We are blessed with such an array of beautiful native plants in South Africa. We are sure you will not be surprised to hear that the gorgeous Gladiolus is on this list of homegrown beauties … and what a beauty! This stately lady, with her tall and straight stem produces a succession of large and very colourful funnel-shaped blooms. The sword-shaped leaves that adorn this long floral spike were the inspiration behind the naming of Gladiolus. The word Gladiolus derives from the latin gladius, meaning ‘sword’, and this description gave rise to her common name ‘sword lily’. Whether you refer to this South African gem as Gladiolus, sword lily or use its affectionate name of glads, we can all agree she is an absolute delight.
There are around 200 species of this eye catching bulb that derive mostly from southern South Africa, as well as other areas of Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe, the Middle East and western Asia. However, it is the Gladiolus that grows wild in our very own Cape that provides the tall and large-flowered hybrids that are popular garden plants and cut flowers worldwide. Gladiolus sometimes has the reputation of being tricky to grow but there are some exceptions, for example G. dalenii (Rhodesian gladiolus), which occurs naturally and is the most common species in our gardens. Most of us will not have the pleasure of wild Gladiolus, so luckily for us the modern hybrids available are even more stunning and are all very reliable growers. If you follow these simple planting and care tips you will have a garden full of colourful Gladiolus trumpeting the arrival of summer.
The bulbs are available from August through to October and can be planted in your garden from late September to late November. They look wonderful planted in clusters of up to 25 bulbs at the back of your border, and should be planted 15cm apart with 10cm of soil covering them. Gladiolus also looks wonderful planted in blocks of colour. Try to pick a position in full sun to plant your Gladiolus, as these South African natives love the sunshine.
The best soil for Gladiolus is a partially sandy loam that drains well, but they can grow in most soils as long as it is light and aerated. It is important not to let the sub soil dry out, especially during flowering time. The best way to keep your Gladiolus well watered is to follow “The Three F’s”; Water your bulbs with a sprinkler for Forty minutes, every Four days, and don’t Forget. This will ensure your bulbs will receive a nice deep watering all the way to root level.
Your beautiful Gladiolus will start to display her colourful flowers from November to March and will put on a wonderful show. They can grow up to 1m in height, so may need staking if you are expecting some strong gusts or they are planted in an exposed position. These tall stems make Gladiolus a brilliant cut flower, so why not pick a few for a vase? You can simply pull the whole bulb out of the soil and cut it away from the stem, remembering to discard the bulb straight away. It is not advisable to discard the bulb into your garden or on the compost heap because Gladiolus harbours pests and diseases that could spread to other plants. If you wish to grow your bulbs on, just cut the stem about 20 cm above the soil and this will ensure there is enough foliage left to support the plant.
We adore Gladiolus and just love a border bursting with these gorgeous bulbs. When they flower their elegant stems look like a colourful party of ladies swaying in your garden … simply divine! Creating an impressive display of Gladiolus is very affordable and simple to achieve, so why not try planting your own border of beautiful ladies this year?
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