The striking and long-lasting blooms of gladiolus have long been analogous with those static arrangements employed as “funeral flowers.” For too long that grim association dogged them. But no more. The classic blooming bulb flowers are making a grand comeback and are doing it with style. And to recognize this feat, the National Garden Bureau has designated this year as the Year of the Gladiolus.

Courtesy of Lynette Walther

According to the NGB, generations of gardeners tucked the blooming bulbs into their gardens and by summer were rewarded with grand spikes of blooms. Buckets of the long-stemmed flowers were some of the first cut flowers that appeared for sale in grocery stores.

Most glad varieties are native to Africa and other arid countries around the Mediterranean, according to NGB. This makes them perfect for growing in their hot climate and sandy soils. It was around 1800 when plant breeders began hybridizing them, and today’s glads are far showier than those that are found in the wild.

Today, floral designers and flower farmers and home gardeners are finding new and creative ways to put glads front and center.

Gladioli owe their botanical name to the Latin word gladius, which means sword. It’s an accurate description of the plant’s stiffly upright form and narrow, blade-like leaves. There are several different types of glads in cultivation. They vary in height as well as in flower form and size according to NGB.

This heirloom glad. ‘Atom,’ has a delicate white margin and is a hummingbird magnet. This variety grows to about 3 feet tall. Courtesy of Lynette Walther.

Grandiflora Hybrids: The gladiolus that grew in our grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s gardens were probably grandifloras. They have the classic orchid-like flower shape and come in an incredible range of colors, including pink, purple, red, yellow, green, white, and orange, plus many bi-colors. Flowers are 5 to 6 inches across. Grandifloras grow 3 to 4-feet tall and have 12 to 20 blossoms per stem. They are reliable winter hardy in zones 7 and warmer.

Dwarf Grandiflora Hybrids: These miniature gladioli produce 2 to 3-foot stalks and display 2-to-3-inch wide, open-faced flowers. Being smaller in size and often not needing staking, dwarf glads are a popular choice for flower gardens, containers, and cutting gardens. “Butterfly glads” are sometimes classified as dwarf hybrids and sometimes as Primulinus hybrids. They feature throat blotches in contrasting colors.

“Glamini” glads also fall into this category. As with the grandiflora hybrids, these corms are reliably winter hardy in zones 7 and warmer.

Gladiolus Nanus Hybrids: These flowers resemble grandifloras but are 1/2 to 2/3 the size and there are usually just 6 to 7 flowers per stem. The color range is more limited, with most varieties having blossoms that are red, white, pink, or rose (plus bicolors). At just 18 to 24 inches tall, these smaller and less formal glads work well in pots and are a lively addition to a mixed flowerbed. Gladiolus nanus bloom in early to midsummer and will usually survive the winter in zones 5 and warmer.

Gladiolus communis var. byzantinus: Byzantine glads have naturalized in many southern gardens. Each arching 2-foot stem displays about a dozen tubular, bright magenta flowers. Bloom time is early to midsummer. The corms are hardy in zone 7 and warmer.

Dalenii Hybrids (formerly Gladiolus primulinus): These glads have slender, 2 to 3-foot stems with flowers that are about half the size of grandiflora types. The blossoms appear to be “hooded” rather than fully open. Dalenii hybrids are hardier than grandifloras and will survive the winter in zone 6 and warmer. Commonly known as peacock orchids, these gladiolus relatives are now classified as Acidanthera murielae.

Growing glads advice from NGB:

Gladiolus should be grown in well-drained soil and full sun. In cold climates, grow glads as annuals. In areas where glads are not winter hardy, most gardeners plant fresh corms each spring. Another option is to overwinter the corms indoors. In fall, dig up the corms and cut off all but an inch or so of the stem and leaves. Let the corms dry for one to two weeks.

You can grow them in a cutting garden, add them to your perennial garden, grow them in raised beds or containers, or plant the corms in your vegetable garden.

Before planting, prepare the soil by loosening the planting area to a depth of 6 to 10 inches. Adding compost and an all-purpose granular fertilizer will help your glads reach their full potential.

You can expect the flowers to begin opening 80 to 90 days after planting. To extend the bloom time, don’t plant all the corms at once. Plant the first batch in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Plant additional corms every week or two until early summer (about 90 days before the first fall frost).

Plant grandiflora types 6 to 8 inches deep. Planting deeper helps keep the stems upright. Dwarf glads should be planted 4 to 6 inches deep. Space the corms 4 to 6 inches apart on center. Use the closer spacing if you plan to cut most of the stems before they are fully open.

Water regularly and deeply, especially during dry spells. When plants are stressed by heat and drought, they become more susceptible to pests and disease. Applying 2 to 3 inches of mulch after planting will help retain moisture and control weeds.

Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement, the National Garden Bureau’s Exemplary Journalism Award. She is a member of GardenComm and the National Garden Bureau. Her gardens are in Camden.

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