Saffron Crocus or Crocus sativus is a hardy crocus that flowers in the autumn and in mid-April becomes dormant once the foliage has died back. And, as the name suggests, Saffron Crocus is the plant from which we collect saffron, that most rare and expensive of spices.
A sheltered, warm, sunny position is required and when the plants are dormant soils that dry out are necessary to prevent the corms rotting and to aid formation of the flowers for the following autumn. An ideal position for planting would be at the base of a south facing wall or in containers that could be moved into a greenhouse when they are dormant between April and September.
Planting Saffron Crocus
Plant the corms 10-15cm (4-6″) deep and 10-15cm (4-6″) apart. The deeper they are planted the better quality saffron is produced but this results in fewer flowers. A well-drained border or container is ideal for planting the bulbs into. Flowering will commence in about 40 days from planting and each bulb may produce six or more flowers over a period of about 15 days.
Each bulb will only last one season and will be replaced by 1-10 new corms. The new bulbs produced grow above the old ones and will gradually creep nearer the surface. It will be necessary to lift and replant them every few years, this being carried out in August.
Harvesting the Saffron
The 25mm red stigmas are carefully removed with tweezers in the morning as soon as the flowers are fully open. This needs to be done quickly as the flowers barely last a day before they wither. Dry the strands off on tissue paper in a dark place. The saffron strands can then be stored in an airtight container.
It is possible that some bulbs will not flower in the first year as occasionally some bulbs may need a full season to enable them to reach the size and maturity needed to produce a flower.