Growing crocus from seed

Crocus vs. Colchicum

Best Companion Plants for Crocus and Colchicum

Plant combinations for these autumn beauties are countless. A few considerations will help in selecting the best planting site. The blooms of both crocus and colchicum are low to the ground, so be sure to place them where they can be enjoyed and not hidden by larger plants. While crocus has attractive, low-growing foliage, the spring-time leaves of colchicum are broad and tall. Be sure plants are located such that spring foliage does not hide smaller, spring-blooming bulbs.

Also remember, like all bulbs, it is best to leave the fading foliage in place as it dies to replenish the corms. Colchicum can produce rather unattractive foliage as it dies back late spring-early summer. Try hiding it among hardy geraniums, dwarf hostas, or hellebores. Hint: these plants can always be trimmed back to uncover blooms in fall.

Vining groundcovers support the weak stems of colchicum and lift them from the ground, often increasing flower life. Crocus also look lovely poking through groundcovers. Try planting corms among sedums, periwinkle, creeping jenny, creeping thyme, or bugleweed.

In sunny locations, pair crocus with sedum, dahlia, or helianthus. Pockets of sun in woodland gardens are great places to tuck colchicum. Plant it among heuchera, astilbe, tiarella, lungworts, and primrose. Both crocus and colchicum work well in combination with asters and chrysanthemums for a dynamic autumn display.

Finally, crocus and colchicum make a brilliant carpet when massed beneath showy shrubs and specimen trees. Accent the autumn blooms, berries, and foliage of dogwoods, beautyberry, viburnums, and witch hazel with vibrant blooms.

Provide Food for Pollinators with Crocus and Colchicum

In case you need one more reason to plant these autumn jewels, both colchicum and crocus provide nectar and pollen late in the season for busy bees and other pollinators. So grab the bulb digger and get planting!

A Word of Caution

All parts of colchicum are poisonous to ingest. This is important to note due to the fact that saffron crocus is a food crop. While the flowers of crocus and colchicum are readily distinguishable, it is best to grow edible saffron crocus in a different location from colchicum to avoid any potential for misidentification. The good news is that the toxins in colchicum make them critter-proof.

American Meadows Varieties of Crocus and Colchicum

American Meadows offers some of the most popular colchicum and crocus varieties available. Search our collection to find your favorite. But why plant just one?

Colchicum:

  • Colchicum ‘Giant’, Colchicum giganteum
  • Colchicum ‘Water Lily’, Colchicum autumnale
  • Colchicum Autumn White, Colchicum autumnale

Autumn-Blooming Crocus:

  • White Autumn Crocus, Crocus kotschyanus
  • Fall Blooming Crocus Mix, Crocus spp.
  • Saffron Crocus, Crocus sativus

Spring-Blooming Crocus:

  • Dutch Crocus ‘Blue Moon’, Crocus vernus
  • Dutch Crocus ‘Pickwick’, Crocus vernus
  • Wild Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’, Crocus tommasinianus
  • Dutch Crocus ‘Remembrance’, Crocus vernus
  • Dutch Crocus ‘Joan of Arc’, Crocus vernus
  • Wild Crocus ‘Tri-Color’, Crocus sieberi
  • Dutch Crocus ‘Yellow Mammoth’, Crocus flavus
  • Wild Crocus, Crocus minimus
  • Wild crocus ‘Fuscotinctus’, Crocus chrysanthus
  • Wild Crocus ‘Orange Monarch’, Crocus chrysanthus

This crocus blooms in autumn

Autumn crocus is worth planting if only to startle your neighbors. When they ask why your crocuses are blooming this time of year, just smile and say that perhaps spring has come early in your garden.

A bed of autumn crocus does more than just startle, of course; it also paints the fall landscape in soft swatches of lavender, pink or white blossoms.

Had you so desired, that paint job could have begun as far back as August. Not such a bad idea, because many flower gardens temporarily sulk in August, waiting to revive in the moist coolness of autumn.

First, the fake crocuses
Many of those late summer crocus blooms come from a bulb called colchicum, which is not really a crocus at all. Its blossoms do look like those of crocuses — crocuses on steroids. And that’s the size blossom it might take to catch our eyes after a summer of flowers.

The bulbs are pricey, but don’t let that you scare you away, because a dozen or so flowers unfold from each bulb over the course of a few weeks. Depending on the variety and species of autumn crocus that you plant, you could have crocus-y blossoms right through late fall.

