How to Cultivate Saffron

Overview

Saffron, the world's most expensive spice, comes from the floral style of a small crocus, Crocus sativus. It produces lovely fragrant lilac-lavender flowers in autumn with vibrant orange-red floral parts that can be harvested and dried and used as saffron spice. Providing a fertile, well-draining soil in a full-sun exposure is required, and the plants return if grown in dry and warm soil over the summer, being wetter in autumn and winter while the leaves grow.

Instructions

Step 1

Select a site in your garden with a fertile, well-draining soil that has a full- to partial-sun exposure. A rock garden with gritty soil incorporated with organic matter is ideal. A regular garden bed is also acceptable, provided the soil never floods nor is soggy, especially in summer.

Step 2

Acquire saffron crocus bulbs, botanically called corms, from a local garden center or from a reputable online flower bulb retailer. Saffron crocus corms are dug up in late summer and shipped, so placing an order in midsummer is best so bulbs arrive fresh and immediately ready for planting in your garden.

Step 3

Dig a small hole three times as deep as the width of the corm with your finger, old teaspoon or a table knife blade. Rock the finger or blade back and forth repeatedly to create a hole large enough to place a corm. Make sure the bottom of the hole is level, not tapering or slanted.

Step 4

Place the corn with the broad, wide base downward, and the slightly narrow, pointed tip upward in the hole. Replace the soil over the corm and fill the hole, lightly tamping the soil when done.

Step 5

Monitor the location of the saffron crocus, waiting for them to poke flower buds or tiny leaves up from the soil in mid to late autumn. Do not worry about watering the plants unless it is extremely dry.

Step 6

After the flowers wane, permit the foliage of the plants to grow and ripen across the winter months and to naturally diminish across spring. Do not add supplemental water to the area once the foliage dies; the dormant corms should be resting in dry soil across the heat of summer.

Step 7

Remember the location of the saffron crocus in the garden. Mark it with a small label or stick.

Step 8

In late summer, dig up the area with a small garden trowel and bring the saffron crocus corms to the surface. Split up the corms, separating them gently to increase the number of corms to replant. Consult Steps 3 and 4 to replant.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not confuse the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) with other fall-blooming plants with similar names, particularly the autumn crocus (Colchicum), which is poisonous.

Things You'll Need

  • Table knife or teaspoon
  • Small garden trowel

References

  • Saffron Crocus---Conjuring Color and Flavor in the Autumn Garden; Ilene Harfenist Sternberg; 2001

Who Can Help

  • Crocus Sativus
Keywords: saffron, crocus, spring bulbs

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for Learn2Grow.com's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.