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Growing Saffron Flowers in South Carolina USA

By Michelle Z. Donahue ; Updated September 21, 2017
Saffron is made from the dried stamens of the saffron crocus flower.
Spoon filled with saffron image by Han van Vonno from Fotolia.com

With its predominantly clay soils and humid climate, growing saffron flowers in South Carolina may certainly be a challenge. The saffron plant, Crocus sativus, will not tolerate wet soils for any length of period; the bulb will rot if it sits in damp soils for any amount of time. Home gardeners with unsuitable soils can grow saffron crocus flowers in containers, which are easy to move in and out of doors.

Fill your planting boxes with a well-draining seed-starter soil mix. Provide additional drainage in the boxes by putting a 1/2-inch layer of coarse gravel at the bottom.

Plant the saffron crocus bulbs as soon as they are received from the nursery, usually in early fall. Plant the bulbs roughly 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart.

Place the planter boxes in a sunny location outside, as saffron crocus plants need a minimum of 4 to 6 hours of sun daily.

Water the saffron crocus only after it has emerged from the ground, usually three to four weeks after planting. Water potted plants every two to three days, depending on how well the soil mix drains and dries out.

Harvest the three long, orange stamens that appear in the center of the purple, cup-shaped flower on the day it opens. Delaying harvest by even a day degrades the quality of the saffron threads, which begin to dry out as soon as the flower opens.

Move the pots indoors for the winter after the plant has faded. Give the plants no water during dormancy.

Bring the pots back outdoors in early fall when the saffron plant exits from dormancy. Harden off plants over a week or two by gradually increasing the amount of time the plant is outside each day.

 

Things You Will Need

  • 24 to 48 saffron crocus bulbs
  • Well-draining seed-starter soil mix
  • Coarse garden gravel
  • Trough-shaped planting containers

Tips

  • Saffron should be dried using very low, indirect heat. Air drying is the best way to accomplish this, though make sure your threads are secure as they will blow away with the slightest breeze.
  • Saffron crocuses can be grown outside, as long as the soil is very well-draining. The plant is hardy to Zone 6, so most South Carolina winters should not present a problem to the home grower of saffron crocus. Should a hard winter be forecast, consider lifting the bulbs from the ground and keeping them indoors during the deep winter months.
  • Because saffron crocus bulbs are completely dormant through most of the regular growing season, consider marking where they are planted with a stick or plant tag. Until they break dormancy, the plants give no indication of their location.
  • In South Carolina, where frosts are often much later than other areas of the United States, the plant may not go dormant until late in the winter.

Warnings

  • When ordering saffron crocus bulbs from a commercial supplier, be absolutely certain you are not confusing the plant with the similarly named autumn meadow crocus (Colchicum autumnale), which is sometimes also called saffron crocus. These plants not produce saffron and are poisonous when ingested.
  • Water will injure the delicate crocus flower and its valuable saffron threads. If you must water when the plants are blooming, take care not to damage the flower by pouring water directly onto the blossom.

About the Author

 

Michelle Z. Donahue has worked as a journalist in the Washington, D.C., region since 2001. After several years as a government and economic reporter, she now specializes in gardening and science topics. Donahue holds a bachelor's degree in English from Vanderbilt University.