Margaret Lauterbach

Gladiolus need some TLC but are well worth it; also, rules about pets in the garden

Do you grow gladiolus? They’re one of my favorite flowers, but they require some TLC at times. At this time of year, wait until frost has blackened all of the above-ground plant, and then dig the corms. The corms are not hardy here, so they must be removed from soil before winter. The plant has sent all of its energy to the corm after the first taste of frost. Use a garden fork or spade, and don’t dig too close to the blackened plant, lest you damage the corm. Once soil has loosened, pull the plant by its black leaves and gently shake soil off. You may find miniature corms growing on the bottom that, after replanting, can produce mature plants after two seasons.

Once you’ve dug the corms, it’s time to “cure” them. Leave them on top of the soil for a couple of days to allow them to dry, if more frost is not forecast. If it is forecast, at least cover them with a protective blanket. Then put them in a cardboard box and put it in a warm, dry place for another two weeks.

After they’re completely dry, separate the parts of the corm. Timing of two weeks, I think, is important, because if it’s sooner or later, corms may be difficult to separate. Discard the old corm on the bottom, but keep the new one that has formed on top of the old one. Now trim off the dead foliage and put the new corm and the cormlets that formed into a cardboard box or other container. Be sure to discard any corms with soft spots or mushy tissue. In order to prevent disease, it’s a good idea to dust your good corms and cormlets with an anti-fungal powder. Store them in single layers separated by newspaper, in boxes, in mesh onion bags or on screened frames.

Years ago I attended an estate sale where several homemade screened frames were being sold. I was told the late owner had wintered her glad corms on them. Screened frames would facilitate good air circulation that is also important in keeping gladiolus corms healthy. For that reason some folks use pantyhose or another breathable mesh bag and hang the bag in a cool location, protected from extreme cold. A temperature of about 40 degrees is ideal for those corms.

Should pets be allowed in the garden? I think well-behaved dogs should be allowed, at least. Cats may carry disease such as toxoplasmosis that’s transmissible to humans via their feces, and they love soft earth, compost or soil aid, so I don’t like cats in the garden. I’ve recently heard of some problems with dog behavior that’s unwelcome. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I’ve found a firm “No!” extinguishes unwanted canine behavior. Puppies or dogs with puppy-like behavior may cause special problems, so don’t let them in the garden alone. Train them as you go. One may attack a blooming plant for no reason other than the blossoms change appearance.

I’ve valued my dogs’ presence in the garden over the years because they have protected my plants from voles and mice that think they’re safe retreating under the soil’s surface. Many years ago, our beagle went after something, but in her digging quest, she was lobbing soil, potatoes and a vole between her legs. It was up to me to kill the vole since the beagle lost interest. Terriers dig them out and kill them.

Most dogs love cantaloupe and other types of melons, and if you overlook a ripe one in the garden, you might see a bitten melon. Harvest the melon and cut off the part your pet (or a raccoon) has bitten. Our late terrier loved cucumbers but wanted to pick his own, backing up until the cucumber in his mouth popped free of the vine. He picked only one per day, so I let him. When I encountered the aroma of one cucumber he was eating, it smelled like melon, solving that mystery for me.

One of the unwelcome dog behaviors I heard about recently was a guest’s dog knocking over and breaking off mature tomato plants while chasing a squirrel. That could be prevented if you anticipate that could be a problem. Since I started gardening from the seat of an electric scooter, my indeterminate tomatoes are planted in three rows. To guard against wind, pet or other animal damage, we installed T posts at each end of each row, and tied clothesline wire to one end, threaded it through each cage, and tied at the other end T post.

If your garden is vulnerable to voles and you see your dog begin digging furiously, don’t stop him, for he’s probably going after a varmint. You can lose a potato hill or two to protect the entire row, if necessary.

Send garden questions to melauter@cableone.net or Gardening, The Statesman. P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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