Colorful messengers of spring
What a delight it is when crocuses emerge in shades of purple, white, and yellow. These bursts of color in the garden are a wonderful sign that winter is over. Crocuses easily spread and multiply each year.
Crocus and the mythical love
Crocuses originate from Southern Europe and Southwest Asia. The beautiful flowers alone are reason enough to plant these bulbs. However, the autumn-flowering saffron crocus is primarily cultivated for its spice and dye. Saffron is hand-harvested from the stigmas of this crocus flower. It takes over 150,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of saffron. No wonder the price per kilogram of saffron can exceed that of gold.
In Greek mythology, Crocus was a young man who loved the nymph Smilax. Unfortunately, his love was unrequited, and Crocus died of a broken heart. It is said that crocuses appeared where he died. Another, less sorrowful Greek myth tells of blooming crocuses that sprouted from the ground due to the love between the gods Zeus and Hera.
Plant spring-flowering crocuses in autumn
Spring crocuses bloom from February or March. September or October is a good time for planting. Ideally, crocus bulbs should be in the ground 6-8 weeks before the first hard frost. This allows them to develop roots before winter arrives. Once the crocus has established itself, it can withstand winter temperatures up to hardiness zone IV.
Plant the bulbs approximately 10 cm deep in the soil with the pointed end facing upward. A suitable distance between bulbs is about 5 cm. Water thoroughly after planting. Then, look forward to the crocus’s spring bloom.
Crocuses thrive in a bright location. Full sun to partial shade works well. One tip to keep in mind is that crocuses bloom before the leafing-out of trees. Therefore, it is perfectly fine to plant crocuses under a tree, even though it may be a shady spot during the summer when the branches are covered in leaves.
Bulbs are resilient and easy-to-grow plants. However, they don’t like to sit in waterlogged soil, as this can cause them to rot. Therefore, it is best to choose a location with porous soil and good drainage. If planting crocus in a container, ensure that it has sufficient drainage holes. It can also be a good idea to place some pebbles or gravel at the bottom of the container to prevent water from pooling.
Crocus looks especially beautiful when planted in groups. Since they spread through offsets, you can eventually have a field of crocuses to enjoy in spring. Although crocus bulbs are technically annuals, their offsets make them act as perennials.
Planting crocus in containers
Crocus is excellent for container planting. The cheerful flowers become an attractive focal point in early spring when not much else is happening in the garden. Choose a container with drainage holes and provide good drainage by adding a layer of pebbles or gravel at the bottom. When planting crocus in containers or flower boxes, we usually plant the bulbs closely together but with enough space to avoid them touching each other.
If planting spring-flowering bulbs in an outdoor container in autumn, it is a good idea to protect the container from winter cold. For example, you can wrap a few layers of newspaper around the container for insulation. Containers tend to get colder than the ground during winter.
Caring for crocus
Crocus is remarkably easy to care for. It thrives with a little fertilization before and after flowering, such as with manure or bone meal. When the crocus has finished blooming, it’s important to resist the impulse to cut off the leaves. The nutrients in the leaves return to the crocus bulb as the leaves wither. By allowing the leaves to wither before cutting them back, you give the next year’s flowers a really good start!
Author: Johanna Damm
Fact-checked by Erik Hoekstra
Last updated on June 29, 2023.