Grow Gladiolus


Gladiolus – the grandest perennial of late summer?

Gladiolus has tall stems with trumpet-shaped flowers. Its beautiful, bright colors are a spectacular feature in the bed or pot. When the frost comes, the tubers are taken out of the soil to overwinter indoors. Save the side tubers and you’ll get more flowers every year.

The gladiators’ favorite

Gladiolus is also known as the sabre lily. The name comes from gladius, which means ‘little sword’ – an appropriate name for the delightful flower stalks of about 70-120 cm in height. Gladiolus was the favorite flower of the Roman gladiators. It was said that an amulet with this plant would give protection to soldiers. A more pacifist legend tells that the gladiolus was born from the ground where two friends refused to go to war with each other.

Gladiolus grows wild in the Mediterranean region, in Asia and in Africa. Originally, the tubers were used as food and the whole plant as medicine. Toothache, diarrhea and colds were some of the ailments thought to be cured by gladiolus. Interestingly, the petals have been found to be very rich in vitamin C.

In the late 17th century, the plant arrived in Europe and interest in gladiolus as an ornamental plant exploded with the breeding of large-flowered hybrids. Today there are 260 species and 70,000 varieties. What does this mean for us gardening enthusiasts? Well, that there are lots of colors to choose from!

Direct planting or pre-planting gladiolus

We usually both pre-plant and direct plant. This way we get an extra long flowering season.

  • Direct planting gladiolus outdoors
    When the risk of night frost is over, gladiolus can be planted outdoors in a bed or pot. Place the tubers with the tip upwards at a depth of about 10 cm. Gladiolus works best in a group. Preferably put a small group in the same place, with about 10-15 cm distance between the tubers.
  • Propagating gladiolus indoors
    To get earlier flowering, it is excellent to pre-sprout gladiolus about 6-8 weeks before planting. Place the tubers about 10 cm deep in the container. Water and place in a dark and cool place. Water next time only when the shoots have emerged. Then they want to be brighter, but still cool. If it gets too hot, there is a risk that the small gladioli will grow too tall. When the risk of frost has passed, it is time to plant out. First harden off the gladiolus plants for a few days by keeping them outdoors during the day and indoors at night.

Getting gladiolus to flower and thrive

Choose a sunny and preferably wind-protected location with well-drained and thoroughly fertilized soil. Gladiolus is very easy to care for during the growing season. Make sure that they do not dry out and provide some nourishment during flowering. The tall varieties often need to be tied up or supported by a wall, fence or trellis. Keep an eye out for slugs – especially when the plants are small and the risk of infestation is greater.

Gladiolus – magnificent cut flower

Gladiolus flowers from the bottom up. To get a long flowering period in the vase, it is best to pick the flower stalks when the lowest buds begin to open. Cut the stems into slightly different lengths to add some dynamism to the arrangement.

Winter storage of gladiolus

The vast majority of gladiolus varieties are not winter hardy in Sweden. Therefore, we pick up the tubers when they wither in the fall after cutting the leaves down to the ground. Brush off the soil and dry the tubers for one or two weeks, preferably hanging upside down. Then store the tubers in shavings or coconut fiber in a dry and cool but frost-free place. The ideal temperature is about 10 degrees. If you grow gladiolus in a pot, you can cut down the leaves and bring in the whole pot for winter storage.

Gladiolus often forms side tubers that can be removed after drying. Winterize these together with the larger tubers and plant them all in the spring. The side tubers will flower after one or two years and eventually you can get a whole sea of colorful flowers.


Author: Johanna Damm

Fact checked by Erik Hoekstra

Last updated 2024-02-27

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