In the language of flowers, crocus means cheerfulness.
And all the woods are alive with the murmur and sound of Spring,
And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar,
And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire
Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring.
~ Oscar Wilde
Many are cultivated for their flowers appearing in autumn, winter, or spring.
Crocuses are native to woodland, scrub, and meadows from sea level to alpine tundra in central and southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, on the islands of the Aegean, and across Central Asia to Xinjiang Province in western China.
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The cup-shaped, solitary, salverform flower tapers off into a narrow tube. Their colors vary enormously, although lilac, mauve, yellow, and white are predominant. The grass-like, ensiform leaf shows generally a white central stripe along the leaf axis. The leaf margin is entire.
A crocus has three stamens, while a similar-looking plant, colchicum, sometimes popularly referred to as “autumn crocus”, has six stamens. In addition, crocus have one style, while colchicum have three.
‘When it seems like winter will never lose its icy grip, the dainty crocus pushes through the snow to put on a show of colorful revival. If you are not planting this perennial bulb, you are missing an early season of delight. Here’s how to plant, grow, and care for crocuses in your garden!
From snow crocuses (the first to bloom) to giant Dutch crocuses, all just 2 to 4 inches tall, these blooms offer a variety in color (pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, purples, blues, and more) that stand out against the bleak late-winter landscape. Many have strong perfumes that lure bees out of their hives in February or March.
Small bulbs like crocus not only provide winter garden color, but they naturalize, meaning that they spread and come back year after year—with minimum care—for an ever-larger display. As a bonus, deer, squirrels, and rabbits rarely bother early little bulbs.
- Before the ground freezes in the fall, early bulbs can be planted most anywhere, except in the dense shade on the north side of buildings.
- Ideally, plant crocus corms 6 to 8 weeks before a hard frost is expected and when soils are below 60°F(16°C). This is usually during September and October in the North, and October and November in the South.
- Learn more about planting fall bulbs.
- Make sure the soil drains well, because bulbs will rot in soggy ground.
- Work in organic matter such as compost, peat or a substitute, such as shredded leaves to a depth of at least 10 inches.
- Plant crocus bulbs 3 to 4 inches deep (with the pointy end up). After planting, water well.
- Plant bulbs in groups or clusters rather than spacing them in a single line along a walkway or border. Single flowers get lost in the landscape. Plant a few inches apart, and plant in groups of 10 or more.
- Consider planting crocuses in lawns and meadows where they can form carpets, or mass them in the front of flower beds along the edge.
- Plant taller bulbs and spring-flowering shrubs behind the early bulbs for color contrast.
- Apply a balanced fertilizer in early autumn if your spring is short and the days heat up fast; or, apply fertilizer after bulbs flower if your spring is long and temperate; bulbs will have a chance to use the extra nutrients to produce bigger carbohydrate stores.
- Through the autumn, keep crocus beds watered if weather gets dry but do not water log. Cover the beds with mulch before the winter.
- In late February, remove mulches from snowdrops and crocuses so the shoots can come through.
- In February and March, keep plastic milk jugs or other coverings on hand to protect the flowers of crocuses and other early bloomers against the return of severe weather.
- If you have crocuses growing in your lawn in mid-Spring, don’t mow until their leaves have died down.
Pests and Disease
- Mice, voles, and squirrels may feed on the corms. If they are a problem, consider planting crocus bulbs in buried wire cages.
- Birds sometimes pick off the flowers.
- Corms in storage are prone to rot and molds.
- ‘Bowles White’ produces white flowers with deep golden yellow throats in early spring. It grows 2 to 3 inches tall.
- ‘Flower Record’ has single pale violet flowers in spring to early summer. It grows 4 to 5 inches tall.
- ‘Pickwick’ is a striped crocus with alternating pale and dark lilac and dark purple bases. It’s 4 to 5 inches tall and blooms in spring to early summer.
- ‘Tricolor Crocus’ is a beauty. Each narrow flower has three distinct bands of lilac, white, and golden yellow. It grows 3 inches tall and blooms in late winter and early spring.
- ‘Purpureus Grandiflorus’ has abundance violet flowers with purple bases. It grows 4 to 5 inches tall and blooms spring to early summer.
The Bottom Line
The flowering plant of Crocus, one of the first blooms to appear in spring, needs loamy soil, with a partial or fun sun exposure.It blooms in late winter and early spring with a range of colors, from pink to purple, yellow, orange, white and blue.The hardiness zone can range anywhere from 3-8.
A joy to see these bright blooms when the snow on the ground starts to melt.