Although the lilac flowers are lovely, saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) is grown not for its beauty but for the long crimson stigmas and the source of saffron spice. Learn how to grow saffron crocus, a valuable spice cultivated since ancient times. It is simple to grow, especially if you live in a warm climate.
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How to Grow Saffron Crocus: 8 Tips for Growing Saffron
1. Understand how saffron crocus grows
- Saffron crocus corms are planted in early fall, and leaves appear soon after planting (just before the flowers).
- The medium-sized purple blooms appear from October through November, depending on the weather.
- The prized stigmas appear after the flowers.
- The blooms last about 3 weeks and are replaced with long, grassy foliage.
- After several months, the grassy foliage dies back.
- The corms multiply underground and bloom the following autumn again.
2. Plant saffron in the fall
Plant the large saffron crocus corms covered in silky fibers in most areas in early fall (August – September).
I purchased my saffron bulbs from Renee’s Garden Seeds. They typically sell and ship them each fall.
Flowers to Plant Outside & Seeds to Start Indoors Each Month in the Low Desert of Arizona.
• PLANTING GUIDE: Each month lists annual flowers and bulbs to plant outside & seeds to start indoors.
• BLOOMING GUIDE: Photos show what may be in bloom that month.
3. Choose the best location for planting saffron
Saffron requires deep planting in rich, warm soil and frequent division to grow well. Amend the planting area with compost before planting.
Saffron grows best in a sunny location with well-draining soil. If you live in a hot summer climate area and aren’t going to lift your corms once the foliage dies back, choose a location with afternoon shade.
4. Plant saffron crocus bulbs correctly
Use a bulb planter and bury saffron bulbs 4 inches deep and about 4 inches apart.
Plant container-grown saffron 3-4 inches deep and about 3 inches apart.
5. Care for saffron crocus as it grows
Caring for saffron is simple. After planting the corms, water deeply, and mulch well.
You should see leaves emerge within a couple of weeks, followed in short order by the purple blossoms. Occasionally, saffron does not bloom until the second year.
Water as needed to keep the soil from drying out. I added an olla from Growoya to my container-grown saffron crocus. (Use code GROWING to save)
6. Harvest saffron threads correctly
Once the blooms appear, the red stigmas (the saffron spice you want to harvest) aren’t far behind. Check the blooms each morning and gather the three orange-red stigmas from each flower when it is in full bloom. I use tweezers to harvest, collecting the day’s threads on a paper plate.
Each season the bulbs multiply, and the number of blooms per bulb also increases. As a result, you can expect harvests to improve dramatically each year.
7. Store saffron threads to use in your favorite recipes
Allow the saffron threads to dry thoroughly in a warm location. Once dry, store in an airtight jar until ready to use. Follow the recipe instructions for using saffron. Typically, the threads from 10-12 bulbs are enough for most recipes.
8. Care for saffron crocus correctly to ensure future harvests
Once the flowers fade, long grassy foliage appears. Allow it to grow; it collects energy and sunlight for next year’s blossoms. After several months, the grassy foliage will die back. The bulbs will go dormant through the summer months until the flowers appear the following fall.
In USDA zones 6-9, you can leave saffron in place through the summer. Then, every 3-4 years in early fall, dig up, divide, and replant the bulbs to encourage continual blooming.
If you choose to lift the bulbs instead of leaving them in place, wait until the foliage dies back. Once lifted, store in a paper sack in a cool, dry place until it is time to plant again in the fall.
In zone 5 and colder, grow saffron in a container and bring the container inside before the ground has completely frozen. Put the container back outside in the spring, but do not water it until new growth appears in the fall.
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