Gladiolus are real eye-catchers in any gardens. They are remarkable appearances with brilliant, green spikes and striking, multi-colored flowers.


The gladiolus is a perennial belonging to the lily family, the Iridaceae. Crossbreeding between the many different types of gladioli has made them available in a wide variety of colors.

wild gladiolus

Wild gladiolus

Gladiolus occurs naturally in South Africa, West Africa, Asia and Southern Europe. There are about 300 species. About 260 of these species are found in southern and tropical Africa. Only about ten species are native to countries bordering the Mediterranean and Eurasia. The leaves of the wild gladiolus are lanceolate. They are about 4 to 10 mm wide and 10 to 40 cm long. The plant blooms from April to June. The flowers grow in spikes with 3 to 10 together.

The flowers are surrounded by two bracts. In the center of the flower, striking red/pink stamens can be seen. The plant grows 20 to 60 cm tall. The wild or botanical gladiolus from South Africa are called species. The gladiolus that are grown and sold on the international market are hybrids of these species. These crossings are called hybrids.

How to plant Gladiolus

Gladioli like well-drained, fertile soil, without annoying roots from bushes and trees. The tubers should be placed at a depth of about 10 cm, with a distance of 12 cm between them. If the soil in which you want to plant your gladiolus is relatively poor, a little fertilizer can stimulate growth. It is better not to use rough manure for this, as it can spread infections.

When the plant starts to grow, you can add some mulch. Mulch helps to retain moisture and keep weeds away. Gladioli can grow in partial shade, but they prefer full sun. Sunlight helps them grow straighter and they are less likely to need a stake for support.

When to plant gladiolus

The best time to plant gladiolus  is in spring, late April or early May. Keep an eye on whether night frost is still forecast, because the bulbs are not resistant to this. Gladiolus bloom in summer, from June through September. If you want to enjoy the blooming colors as soon as possible, you can already plant the bulbs in a pot at the beginning of April. Then place the jar in a warm place. The bulbs will then sprout, after which you can bury them in early May.

Abyssinian gladiolus

The Abyssinian gladiolus, or Gladiolus murielae, is an exotic plant with green, pointed leaves that curve downward. Striking white, star-shaped flowers with a purple center rise above them.

The Abyssinian gladiolus is also called sword lily. The bulbs or plants can be planted from March to May and the flowers bloom quite late in the summer, from August until the first frost. The plants grow to at least 60 cm in height and spread a wonderful fragrance. They thrive in both semi-shade and full sun.

gladiolus bulbs

Gladiolus bulbs

Although gladiolus are referred to as planting bulbs, they are actually tubers that are planted. Tubers store nutrition in the stem so they can survive over the winter.

Bulbs of gladioli, when you buy them, should not be soft to the touch, shriveled or moldy, or have green sprouts, spots or rottenness. Damaged tubers are susceptible to mold. Also, a tuber should first be checked for the presence of thrips. These are small, black insects with wings, which should be controlled before planting. Choose large tubers: these often produce long, sturdy stems with more and larger flowers.

gladiolus flower

Gladiolus flower

Gladiolus flowers bloom from late June to October. The flowers come in a wide variety of brilliant colors. They grow on either side of the stem and are bell-shaped. The flowers can be narrow or broad in shape and fragrant or non-scented.

Gladiolus flower meaning

The name gladiolus comes from the Latin Gladius, which means sword. Appropriate, because the stems contain grooved, sword-shaped leaves. In the time of Charlemagne, the gladiolus was used in war as an amulet; it was a kind of talisman that would provide protection from injury.

The flower symbolizes pride, victory, encouragement, admiration, perseverance, strength and character. The statement “Death or the gladiolus” dates back to the time of the gladiators, who were buried under gladiolus when they won in the arena. The gladiolus is the symbol for the month of August and the 40th wedding anniversary.

How to care for the Gladioli

After you plant the gladioli, they will grow about 90 to 120 cm. One point to consider when caring for them is the stems. When a lot of flowers come to these, they will bend and can break. It is therefore advisable to protect them from wind and to tie up the stems.

Gladioli do not like weeds: they should therefore preferably be removed as early in the season as possible. The water from rainfall is usually not enough for the gladioli. The plants need to be watered extra from the moment leaves start to grow. A bed of gladioli should be watered about 3 cm per week.

Hibernation of the Gladiolus

Gladiolus are not resistant to frost and should therefore be lifted in the autumn. When the plant has finished flowering, the stems are turning yellow and the leaves are drooping, you can cut it back at 10 cm above the ground. Because gladiolus are tubers, they have nutrition stored in the stems. They need this nutrition to survive the winter. The plant therefore needs some time to extract nutrition from the stem and store it in the bulb. So do not cut the plant until it has died off completely.

Then the tubers can be dug out. Carefully knock off the soil and remove the stem from the tuber. The tubers can now be stored in a warm place so that they can dry.

It is important that sufficient oxygen can reach the tubers, so do not cover them too well. After about three weeks the tubers have dried sufficiently. You can then carefully clean them again, taking care not to break the skin around the tuber. This skin protects the tuber. The tubers are now ready to be planted next spring, so that you can enjoy their beautiful colors again.