Gardening From Alaska

seed starting and light
by Jeff Lowenfels
by Jeff Lowenfels


Jeff is the Past President of the Garden Writers of America, a columnist with the Anchorage Daily News, Host Alaska Gardens and Supporter of Plant a Row.

March 20, 2005

Unless you are willing to supply supplemental light to seedlings started before the 1st of April, you shouldn’t start them. They will germinate, but in all probability won’t produce they type of plants that in turn will produce flowers and crops. This is always a big disappointment for inexperienced Alaskan Gardeners who are influenced by the rapid increase in daylight hours experienced this time of year.

Ah, but just because the stubborn who refuse lights have to wait another month to start seedlings, doesn’t mean all hope of gardening earlier is lost. In fact, this is a great time to start gladiola corms, a really easy flower to grow.

Truly, there are few flowers easier to grow than gladiola corms. And there are fewer still that grow as large displaying up to three-foot long flower stalks each with a dozen or so “florlets” that can ranage in size from one inch all the way up to six or seven inches in size. The flower stalks as well as the long, thin, sword shaped leaves are ideal additions to indoor bouquets and provide terrific vertical structure to any flower bed.

Instead of a bulb, a gladiola develops from a corm, a similar looking structure that also contains all the plant will need for the first month of life. To grow corms, plant them pointed side up in good compost, humus or well draining potting mix . If you are going organic make sure the soil is very rich in organics to support the necessary microbiology.

Glads grown chemically will need a balanced fertilizer every month. Organic growers should plant in mixes full of organic materials necessary to support the microbes that, in turn, feed the glads’ roots, ie compost or humus. Use any of the meals (cotton, fish, soybean) for microbe food and a monthly applications of compost tea.

Ideally corms should be started by planting them 4 inches deep, but they can initially be planted shallower and then transplanted deeper when moved outside. This makes it possible to grow them in flats, though I like using large, paper or used Styrofoam cups. The bigger the better with one corm planted into each cup.

Some of you dug up last year’s plants and stored them in paper bags. It is time to retrieve them and clean off the dead plant and roots and retrieve the new corm for planting. Last year’s corm will be shriveled mass. Above it will be the corm for this year. Discard all but this.

If you are new to growing gladioluses, now is the time to buy corms. You will find them for sale at all local nurseries and nursery sections. Generally, you get what you pay for when it comes to bulbs, tubers and corms and bigger is better.

There are all sorts of different kinds of gladioluses (or gladioli or just “glads.”). They come in a wide array of colors including greens, somewhat unusual for plants, and near blacks, also an oddity. Since they are usually large plants with large flowers, you need to pay particular attention to the colors you purchase. These flowers can dominate your flowerbeds.

There are also many different gladiola flower shapes and plant sizes. All the corms look pretty much alike, however, so make sure to read the label of any packets you get so you can plan and plant accordingly.

When it comes to gladiolas, don’t skimp. Get as many as you can and stagger planting times to extend the period of blossoms. That is, plant a few this weekend and then a few next weekend and so forth. Gladiolus take about 90 days to bloom in normal conditions.

When you transplant outdoors, look for locations with soils that drain well and that get at least half a day of good sunlight. You can transplant glads as close as four inches, though most folks go a full foot to produce the biggest plants and flowers.

While it still helps to have supplemental lights when growing glads, it is possible to grow them without lights. Just make sure to give them the very best light you have and turn them frequently so they don’t grow crooked.

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