Crocus, the flower of February (and sometimes January, and March) is simple to plant and grow and provides beauty and even hope in the winter weary garden. Find information about crocus and tips to plant and grow them in your own garden.
When winter seems at its longest, crocus, the flower of February (or January or March, depending on how south or north you are in the US), emerges from the ground to remind us that the full blown beauty of spring is not far off.
From this gardener's perspective, crocus are the traditional flowers of February. They promise spring with their bright colors shooting up through the dirt and fallen leaves (and sometimes snow) and they usually encourage me to want to get out in the garden again.
With colors of purples, whites, yellows, some with stripes and some with colors fading towards the throat of the blossom, their delicate looking petals never fail to bring joy. And right when you need it, when it seems that winter will never end.
Crocus Meaning and a Symbol of Hope
Traditionally crocus has been equated with joy and cheerfulness, especially yellow crocus. And because of its blooming when you need it, the crocus has also been seen by some as a symbol of hope. Winter will indeed end, spring will come again and life will go on.
In this sweet poem about crocus by Miss H.F. Gould found in The Poetry of Flowers, an old Victorian book, the author spends the first stanzas under the snow in "so gloomy a dwelling."
But when the frost leaves and the sun's rays "focus," then "from the darkness of earth shall emerge, a happy and beautiful Crocus!"
What I find most interesting is she doesn't leave it at that, she adds a last stanza:
"Many, perhaps, from so simple a flower,
This little lesson may borrow,
Patient today, through its gloomiest hour,
We come out the brighter tomorrow."
Hope for a brighter tomorrow, all from an unassuming bulb that grows into a beautiful flower. That's simple good stuff, isn't it?
If your yard doesn't include crocus, you'll definitely want to add some of these bulbs (or corms) - they are so easy to plant and grow, multiplying in tidy clumps and returning to bloom every year.
How to Grow Crocus
In these photos, many of which were taken by my daughter, capture the crocus's sort of fragile beauty. Which, come to think of it, is certainly misleading because I've seen these come up through snow. Good news for anyone who thinks they have a black thumb!
Here are the easy steps to plant crocus, hardy in gardening zones 3-8:
- Choose a place that gets full to partial sun. I often grow crocus under deciduous trees since they bloom before the leaves appear - it's a great use of typically dry shade space (see more ideas for one of the hardest garden areas, dry shade here).
- Since they are small, plant them in areas you will see them: by the door, at the front of borders, along paths, and even in pots.
- Plant the corms/bulbs in the fall. Anytime after the weather has cooled, but before a hard frost is a good time to plant these and other spring blooming bulbs. Find them in garden centers and gardening catalogs.
- Dig a hole 3 inches deep and wide enough to fit 3-5 corms spaced a couple inches apart. They look best in clumps versus all lined up in a row.
- Cover with soil and wait for the magic to happen.
- You really can plant crocus just about anywhere and in any soil. They are not fussy so thankfully anyone can grow them.
- Missed the fall planting season but wishing for early blooms? Check out garden centers for potted bulbs like crocus. Plant them in pots by your door to enjoy now and then plant them in the ground when they are through blooming (yep, in spring - it works, too, I promise).
Caring For Crocus
One of the beauties of crocus, besides their pretty blooms, is that they require minimal care and clean up. There's no need to deadhead, as the blossoms will fade on their own.
Once they've bloomed (usually over a 2-4 week period, depending on the cultivar), the green grass-like leaves will continue on for another month or so. It's important to let the leaves die off on their own, as that allows the plant to store energy in the bulb to produce well the following year.
So basically, this is a plant-it-and-leave-it flower, my favorite kind!
TIP: Planting crocus in flower beds with other perennials and annuals will help to cover the foliage as it's withering and dying.
Growing Crocus Q & A
Are spring crocus and autumn crocus the same?
No, spring crocus - the focus of this article - are bulbs from the iris family. Autumn crocus (also called meadow saffron) are actually from the lily family, so aren't a true crocus.
There is another crocus that blooms in the fall, saffron crocus, that is a true crocus and where the spice saffron is harvested from. If you're in Zone 6-8 in the South or 6-9 in the West, you can grow and harvest this expensive Mediterranean spice - click here for growing information.
Do crocuses multiply?
Yes, the clumps initially planted will multiply into larger clumps and some varieties may naturalize (meaning, pop up in places you didn't plant them).
What to do when crocuses are finished blooming?
Nothing right away, just let the foliage die down. If your crocus clumps have been around for years and they are starting to seem crowded and blooming less, you can dig up the clump and divide the tubers. Plant them in smaller clumps just like in the beginning and you'll have even more blooms.
Is a crocus poisonous?
Spring crocus (crocus) and saffron crocus (crocus sativus) are both considered not poisonous, but may cause gastrointestinal upset when any part of the plant is ingested, including vomiting and diarrhea (thinking about pets here, mainly).
The autumn crocus (not to be confused with crocus sativus, which is often called autumn crocus) is actually colchicum autumnale, and like mentioned above isn't a true crocus. All parts of this plant are highly poisonous.
Are crocus deer resistant?
Mostly (kind of like everything, ha!). The deer usually leave them alone, though if they are short on early spring food, they may eat the foliage - or just pull the bulbs out of the ground looking for something to eat.
You don't need a ton of crocus to enjoy them. Just 20-30 bulbs planted on the way to the front door in little clumps here and there will make sure you get to enjoy their beauty every time you walk in or out the door. That way we let them work their magic on us: there is hope for spring.
Oh, and these bulbs are probably the cheapest bulbs you can buy, maybe 10 cents a bulb when bought in a package.
Along with equally affordable daffodils and grape hyacinth (which happen to be my other favs...), they make the the early spring garden sing.
Let's always be willing to spend a few cents to add beauty in our lives.
"A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace."
This article has been updated - it was originally published in February of 2010.
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