the collective name similar to a species name but presented by a multiplication sign. For instance Epimedium x rubrum covers hybrids between E.alpinum and E.grandiflora.

In the case of our subject we have Gladiolus x hortulanus,with all the varieties. On the labels of many plants you will see the species name and the variety name only. For instance Gladiolus x 'Amsterdam' or Gladiolus x 'Flevo Amica' {pictured above right.} or simply Gladiolus 'Flevo Amica'.

Name changes---It can be very frustrating even to an experienced gardener or Botanist,and more so for ,and confusing, to the beginner.. Old familiar names disappear and new unfamiliar ones appear in books, flower catalogues and on plant labels. There are good reasons for the changes which are to complex to go into in any great detail, and the beginner to gardening and plants do not need this knowledge at this stage. To help both the experienced and the beginner when names are changed synonyms are given which helps to minimise the problem of indentifying or purchasing plants.

Gladiolus 'Red Lime' is a hybrid

Transferred to Commons via Ronhjones.
Transferred to Commons via Ronhjones. | Source

A little bit of history and species types.

There are numerous types of this classic flower and over the last one hundred years or so,by careful selection and cross fertilization there are plethora of varieties now available. It was {in the UK }, the Right Rev.Dean Herbert who began the work of Hybridizing, however, he was more of a Botanist than a Florist,and crossed numerous species which had recently been introduced from the Cape. However, he did not follow the work up so as to obtain good varieties,which would bring the plant into the family of garden favourites.

It was the French gardener of note Mons. Souchet,gardener to the Emperor Napolean at Fontainbleau,near Paris,who as the first to make a decided florist flower of the Gladiolus. He introduced many new varieties yearly though one or two of the Paris seeds-men and the flower became admirable in form and substance. Messrs Kelway of Langport,still further improved it along with other horticulturists, to begin the plethora of varieties available to us today.

Each spike has flowers arranged on the opposite sides of the stem either vertically,touching each other referred to as being 'formerly placed',or alternating up the stem with a slight space between each flower these are referred to as being 'ladder placed.. All have stiff leaves 20-50 cm { 8-20 inches } long ranging from a pale willow green or steely blue grey to almost bottle green.

The Gladioli varieties are split into two groups. the Grandiflorus group and the Primulinus group. Let us look at these two group types. The Grandiflorus group produces densely packed spikes of funnel-shaped flowers,with ruffled thick textured petals or plain edged thin textured ones.

Giant flower hybrids have a bottom flower of over 14 cm {five and a half inches across. The flower-head is 65-80 cm { 26-32 inches } long.

Large flowered. have flowers 11-14 cm { four and a half-five and a half inches } across with flower-heads 60 cm -1m { 24 -36 inches } long.

Medium flowered have flowers 9-11 cm { three and a half to four and a half inches} across with the flower head 60-80 cm{ 24-32 inches } long.

Small flowered have flowers 6-9 cm { two and a half to three and a half inches } across with flower-heads 50-70 cm { 20-28 inches } long.

The Primulinus group have fairly loose spikes of plain edged funnel shaped flowers 6-8cm { two and a half to three inches } across, each with a strongly hooded,upper petal over the stgma and anthers.Flower heads are 30 cm { 12 inches long}

Which ever you choose enjoy your gardening.

Red Cascade close up of flower


Gladiolus 'withe'


Gladiolus 'Tantastic'



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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Deb there are so many varieties out there and are now relatively inexpensive bought as corms {bulbs}. Where frost occurs however, they do need to be dug up and replanted in spring. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are magnificent. I remember my father growing the non-fancy types, basically the "plain Jane" varieties. I never realized that there were others out there that were so beautiful. It likely had something to do with the cost factor. I recall red ones, as well as the white variety, He dug them up, just like you mentioned, and replanted them again in the spring.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Wow Sally they are great comments and compliments that mean so much,thank you. Best wishes to you.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      3 years ago from Norfolk


      Fabulous flowers, some gorgeous images and loads of useful info. What more can one ask for? Love your easy relaxed style of writing, this one is definitely a winner. Very well done.



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