One of the best autumn crocuses is Colchicum speciosum, a robust plant bearing large, shapely blooms of soft, rosy pink. When fully open, each flower is almost a half-foot across. How’s that for a “crocus”?

Despite their look-alike flowers, colchicums do not sport the delicate, strappy leaves of true crocuses. The large leaves appear in spring for a few weeks, then start to brown as the plant goes dormant, at which point they’re not a very pretty sight.

Deal with this by planting the bulbs beneath some evergreen groundcover, or distant enough so that although the flowers can be appreciated in autumn, the browning leaves meld with the soil in late spring.

And now for real crocuses
Not all autumn crocuses are fake crocuses; some real ones also blossom in fall. These have the delicate flowers, in white or shades of purple, and the bright orange stigmas sported by their spring-flowering cousins.Again, there are few species, and they differ in bloom time, colors and size. Most commonly offered is Crocus speciosus, but also keep an eye out for others, such as C. laevigatus and C. longiflorus, both with sweet fragrances.

Growing crocuses, ‘real’ or not
Autumn crocuses and autumn-flowering crocuses enjoy the same growing conditions enjoyed by most spring-flowering bulbs — that is, moderately rich, well-drained soil in sun or dappled shade.

However, these autumn-flowering bulbs differ from spring-flowering bulbs in their need to be planted earlier, preferably in late summer.

This need causes a problem, a marketing problem rather than a gardening one. Nurseries hype and sell spring-flowering bulbs in autumn, and summer-flowering bulbs in spring. It’s hard to drum up fanfare for midsummer sales of the few autumn-flowering bulbs needing planting then.

If you have trouble finding these bulbs locally, buy from mail-order firms. Depending on when you actually get bulbs in hand, you might find autumn crocuses blooming in their packaging.

If you wanted to “plant” autumn crocus for even more startling effect than the outdoor show, albeit on a small scale, just set a bulb that has not yet flowered on a dish or just a countertop and wait for it to bloom there. Blooming out of the soil will not hurt the bulb, but do plant it outside as soon as the blossoms fade.

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Saffron crocus: A spice worth growing

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First cultivated in the Mediterranean region, saffron is, by weight, the most expensive spice in the world. It comes from the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. Considering the high price this spice fetches at market, you might be surprised to discover how easy it is to grow.

How to grow saffron crocus

  • The fall-blooming, purple-flowered saffron crocus grows from a bulb-like structure called a corm. The corms are planted in the spring or early fall.
  • Saffron crocus smells a little like vanilla and spice, and the dried stigmas add a distinct flavor to foods like Spanish paella, rice dishes, and bouillabaisse.
  • To plant saffron crocus, start with high-quality corms. They can be purchased for a reasonable price from several different online companies, including Nature Hills Nursery and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.
  • Chose a planting site that is very well-drained and has soil rich in organic matter.
  • Plant the corms in spring or in the early fall, to a depth of about four to six inches.
  • Once planted, you won’t see anything sprout from the bulbs until late fall.
  • When the flower comes into bloom in the autumn, the elongated, orangeish-red stigmas are plucked from the flower. The flowers are small, and the stigmas are like little orange threads, making harvesting large quantities of this spice quite time-consuming (hence, its hefty price).
  • Spread the harvested stigmas on a cookie sheet to dry in a warm room until they easily crumble.
  • Each bulb produces one flower and each flower produces three stigmas.
  • As soon as the flowers fade, you can gently dig up the crocuses and separate the bulbs, replanting them immediately. Doing this yearly quickly results in a large colony, but if you only want to take on this task every three or four years, that’s okay. Just remember to divide them before the corms become over-crowded and production is affected.
  • Saffron crocuses are hardy down to -10 degrees F. If you live in a region where temperatures regularly dip below that limit, be sure to mulch the planting site with several inches of straw or compost soon after the plants are finished blooming.
  • When stored in an air-tight container, dried saffron remains fresh for up to two years.

Do you grow saffron crocus? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

While its brilliantly-colored beauty is enough to make even the sourest puss happy, a crocus poking its brightly hued head through the snow is known to trigger frenzied joy in those who feel perpetually winter-afflicted.

Many gardeners look to the appearance of crocuses as the first sign that spring is but a nanosecond away. And what is more joyful to a horticulturist than springtime after a long, chilly season of leafless shrubs and bare trees?

