Peacock Orchids

Jeanne Grunert
Peacock orchids

Gardeners love peacock orchids for their beautiful and fragrant flowers. Peacock orchids, properly known by their botanical name Gladiolus callianthus, trace their family tree to the iris and gladiolus family. They provide masses of color and look stunning at the back of the border or in places where you need to make a dramatic impact in the garden.

Caring for Gladiolus Callianthus

Gardeners in North America consider them tender perennials or annual flowers. Because they originated in the mountains of east Africa, peacock orchids need very warm winters in order to survive. They do best grown in gardens within zones 7a to zone 11.

Purchase corms in home and garden centers or catalogs. Many gardeners report finding bags of healthy peacock orchids on sale and discount racks. Since they're not as familiar to the average homeowner as Iris, Sword Lily or spring flowering bulbs like tulips and daffodils, they're often passed up for familiar garden favorites. But peacock orchids are easy to grow and thrive in most garden conditions, and their beauty outshines many other flowers. Peacock orchids come in flower colors ranging from white to a very rich, dark maroon red. All peacock orchids grow to be several feet tall, so you'll want to plant them at the back of the border or garden so they don't overshadow more diminutive plants. Foliage is a rich emerald green, with long, slender leaves. Deer generally find peacock orchids unpalatable, which is good news for gardeners living in areas where deer are a problem.

Growing Conditions

Peacock orchids require full sunlight, at least six hours a day, although they may tolerate some afternoon shade. Soil should be mildly acidic with a pH of 6.1 to neutral 7.0. Amending soil with peat moss provides excellent drainage as well as the slightly acidic soil conditions the plant prefers. Keep soil slightly moist at all times. Most gardeners rely upon rainfall to water peacock orchids.

Planting Peacock Orchids

These plants require a long growing season and cannot tolerate cold or frost, so gardeners in zones 7 and above may wish to start their peacock orchids indoors and transplant them into the garden when all danger of frost has passed. For those in temperate zones 7a through 11, plant them in early spring. They'll bloom by mid July in most gardens and continue producing tall, fragrant and dramatic blossoms right up until the first frost.

Plant the corms approximately three inches deep and spaced about three to four inches apart. The plant isn't fussy about how you place the corms, but do cluster them in odd numbered groups. Groups of five or seven corms make the best, most natural looking clusters of flowers.

After the first frosts of fall nip the flowers, allow the plant to die back naturally. In cooler climates, the entire plant may die. You can dig up the corms and store them, or simply treat them like annuals and purchase again in the spring for more beautiful plants next year.

Division and Storing

For those areas where peacock orchids survive winter temperatures and return year after year, mature clusters may be divided around the time of the last frost. Simply dig up the cluster and divide the corms using a clean spade. Corms may be stored indoors in vermiculite or dry moss. Keep them cool, around forty degrees, and dry, and plant again in the spring.

Uses for Peacock Orchids

As Cut Flowers

Peacock orchids make great cut flowers, and some gardeners include them in cutting gardens to keep plenty on hand for bouquets and vases inside the home.

In Container Gardens

To make a stunning container garden, plant corms in the center of a large pot. Surround them with draping annuals, like bocapa and vinca vine, and other tall annuals such as dracaena for an unusual architectural effect. These pots look especially beautiful near modern-style homes, perhaps on a patio or near a pool.

In Borders

Incorporate peacock orchids into naturalized sunny borders by planting clusters near the back of the border. Other fragrant midsized perennials and annuals in shades of white and red added to the border create great swaths of color.

Safe Handling of Peacock Orchids

Parts of the plant are poisonous, so store well away from curious children and pets. Some people experience skin irritation when handling the corms. Wear gardening gloves when planting to avoid contact.

Peacock Orchids