Everything You Need to Know About Crocus
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Crocus is a popular late winter and early spring flowering perennial. I think it looks exquisite when the colourful petals push through the dusty white snow and I’ve grown it pots and hanging baskets where it added much needed colour at a time when other plants in my garden were dormant.
This low-growing plant performs best after a cold winter, so is suited to most parts of the UK inc Scotland. I’ve found that crocus may struggle in warmer parts of the UK, such as the far south-west.
- Grow from small bulbs, best planted shallow.
- Will multiply and bloom each year.
- Sow in drifts.
- I’ve seen it grown in lawns.
- Popular colours are purple, yellow and lilac.
- Bee and pollinator-friendly.
Height: Up to 8cm (3in)
Width: Up to 3cm (1in)
Rockeries, hanging baskets, containers, woodland gardens
Full sun or partial shade
Hardy perennial, prefers colder winters so the warmer south-west of the UK may not be ideal
I’ve been growing crocus for about 5 years and have found it maintenance, pest and disease free.
I add the bulbs to baskets, troughs and some of my containers that contain deciduous shrubs; the crocus brightens them up, even when the rest of the garden is dormant.
Despite having success experimenting with crocus, I asked qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith to answer some questions about crocus for our readers:
How Do Crocus Plants Arrive?
Crocus plants arrive as small bulbs, usually secured in vented plastic bags. I usually order mine, so they arrive around October and I try to get them down by November at the latest. I’ve never had issues storing the bulbs for a few weeks and they seem robust enough to be kept in a dark shed or garage for a while.
Does crocus require sunlight?
From experience, I know that crocus plants thrive in full sun but they will perform well in partial shade too.
Here’s the thing, many of the plants in my garden are deciduous (lose their leaves) so I’ve started planted crocus under the bare shrubs where they get enough light in winter and spring before the shrubs have the chance to put on any growth.
How hardy are crocus? Will they come back every year?
Crocus bulbs are hardy to US zones 3-8 and can be grown in all parts of the UK, although they will perform best in colder parts of the country.
Like many spring bulbs, crocus will thrive when subjected to a cold winter. They are more likely to naturalise and spread when grown in colder parts of the UK.
I’ve grown them in pots, troughs, baskets and in my borders, and they come back each year, I’ve even seen them pop up in the compost heap too, so here in Surrey, they seem to be thriving.
Where are the best places to grow crocus?
I’ve seen crocus grown in lawns, but the grass shouldn’t be cut during the flowering period or immediately after as the foliage sends energy to the bulb, so it’s strong enough to sprout again next spring.
Crocus can also be grown in the front of borders, in rockeries and along walkways. I’ve seen it perform well in plenty of places, so you can get creative.
Consider growing them in pots, containers, troughs and even experiment by pushing the bulbs into winter flowering hanging baskets. I’ve found they don’t take up much space and certainly don’t smoother other plants.
What soil conditions are best for crocus?
From my experience and testing over the years, I think crocus will thrive in any soil as long as it isn’t waterlogged and drains well.
How and when should crocus bulbs be planted?
I’ve always planted crocus in the autumn between mid-September and late November, and I’ve never had any issues.
I usually insert the bulbs to a depth of around 5-8cm (2-3in) and space a similar distance apart, and I’ve had a good success rate with very few losses.
I’ve seen crocus bulbs grown in drifts where they create a natural look, so if you have the space, buy in bulk and get them down randomly.
From what I can tell, crocus plants cope with competition from other plants of a similar size, so they can be grown in mixed borders and hanging baskets.
Are there any pests and diseases?
I’ve noticed that in my garden, squirrels are attracted to the crocus bulbs and love to dig them up, I’ve seen the tell-tale signs of digging with piles of soil next to my troughs and tubs.
To remedy this, I’ve recently taken to using metal wire, which I embed a few inches under the soil, and it’s worked well so far:
I’ve never had any issues with pests or diseases, but I always ensure the soil is free draining as bulbs often suffer when grown in wet, boggy soil.
When do crocus flower and how long for?
The crocus plants in my Surrey garden bloom in late winter and early spring.
The exact time will depend on the location within the UK and environmental conditions, but February and March are months when I usually see them around.
What are the feed and water requirements?
Fertiliser is not required and I only water them when they are in my pots and baskets and only when it’s been very dry.
Is crocus safe for pets, children and contact with the skin?
Spring Crocus is safer than Autumn Crocus but is still mildly toxic for pets as it may cause a stomach upset.
Explore more: Spring Crocus poisoning in dogs.
Spring Crocus may cause skin irritation, but I’ve never had any issues and I have sensitive skin.
Autumn Crocus is very toxic to pets, may cause stomach upset in humans and is a known skin irritant.
How I Care For Crocus After Flowering
The petals are delicate, and I’ve noticed that they fade back quickly after the flowering period, but as with most bulbs, the foliage should be left in place so the plant can transfer energy to the bulb for next year’s growth.
There is no need to lift the bulbs each year, and they may well naturalise, but the plants may form clumps over time. This isn’t something I’ve had an issue with, but you can lift and split them in the spring after flowering, although this is entirely optional.
If you’re growing crocus bulbs in a lawn, I suggest you hold back from mowing until the foliage has faded and is discoloured.
Crocus Companion Plants
I’ve been experimenting over the last 5 years by growing crocus in various places and by mixing it with other plants.
I particularly like how they add interest to my winter baskets and tubs, just as many of the other winter plants start to struggle.
That said, consider growing them near any of the following plants, which all flower at a similar time:
A Tip From Elizabeth Smith
I often ask Elizabeth Smith for tips and advice that she can she with our readers; here’s what she told me:
Don’t forget that crocus bulbs can be grown in layers with larger bulbs of other species planted underneath them. This technique is called layering and is often used in containers where horizontal space is limited and ensures the container produces plants throughout the growing season without the gardener needing to remove the bulbs or dig in new plants. Also, consider growing early and late flowering crocus plants together to extend the overall flowering period in your border, lawn or pot.
Elizabeth Smith – qualified horticulturist
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This guide was reviewed and fact-checked by qualified horticulturist Elizabeth Smith.
Explore: Elizabeth's profile and qualifications.
Meet The Author: Hannah Miller
Hannah is a keen gardener who grows organic fruit and vegetables in her Surrey garden and is moving towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
She is also the proud grower of a dahlia and herb garden.
Hannah worked for the NHS for 12 years but also has a level 3 qualification in horticulture and is currently studying for her level 4.
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