Let’s learn more about this beautiful genus of plants that provide a welcome burst of springtime color.

What Are Crocus Flowers?

Crocus is a genus of 90 closely related species of bulbous perennial herbaceous plants belonging to the iris family that grow from corms. Although they are known for flowering in the spring, select species bloom in the autumn or the winter. They are native to North Africa and the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean (in particularly the islands of the Aegean region) and stretching to Central Asia and western China.

Their native habitat is fairly diverse and includes meadows, scrubs and woodlands. Most species are quite petite and grow four to six inches tall.

Saffron, a spice that is largely feature in Spanish cuisine, is manufactured from the stigmas of the autumn-blooming C. sativus species. This pricey and highly sought-after cooking ingredient traditionally used in risottos, pilafs, and paellas.

Read more about its use as an herb . And get Foodal’s delicious paella recipe that features this seasonal and much-coveted ingredient.

Cultivation and History

Crocus sativus was first grown for saffron in the eastern Mediterranean and first appears in the historical record with the Minoan civilization on the island of Crete.

The Holy Roman Empire ambassador to Constantinople first introduced the plant to western Europe when he brought back corms to the Netherlands where they became popular for ornamental gardens. By the early 1600s, new fancy varieties had been developed which are strikingly similar to types that are still cultivated.

Propagation

Crocus flowers can be propagated by two different methods and both require digging up the root structure.

The roots should be dug up and divided after the first frost in the autumn after the bulb-like corms have gone dormant.

The primary method of propagation is digging to the roots and separating the corms into bulb offsets. These offsets are new buds that develop around the base of the of the mother corm. Once you have dug out the root structure, you can separate the offsets and use them to expand existing beds or create new ones.

To minimize overcrowding, the plants should be dug and thinned at a minimum of every five years.

Crocus plants are produce small seed bulbs, called bulbils, which develop along the root structure.

How to Grow

Plant corms in well-drained, compost-rich soil in full sun or part shade.

Dig holes three to four inches deep, and place corms with the point facing up. Water well immediately after planting.

In USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8, plant newly purchased spring-blooming crocuses six to eight weeks before the first hard frost is expected, and when soil temperature is below 60°F. Generally, this would mean September through October in the north, and October through November in the south. If you’ve dug your own, you can plant after the frost.

Gardeners in warmer zones will want to “chill” corms at 35°F to 45°F for 12 to 14 weeks, so put them in the recesses of the fridge in October, and plant as soon as they come out of the chill.

Fall-blooming crocuses are winter hardy in zones 6-10. Gardeners in colder climates can dig up the corms after the blooms are spent and replant the next fall.

Plant fall-blooming corms in August — you’ll see blooms in 6 to 10 weeks.

Find out more about specific planting times for various species here.

Growing Tips

For a gorgeous early spring display, many gardeners plant spring-blooming crocus in their lawns.

Simply lift a section of turf, and roll it back carefully. Loosen the soil and mix in a bit of compost, then plant the corms. Roll the turf back and tamp it down.

Some gardeners prefer a “scattered” look, with the corms planted randomly in little clumps, instead of in formal rows. Others like to express their creativity by planting a design, such as a smiley face.

The crocus will emerge and bloom while the grass is still dormant. Take care not to mow until the plant’s leaves yellow and wither.

Lawn crocuses tend to self-seed liberally, resulting in a spectacular carpet of vivid color after a few years.

For spring-blooming crocuses, water heavily when you plant them and then allow Mother Nature and winter precipitation do the work.

For fall-blooming crocuses, water heavily when you plant, and then water only if conditions are particularly arid.

Crocuses don’t have any particular feeding requirements. Depending on soil conditions, you can sprinkle and water in a balanced granular fertilizer.

Crimson Threads of Deliciousness

You won’t need more than 10 or 12 C. sativus plants to produce enough saffron for most home applications.

Harvest saffron mid-morning on a sunny day when the flowers are in full bloom. Pluck the stigmas with tweezers or your fingers.

Gently place on a paper towel in a warm area to dry. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Cultivars to Select

The available varieties of this flower are as plentiful as tantrums from a toddler. You’ll find types available in lavender, orange, pink, purple, white, and gold, in shades ranging from soft to intense. All sport a grass-like leaf, often with a light stripe running up the middle.

