Most plants in which such a bewildering variety of color is found have a tendency to coarseness, but this objection cannot be urged against the Gladiolus. It has all the delicacy of the Orchid. Its habit of growth fits it admirably for use in the border. Its ease of cultivation makes it a favorite with the ameteur who has only limited amount of time to spend among the flowers. It is a plant that any one can grow, and it is a plant that will grow almost anywhere. It is one of the few plants that seem almost able to take care of themselves. Beyond putting the corms in the ground, in spring, and an occasional weeding as the plant develops, very little attention is required.
To secure the best effect from it, the Gladiolus should be planted in masses. Single specimens are far less satisfactory. One must see fifty or a hundred plants in a bed ten or fifteen feet long to fully appreciate what it is capable of doing.
The time to plant it is in May, after the soil has become warm. Nothing is gained by earlier planting.
The bed should be spaded to the depth of a foot, at least. Then the soil should be worked over until it is fine and light. A liberal quantity of some good fertilizer should be added to it. Commercial fertilizers seem to suit it well, but the use of barnyard manure gives excellent results, and I would prefer it, if obtainable.
The corms should be put about four inches below the surface, care being exercised at the time of planting to see that they are right side up. It is often difficult to decide this matter before sprouting begins, but a little careful examination of the corm will soon enable you to tell where the sprouts will start from, and this will prevent you from getting it wrong-side up. As soon as the plants send up a stalk, some provision should be made for future support. If you prefer to stake the beds, set the stakes in rows about two feet apart. Wire or cord need not be stretched on them until the stalks are half grown. The reason for setting the stakes early in the season is—you know just where the corm is then, but later on you will not be able to tell where the new corms are, and in setting the stakes at random you are quite likely to injure them. When you apply the cord or wire to the stakes, run it lengthwise of the bed, and then across it in order to furnish a sufficient support without obliging the stalks to lean from the perpendicular to get the benefit of it.
For several seasons past, I have made use of a coarse-meshed wire netting, placed over the bed, and fastened to stakes about eighteen inches high. The stalks find no difficulty in making their way through the large meshes of the netting, and with a support of this kind they dispose themselves in a natural manner that is far more satisfactory than tying them to stakes, as we often see done. Some kind of a support must be given if we would guard against injury caused by strong winds. When the flower-stalk is once prostrated it is a difficult matter to get it back in place without breaking it.
If netting is used it need not be placed over the bed before the middle of July. By that time most of the weeds which require attention during the early part of the season will have been disposed of. Putting on the netting at an earlier period would greatly interfere with the proper cultivation of the bed. The soil should be kept light and open until the flower-stalks begin to show their buds.
The flowering period covers several weeks, beginning in August, and lasting all through September.
The Gladiolus is extremely effective for interior decorative work. It lasts for days after being cut. Indeed, if cut when the first flowers at the base of the spike open, it will continue to develop the buds above until all have become flowers, if the water in which the stalks are placed is changed daily, and a bit of the end of the stalk is cut off each time. For church use no flower excels it except the Lily, and that we can have for only a short time, and quite often not at all.
In late October the plants should be lifted, and spread out in the sunshine to ripen. Do not cut the stalks away until you are ready to store the corms. Then cut off each stalk about two inches from its junction with the corm. When the roots seem well dried out, put them in paper bags containing perfectly dry sawdust or buckwheat shells, and hang them in a dry place where the frost will not get at them. I would not advise storing them in the cellar, as they generally mould or mildew there.
Most varieties increase quite rapidly. You will find several new corms in fall, taking the place of the old one planted in spring. Often there will be scores of little fellows the size of a pea, clustered about the larger corms. These should be saved, and planted out next spring. Sow them close together in rows, as you would wheat. The following year they will bloom.
So extensively is the Gladiolus bulbs grown at the present time that enough to fill a good-sized bed can be bought for a small sum. And in no other way can you invest a little money and be sure of such generous returns. What the Geranium is to the window-garden that the Gladiolus is to the outdoor garden, and one is of as easy culture as the other.
Some of the choicest varieties are sold at a high price. One reason for this is the finest varieties are slow to increase, and it takes a long time to get much of a stock together. This is why they are so rare, and so expensive. But many of them are well worth all that is asked for them.
You may have a mixed collection of a thousand plants and fail to find a worthless variety among them. Indeed, some of the very finest flowers I have ever had have been grown from collections that cost so little that one hardly expected to find anything but the commonest flowers among them.