How to Grow Saffron Crocus

comments (12) October 12th, 2012

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WesternGardener Jodi Torpey, contributor
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Saffron crocus grows from a one-inch bulbous corm that will bloom into a lavender flower on a short stem.Click To Enlarge

Saffron crocus grows from a one-inch bulbous corm that will bloom into a lavender flower on a short stem.

Photo: Jodi Torpey

When I decided to plant a few saffron crocus bulbs (Crocus sativus) this fall, I had no idea of the spice's rich history. I thought I was just trying to save some money by growing the world's most expensive substance instead of buying it at the store.

Once I got ready to plant the little corms, I learned that saffron is thought to have originated in what is now Turkey. I didn't know that saffron was also popular among both the Greeks and Romans. It was the Romans who spread saffron through northern Europe and into Britain. The prized spice was brought to America in the early 1700s by a German farmer who grew it on his land in Pennsylvania.

The saffron spice is actually the tiny orange-red stigmas that grow in the center of each small purple flower. Every flower is cut and the stigmas are carefully removed by hand and then dried. Because so little saffron is gathered from each flower, and because the process is so labor intensive, saffron can sell for $75 an ounce.

The experts say it takes between 60,000 and 100,000 saffron flowers to produce one pound of marketable saffron. Fortunately, most of the recipes I have in mind ask for just a generous pinch to add an earthy flavor and yellow color to paella, bouillabaisse and risotto. Some people enjoy saffron as an ingredient in cakes, too.

Planting Saffron Bulbs

Saffron is planted in fall in moist, well-drained soil and it can be planted in full sun to partial shade. The corms are planted 3-4 inches deep, spaced 6 inches apart. 

Before I place the bulbs in each planting hole, I'll sprinkle in some phosphate to encourage the bulbs to develop a sturdy root system. Once the ground freezes, I'll mulch the garden bed heavily and keep it watered if the winter is too warm and dry.

As the weather warms in spring, I'll be interested to see when the long, grass-like leaves start to emerge. That's when it's time to slowly pull back the mulch and dig in a bit more phosphorus. The flowers need to be watered through summer and then, with luck, I'll see lilac-purple petals, blooming in early fall.

Have you grown saffron in your garden? If so, please share your growing tips here.


posted in: fall, saffron

Comments (12)

MommaLeah writes: By leaves I was referring to leaf mulch. Sorry for the confusion.
Posted: 7:16 pm on October 10th
MommaLeah writes: I planted saffron crocus corns here in Vermont 5 years ago. All I've needed to do is take away the leaves so the blooms can grow. We moved and my new corns arrived today. Im planting 100 of them so I can share a little with some of my foodie friends. Saffron in the garden, regular crocus in the yard.
Posted: 7:13 pm on October 10th
bilbo98 writes: grow from seeds ?
Posted: 2:34 pm on February 26th
cooke writes: I grow them in Northern Alabama. The leaves and flowers emerge in October and the leaves hang around in the winter. Last spring critters dug up and ate most of my bulbs, leaving the papery skins as evidence. I thought all were lost, but a few popped up this month. I will replant in wire cages.
Posted: 11:11 am on October 29th
WesternGardener writes: Thanks for the comments and extra information on growing crocus in so many different parts of the country.

I think as long as the ground isn't frozen solid, the bulbs can be planted. Watch for the leaves in spring and keep an eye out through fall for the flowers.


Posted: 2:53 pm on October 24th
user-353170 writes: I live in Oregon and have grown saffron bulbs for years and have had very good success with them. My husband loves to go out and check and pick the blooms and then come in and get the stigmas out so we can dry them on a paper towel. We then store "our little treasures" in a glass jar. We started out with about 10 bulbs and we now have a nice large patch.
Posted: 9:53 am on October 24th
cherylbear writes: I'm planting some this fall. I hope its not too late...

Posted: 9:12 am on October 24th
shapeless writes: I planted saffron crocus bulbs for the first time last fall.
planted in a container down in the ground with good drainage and my friend built wire covers. I did everything I could think of to keep the varments from getting to the bulbs.

I live in Tulsa, OK -- I thought I had lost them because I saw not activity until two weeks ago -- They are just now starting to come up. I thought I would be picking stigmas before now.

I will fertilize and hopefully I can report back later about my harvest.

Has anyone tried to grow them in this part of the country?

Posted: 8:24 am on October 24th
WesternGardener writes: Thanks for your question. From my understanding, the saffron crocus bulbs need a chilly winter in order to bloom. Perhaps you can search online for bulbs by your region's hardiness zone.
Posted: 12:47 pm on October 19th
trinijune writes: Are there different types of saffron, suitable to different countries/climates? I would like to try growing saffron in a tropical climate. Thank you.
Posted: 10:26 am on October 19th
WesternGardener writes: Thanks for sharing your experience--it sounds like you had some success, in spite of the varmints.
Posted: 4:00 pm on October 15th
Kethry1313 writes: I wish you better luck than I had. I planted 20 bulbs 4 years ago and the first year was great. I actually got flowers that first fall and then in spring the voles got all but one. That one only gave me foliage for the next two years, but today I discovered that the one remaining bulb had divided and I had three flowers waiting to have their stigmas plucked. I now have 9 threads drying in my cupboard. I'm hopefully that if the vole hasn't eaten that one yet it will survive.
Posted: 2:57 pm on October 12th
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