Spring’s true herald must surely be the crocus, for what gladdens the heart more than the sight of the plucky crocus piercing the winter snow? Planting crocus bulbs is simple. Crocus are easy to grow, naturalize well and can spread through your landscape in a rainbow of springtime color.
Crocus are native to a wide area from Central/Eastern Europe to the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. They have found a welcome home here in North America where different species are compatible in almost all areas of the continent. Crocuses bloom from very early spring through to March and April, and the lovely fall crocus flowers in August and September.
Snow Crocus: Early Blooming Crocus
The earliest Crocus to bloom are the Crocus chrysanthus or Snow Crocus. With narrow, almost grass-like leaves that appear after the blooms, and just 3-4 inches tall, they are perfect to plant in nooks and crannies or where they can poke up through low groundcovers. Because they bloom so early, they can be planted above and amongst other later blooming bulbs. Originally gold or yellow colored, they have been bred in a full array of colors. Plant them in tight groups where they will be noticed in the early spring garden.
Large-Flowered Dutch Crocus Bulbs
Next in the crocus parade is the Dutch or Giant Crocus (Crocus vernus, C. flavus). Taller, at a stately 4-6 inches, they are ideal for naturalizing in lawns. Be sure not to mow until the crocus leaves have faded, about 6 weeks, and organic lawn care only! Coming along about two weeks after the Snow Crocus, their larger flowers are available in a full array of colorful solids and beautiful patterns.
Striking Saffron Crocus
One of my favorite crocuses is the fall blooming Crocus sativus or saffron crocus. Lavender petaled, with three striking deep-red stigmas per flower, these stigmas are the source of the color and flavor we know as saffron. Bulbs usually arrive in early fall and you can plant them right away. They will begin to grow immediately and put on a display that fall. In zones 6-10, when conditions are right, they will naturalize and treat you to a fall show every year.
Saffron is known as the world’s most expensive spice, lending its color and flavor most famously to Spanish paella, risottos and many other drinks and dishes. It takes 225,000 stigmas to make one pound of saffron. At three stigmas per flower, that’s a lot of flowers! Each flower must be carefully hand harvested. You can harvest your own saffron simply, and as a little goes a long way. A dozen or so flowers can keep you in saffron for quite a few dishes. Harvest your saffron on a sunny day, mid-morning, when your flowers are in full bloom. Pluck the stigmas with your fingers or tweezers and then gently dry them on a paper towel in a warm place. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. The next time your recipe calls for saffron, you’ll enjoy your simple harvest. Read our article about Growing Saffron Crocus.
There are many other crocus species, with a wide variety of colors and cold tolerances. Crocus seiberi ‘Spring Beauty’ is a showstopper with its deep wine stripes cloaking lovely lavender petals. No wonder our humble Crocus is the world’s most popular bulb!
Where To Plant Crocus Bulbs
Crocus like well-drained soil in a partial to full sun location. You may even grow them in your lawn where they will add a bright twinkle to the awakening grass. Early foraging bees appreciate their nectar as well. Plant crocus bulbs (corms) in informal groups, just three inches deep and 2-3 inches apart. Try scattering them on the planting area and then plant them where they lay for a relaxed, natural pattern.
When To Plant Crocus Bulbs (Corms)
Spring-blooming Crocus are hardy in zones 3-8 and are planted in fall, as long as you can still work the ground. If you live in a warmer climate simply keep your bulbs in the refrigerator until late winter and then plant them out as annuals.
For fall-blooming Saffron crocus, plant in late August or September. They are winter hardy in zones 6-10. In colder climates, you can enjoy Saffron Crocuses again by digging them up in the fall. Dry them out in a warm, dry place for a week or so. Then store in a net bag in a cool, dark location such as a basement. Replant in the spring after danger of frost has passed. Learn more: Growing Saffron Crocus.
Easy to grow Crocuses can make for fun family projects too. Plant them in containers or your garden and your winter-tired self will give thanks when they remind us that spring is indeed, on its way.
All About Crocus Corms
Crocuses actually grow from corms instead of bulbs. A true bulb will have layers and a complete embryo of the plant to come will form within it as it grows. Corms, on the other hand, are solid masses of food, like little batteries, with a basal plate on the bottom and eyes or buds on the top. Plant the corms with buds (points) facing up.
The corm you plant is consumed by the plant as it grows, but before it withers away it creates a new corm (or several). As they multiply, the corms will come close to the top of the soil.
Fall Care For Crocus Bulbs (Corms)
Every 3-4 years, dig up the Crocus corms in the fall after the foliage has died back and yellowed. Divide them, keeping only healthy bulbs and replant. Apply a natural bulb fertilizer in the fall and enjoy your cheerfully blooming crocuses for years to come.
How To Deter Squirrels From Crocus Bulbs
While deer tend to leave crocuses alone, squirrels and voles may develop a taste for the bulbs. If they are a problem, consider placing a wire grid, such as chicken wire, on the soil above the bulbs to deter digging. Or plant them in wire bulb cages. Since they are easy to plant and low cost, I tend to plant enough to survive our local squirrels and still provide a spring show.
By Katrina Godshalk. © All articles are copyrighted by High Country Gardens. Republishing an entire High Country Gardens blog post or article is prohibited without written permission. Please feel free to share a short excerpt with a link back to the article on social media websites, such as Facebook and Pinterest.