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There are more than 250 species of gladiolus around the world with many being native to Europe and South Africa. While there are wild species of gladiolus that can grow in home gardens, most gardeners grow hybrids that are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 10.
Gladiolus are also known as 'sword lilies' for the shape of their leaves. In Latin, gladius means “sword”.
'Glads' make a showy cut flower and great accent plant in a flower or vegetable garden. Some gardeners will plant cut flower gardens and grow gladiolus in rows for the specific purpose of growing them for bouquets and indoor arrangements.
Gladiolus varieties come in all colors of the rainbow, except blue.
Gladiolus grow from corms planted in the spring and early summer. Varieties are sorted by flower size and color. Miniature Glads will have flowers smaller than 2.5 inches in diameter, while the blooms of other varieties can range up to 5.5 inches in diameter.
The most important characteristics to look for in varieties, though, is flower color and texture. Varieties come in solid, bi-color, streaked, ruffled and double forms.
You can purchase varieties individually or in mixes. Some popular varieties and mixes include:
For something a little different, look for the more unusual gladiolus types on the market. The 'Peacock Orchid' gladiolus features orchid-like white flowers with a deep red throat. They only grow to be 2 feet tall and have a pleasant fragrance.
The Nanus group of gladiolus only grow 2 to 3 feet tall and are surprising hardy winter to zone 5. They can be left in the ground, or dug up and stored like hybrid types. Nanus gladiolus are also known as 'Butterfly gladiolus' for their butterfly-like petals. Hybrids of this species have a broad range of colors but aren't as hardy as the true species.
In mild winter areas, such as southern California and parts of Arizona, there are also winter-blooming gladiolus varieties. These varieties are not as readily available as the hybrid gladiolus but will add color during a normally quiet time of the year in the flower garden.
Gladiolus can be grown exclusively as cutting flowers or as garden plants. When growing them for cutting, plant in rows spacing corms 5 inches apart. Some growers will place trellis netting over the gladiolus to keep the flower stalks from bending or breaking in a storm.
When cutting gladiolus for indoor arrangements:
In the garden, gladiolus are best planted in groups of 10 to 15 corms. This not only produces a more stunning visual effect, but the group of glads will help support each other during storms, so are less likely to flop over.
Plant tall gladiolus varieties in the back or middle of a flower border to provide a 'pop' of mid to late-summer color. Also, when planted in the middle of a flower border, after you deadhead the flower stalk, other plants will hide the not-so- attractive gladiolus foliage as it ages.
Some good flowers to plant along with gladiolus in a border include dahlias and zinnias, since they will bloom around the same time.
Dwarf varieties not only can be used in the flower garden but they can be grown in containers as well. Choose a large container that's at least 12 inches deep with good drainage holes. Fill it with potting soil. Plant your corms flat side down, pointy side up, 6 inches apart and 6 to 8 inches deep. Planting deeper will help to keep the flower stalks upright.
Be sure to keep the container well watered. If you won't be saving the corms for next year, don't bother fertilizing; however, if you will be saving them, fertilize monthly with a balanced organic product and don't cut the leaves back until they yellow.
You can also plant tall or short gladiolus to brighten up a vegetable garden. Planted behind beans, dill, fennel, peppers and dwarf tomatoes, glads add color to your veggie patch. With such showy flowers, gladiolus also is a favorite of bees and beneficial insects which can help control damaging pests in the garden.
About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for great how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.
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