by Jennifer Poindexter
Have you ever had the pleasure of cooking with saffron? If you’re familiar with the spice at all, you know it’s a special treat because of its expense.
However, did you know you can grow your own saffron crocus bulbs? This is where the spice comes from.
If you’re interested in having this spice at your convenience, consider adding it to your herb garden. It isn’t as common as some herbs, but it’s easy enough to grow.
Here’s what you should know when growing saffron crocus around your home or garden:
Growing Conditions for Saffron Crocus
Saffron crocus is a gorgeous flower with dark green foliage, purple blooms, and red stigmas which protrude from the center of each flower.
Not only does this plant put on a vibrant display of color, but it also provides a delicious spice from the stigmas. Saffron is actually the most expensive spice grown around the globe.
What type of conditions does it need in its growing location? To begin, saffron crocus is a perennial herb that’s hardy in planting zones four through nine and can withstand temperatures as low as -15 degrees Fahrenheit.
The plant requires a growing location with full sunlight. This equates to around six hours of direct sunlight each day.
Saffron crocus also prefers to grow in sandy, well-draining soil. It’s ideal for water to be able to reach the plant’s roots efficiently and then flow away effortlessly to avoid the bulb rotting.
You may also grow saffron crocus in a container. The container and soil must drain adequately. This is a great way to grow this herb if you live in a location that has exceptionally harsh winters.
These are the conditions where saffron crocus grows best. Take them into consideration when deciding where this herb would work best around your home.
How to Plant Saffron Crocus
There is much to discuss when considering how to plant and grow saffron crocus. For starters, saffron crocus is a difficult bulb to find.
It isn’t common in most chain nurseries or big box stores. Instead, you may find it at a local nursery or even order your bulbs online from a respected vendor.
Once you have your bulbs, it’s important that you plant them immediately as they don’t hold up well in storage.
Realize, the purchased bulbs you plant in the summer or fall will produce foliage in the spring but won’t flower until their second fall in the ground.
Now that you understand what to expect when planting saffron crocus, let’s get down to how you go about putting this plant in the ground.
You should pick a location with all the necessary growing conditions. Start preparing the growing area by tilling the soil.
The bulbs should be planted in holes which are five inches deep. You should also ensure there’s a half-foot of space between each bulb.
When the bulbs are in their respective holes, backfill the hole with soil. Press on the soil to ensure it’s snug around each new plant.
You may also plant saffron crocus in containers. If you choose this method, be sure to pick a planter that’s ten to twelve inches deep.
Dig a hole in the planter that’s five inches deep, place the bulb in the hole, and backfill it with soil. Bring the pot indoors to overwinter. You shouldn’t supply any water to the plant during this time.
When spring arrives, you may move the planter outdoors and can even go so far as to plant it in the ground. Care for the plant as you would any other. When winter rolls around again, pop the planter out of the ground and move it indoors again.
The final way you may grow saffron crocus is to propagate by division from mature plants. Saffron crocus is grown from bulbs, also known as corms.
Every two to three years, you’ll need to separate these bulbs to keep your plants healthy and productive.
Dig the corms out of the ground, divide the different portions of the bulb, and replant them into areas with adequate growing conditions. See the tips above about planting depth and space between each corm.
You should divide and replant corms in the summer as this is when saffron crocus is dormant.
There are a few different methods to growing saffron crocus. Pick the method that makes the most sense for you.
Caring for Saffron Crocus
One would assume that saffron crocus is difficult to grow since the spice is so expensive. In reality, it’s a relatively low-maintenance plant.
In fact, it only needs a few things from you to grow its best while under your care. The first thing you should do when caring for saffron crocus is to water it properly.
Saffron crocus is a drought-tolerant plant. If it’s receiving one to two inches of rain per week from nature, you won’t need to water the plants at all.
If you’re going through a season of drought, it’s best to water saffron crocus deeply. Supply a larger amount of water to the plant, fewer days of the week.
Not only does this encourage a stronger, deeper root system, it also avoids oversaturating the herb. Oversaturation can cause the bulb to rot which could lead to the death of the plant.
Be sure to test the soil prior to applying any more water. Insert your finger into the dirt around the plant. If it’s damp to your first knuckle, you don’t need to water the herb at that time. If it’s dry, apply more water.
It’s also important to note that saffron crocus is one of the few plants which is dormant over the summer months. Don’t apply any water during this time as it will cause damage to the bulb.
The next thing you should do to care for saffron crocus is to mark your plants. Since this herb has a different growing schedule, it’s possible for you to accidentally dig it up while working in your garden.
You should expect this plant to produce foliage for two to three months in spring and early summer. The leaves will die back, making it difficult to know where the crocus is planted.
In the fall, the plant will bloom for three weeks before it dies back again. To avoid any mishaps, apply a few markers in your garden to avoid damaging the bulb.
This next tip is optional. If your saffron crocus appears to be struggling, apply fertilizer to the plant one time during spring.
If your plants are thriving, you may not need to supply this nutritional boost. This should be left up to your situation and judgment.
Finally, if you live in a cooler climate where this plant is hardy, and you don’t wish to bring your bulbs indoors over winter, apply mulch. This will serve as an insulator to your bulbs to help them survive the winter a little easier.
These are the few things saffron crocus may require from you. Make note of these things as they can help your plant thrive.
Garden Pests and Diseases Which Impact Saffron Crocus
Saffron crocus has a few enemies in the garden. The first threat this plant faces is rodents. They tend to munch on the corms while the plant is dormant.
You can stop this from occurring by using a rodenticide to keep these pests away from your crocus bulbs.
The next issue that saffron crocus faces is thrips. These pests can be treated with an insecticide.
Our final pest, which impacts saffron crocus, is bulb mites.They feast on the corms of the saffron crocus. They tend to feed on areas where the corm has been damaged.
Therefore, it’s vital that you mark where your crocus bulbs are to avoid damaging them while weeding your garden during their dormant period.
The only diseases which tend to bother saffron crocus are corm and root rot. This typically occurs when saffron crocus is planted in areas with poor drainage.
You can avoid these issues by planting in well-draining soil, only apply water during periods of drought, and don’t water saffron crocus at all during its dormant phase.
These are the things you should be aware of when growing saffron crocus. Though the threats to your herb are few, if not treated quickly, they could greatly reduce your harvest.
How to Harvest Saffron Crocus
This is probably the most exciting part of our discussion. Once you’ve grown saffron crocus, cared for it, and even protected it, aren’t you ready to cash in on your hard work?
Let’s first describe how the plant works. Each corm produces one flower. Each flower produces three red stigmas.
These stigmas are what you’ll harvest to receive the saffron you know and love. The reason saffron is so sought after is because it takes around 60 bulbs to produce a single tablespoon of the spice.
Don’t let this discourage you. As we previously discussed, every two to three years, you must divide each corm you plant.
This is important because each corm produces more of itself beneath the soil. This cycle will continue over the years, and you could have plenty of saffron at your disposal.
You should harvest saffron when the bloom of the plant has opened completely. It’s best to harvest in the morning on a dry day.
Use a pair of tweezers to pluck the stigmas from each open flower. You may dry the stigmas and store them in a warm location within a sealed container until you’re ready for use.
This concludes our discussion on growing saffron crocus. Who knew that such a desired spice could be an easy to grow element of your herb garden?
Utilize these tips wisely to give your saffron crocus every reason to thrive. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy homegrown saffron soon.