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40 Jumbo Crocus Mixture – C. Vernus and C. Flavus

Get a combination of C. vernus (sometimes called spring, Dutch or giant) and yellow C. flavus in this mixture from Daylily Nursery, available via Amazon.

You’ll get 40 corms, or bulb-like stems, that are 3 to 3 1/2 inches across and produce yellow, purple, and white flowers.

‘Tri-Color’ Snow Crocus

For spectacular late-winter color, check out these tri-color snow crocus plants.

‘Tri-Color’ Snow Crocus, 20 Bulbs

Splendid hues of purple, white, yellow, and orange contrast stunningly against white snow. Find these from Hirt’s, available from Amazon.

Saffron Crocus

If an autumn pot of Foodal’s Chickpea Stew with Saffron Yogurt and Garlic is on the menu, or any of the other enticing recipes described below, plant saffron crocus. These are available from Daylily Nursery via Amazon.

15 Saffron Crocus Bulbs – Fall Blooming, Grow Your Own Saffron!

Brilliant purple flower petals are offset by the deep red stamens, which we harvest and call saffron. Incidentally, did you know it requires about 35,000 flowers to yield one pound of saffron?

C. Tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’

For lawn plantings (see below), the small, early-blooming C. tommasinianus or “tommies” are a popular choice.

20 Bulbs of C. Tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’

This variety, available from Amazon, includes 20 corms that produce fragrant pink-lavender flowers. This type naturalizes very well.

Managing Pests and Disease

Crocus corms are apparently quite tasty to squirrels, mice, and voles. Keep these greedy rodents away by surrounding your planting space with a wire barrier, such as chicken wire, to prevent digging.

Or, do as one gardener that I spoke to does: Plant twice as many corms as you hope to grow, and let the critters have their fill.

These lovely plants can also fall victim to bulb nematodes and root knot nematodes. You’ll have to pull up and trash affected plants.

To prevent an infestation, regularly add micronutrient-rich compost to your gardens. The good organisms in the compost will help to control the nematodes.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Plant Type: Perennial bulb-type flower Flower / Foliage Color: Blue and purple blossoms are the most common. Pink, orange, white, and yellow species and cultivars are also grown.
Native To: Eastern Mediterranean, naturalized throughout most of the world Water Needs: Medium
Hardiness (USDA Zone): 3-8 for spring blooming varieties and 6-10 for fall blooming types (without digging or chilling) Maintenance: Medium
Bloom Time / Season: Spring or fall, depending on species or cultivar Tolerance: Frost
Exposure: Full sun, part shade Soil Type: Any loamy and organically rich soil
Time To Maturity: 6 to 10 weeks for fall blooming species or 4 months for spring flowering types Soil pH: 6.0 – 7.0
Spacing: 2-3 inches apart and place clusters in clusters Soil Drainage: Well-draining
Planting Depth: 3-4 inches Companion Planting: For spring bloomers, plant with taller, summer flowering perennials that will hide the dying crocus vegetation as the weather warms up
Height: 3-6 inches depending on species/cultivar Uses: Beds, borders, containers, mass plantings, mixed groupings
Spread: 3-4 inches Family: Iridaceae
Growth Rate: Fast; the corms replicate quickly and may need thinned ever three years Genus: Crocus
Attracts: Bees, butterflies, and other pollinators Species: Various
Pests & Diseases: Voles, squirrels, root knot nematodes, bulb mites, corm scab, and mosaic virus

Anticipa-a-tion

If the thought of another long, punishing winter is almost too much to bear, plant a spring variety and you’ll have something cheerful to look forward to through all the dreary months.

We also suggest trying your hand at forcing these springtime bulbs indoors, for an early burst of blossoms during the winter.

Or if your family can’t get enough paella and other flavorful and golden-hued dishes, plant fall-blooming saffron crocus and dazzle them with exotic flavors.

Keep squirrels and their kin away with chicken wire, and you should be rewarded with brilliant color spring or fall.

Do you grow this colorful Iridaceae family member? Have you ever grow the saffron-giving variety? We’d love to hear your tales in the comments section below.

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Product photos via Daylily Nursery, Hirt’s, and Amazon. Recipe photos used with permission. Uncredited photos: . With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu. First published February 14th, 2019. Last updated January 26th, 2020.

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

Crocus

It is impossible to plant too many crocus bulbs. It is always a thrill to indulge yourself a little in a plant you know you can count on, and crocus are inexpensive, reliable little jewels. They sparkle in spring gardens and keep coming back for years.

Crocus are among the smallest spring-blooming bulbs (they are corms, actually — gladiolus also grow from corms), but they bloom very early, long before daffodils and tulips have pushed their way up through the mulch. Their colors are luminous enough to notice as you (or your neighbors) drive past, but the experience of these little bulbs is much richer up close. They’re perfect for planting along a front walk, by the back stairs, or around the patio, where you’ll enjoy them when the weather is still too cold for a long walk in the garden. They open on bright days, and bloom for a week or more. After a cold, dark winter, crocus turn the lights of spring back on for gardeners.

There are nearly 100 species of crocus, but only a few are widely available. Pretty snow crocus and Siberian crocus are most commonly found in soft pastel colors. They are short, about four inches tall, and they bloom first, before the Dutch crocus (sometimes called giant crocus) come along. Dutch crocus aren’t really giants: the flowers are only four to six inches tall, but they are not subtle: when they bloom, their bold, saffron yellow, deep royal purple, crisp white, and fantastic pale purple pinstriped flowers seem to banish winter.

Like most small bulbs, crocus look best when they are planted by the handful, creating shimmering pools of color. Because they’re small, you don’t have to plant them very deep — toss a dozen bulbs in a shallow hole and cover them with just a couple of inches of soil. After they bloom in spring, let their short, grassy leaves fade naturally as they nourish the corms; your clumps of crocus will grow a little larger every year, and some spread by going to seed. After your initial investment in crocus, you’ll be delighted to see the dividends increase every spring.

Saffron (Crocus sativus)

Saffron is, weight for weight, one of the world’s most expensive spices. And you can easily grow your own at home! It is the perfect seasoning for paella and many other Mediterranean dishes, and for adding to rice for that authentic Indian curry taste.

Saffron comes from the colourful red stigmas (female part of the flower) – referred to as threads – of a very hardy autumn-flowering crocus. But don’t get too carried away – you’ll need to grow lots of plants to get a good harvest of saffon. For 450g (1lb) of dry saffron, you’ll need to harvest 50,000-75,000 flowers! But 24-30 plants will supply enough of the precious spice in their first year for a few memorable dishes. The bulbs will then multiply each year producing more flowers and saffron.

Even if you don’t want to harvest your own saffron, you can just enjoy the gorgeous autumn flowers!

How to grow saffron

Cultivation

Saffron crocus bulbs must be planted in a sheltered, warm, sunny place, especially one that gets good sunshine in autumn during flowering. They need a humus-rich, moist, but well-drained soil that remains dry in summer. Too much moisture in summer, when the bulbs are dormant, will lead to the bulbs rotting.

If growing in containers, these are best moved to a greenhouse or shed between April and September, or at least allowed to dry out during this time.

Saffron varieties

The true spice saffron is the species, Crocus sativus.

Planting saffron

Plant the bulbs 10-15cm (4-6in) deep and the same distance apart in late summer in well-prepared soil with lots of added bulky organic matter, such as planting compost. Heavy clay soils may need the addition of sharp grit or gritty sand to improve drainage.

Bulbs can also be planted in containers, using a good potting compost.

Suggested planting locations and garden types

Flower borders and beds, patios, containers, city and courtyard gardens, cottage and informal gardens.

How to care for saffron

Saffron needs plenty of moisture when in leaf, but must be kept dry when dormant at all other times.

When in leaf, feed with a high potash liquid plant food, such as a tomato feed.

Allow the leaves to die down naturally in spring – don’t cut them off or remove them until they have turned yellow or gone brown.

New bulbs are produced above the old ones, and will slowly creep towards the soil or compost surface, so you should lift, divide and replant them every few years. This can be done in August or as soon as the foliage dies down.

Harvesting

Harvesting saffron is easy. Pick the red stigmas/threads with thumb and forefinger or tweezers in the morning, preferably mid-morning on a sunny day, as soon as the flowers are fully open. Each flower only lasts a day.

Dry the stigmas on kitchen paper in a warm, dark place and then store in an air-tight container.

Flowering season(s)

Autumn

Foliage season(s)

Spring, Winter

Sunlight

Full sun

Soil type

Chalky, Clay, Loamy, Sandy

Soil pH

Neutral

Soil moisture

Moist but well-drained

Ultimate height

10-15cm (4-6in)

Ultimate spread

5cm (2in)

Time to ultimate height

2-3 months

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