how to plant, grow & care for crocuses
complete growing guide
Early spring colour is so important in the garden, bringing mood-enhancing optimism just when we need it most. Delicate and colourful, crocuses are the ideal cheer-givers in February and March – after the barrenness of winter, their yellow, white and purple petals are just so lovely to see. As early flowerers, packed full of pollen, they’re a crucial plant to grow for pollinators, particularly bumblebees, which emerge from hibernation to find food often pretty scarce at this time of year.
There are some large, chunky varieties available (often a bit showy and too far from the wild), as well as fine-petalled, pointy-tipped, elegant varieties. There are exceptionally beautiful crocuses that come back reliably year after year with minimal attention and lots of brilliant, easy-to-grow varieties that can be planted in grass, at the edge of borders, or in a pot. You’ll find all of the options in our hand-picked selection of crocus bulbs.
- Common name: Crocus
- Latin name: Crocus
- Type: Perennial Bulb
- Height: 8cm (3in) to 15cm (6in)
- TLC rating: Easy
- Aspect: Full Sun
- Planting position: Borders, Containers, Grass
- Suitable for pots: Yes
- Good for pollinators: Yes
- Good for cut flowers: Some varieties last a few days in a vase
how to grow crocuses
where to grow crocuses
Soil type: Crocuses are happy in a gritty, well-drained soil that’s poor to moderately fertile. Crocuses thrive in the leafy soil found under deciduous trees.
Aspect & position: Crocuses love to be planted where they will be in the sunshine at flowering time. In general, full sun is best, but some varieties are happy in part shade.
when to plant crocuses
Plant the corms September–November for an early spring display. You can plant autumn-flowering crocuses and colchicums in late summer for autumn and early winter colour.
how to plant crocuses
naturalising crocuses in grass
There are various ways of planting crocus en masse in grass. At Kew, they lift the grass and scatter the crocuses onto the soil and then replace the turf. At Great Dixter, crocus bulbs are planted singly, by the thousand, using a bulb planter with a long handle.
To plant them as we do at Perch Hill, you’ll need a bucket of spent compost and a bucket of crocuses.
Crocuses are happy in thick turf with the sun fully on them, so pick your location well. Then cut the grass before planting in September, October or November. You’ll see the flowering crocus much more clearly with the grass cut short.
Punch 20 or 30 holes using a bulb planter, aiming for a natural spread. Make sure the holes are 8-10cm (3-4in) deep and ensure the bulbs are about 10cm (4in) apart.
Once you’re happy with the pattern, add 1½cm (½in) of the spent compost in the bottom of the hole. On heavy soil, use a fresh bag of multipurpose compost mixed with 50% grit.
Then place an individual crocus corm on top and add another 1.5cm (0.5in) of compost over that.
Break a little soil off the bottom of the bulb planter, so the soil you replace sinks to the right level as you replace it.
After they’ve flowered, wait until the foliage has died down in May to cut the grass.
growing crocuses in a pot
Crocuses are lovely in pots. It’s also a good way of working out which ones you like before you put hundreds in your garden or grass.
Plant them in pots from September-November. Plant 8-10cm (3-4in) deep in pots filled with peat-free compost.
You really want to cram them in, almost touching, but not quite! I plant at twice the density I would in the garden, so rather than twice the width of the bulb, space them out at just one width of the bulb.
Leave them in a cold frame (or outside if you don’t have one) – they need a cold phase to develop their root systems before the demands of flowering. Check them every couple of weeks to see if they’re starting to sprout.
When you see them sprouting, you can bring them in somewhere warmer (such as into a greenhouse) if you want to force them on for early flowering. Otherwise, leave them outside and they will flower as the weather warms.
If you do want them indoors as a table centre, you’ll find they will fully open in the warmth. Once in flower, it’s essential to keep them cool or they go over in 4-5 days; kept cool, you should triple the flower time, so put them on the doorstep outside when you don’t need them as a table centre.
how to care for crocuses
Water your corms in well when you plant them. Crocuses planted in the garden or outdoor pots are unlikely to need any further watering as they’ll get the rain.
Keep an eye on any pots undercover and keep the compost moist but not wet as this may cause the bulbs to rot.
Crocuses don’t need to be fed, though they will benefit from being mulched in a border.
You don’t need to deadhead your crocuses as the flowers will fade naturally. They do look dainty and pretty in small vases, so you can pick them for a short indoor display.
Leave all foliage in place until it has completely died back. If your crocuses are planted in grass, don’t mow it until the foliage has died back in May.
Some crocuses will bulk up and multiply as they naturalise. If you have established clumps, you can dig them up soon after they’ve finished flowering and plant some of the corms in another part of the garden.
- Enjoy your crocuses in flower and remember to leave the crocus foliage in place to die back.
- Crocus foliage in grass should have died back by May and can be cut as you mow the lawn.
- Plant crocus corms in pots.
- Plant crocuses in grass and at the edge of borders.
- If you want to force the crocuses for an early display, keep an eye on the pots; once they start to shoot, bring them in somewhere warmer.
pests, diseases & common issues
Crocuses are relatively problem-free, however squirrels love to locate and dig up your freshly planted corms. To avoid this, cover pots or patches of grass with robust netting.
why are my crocuses wilting?
A dry spell may be the cause and the crocuses may need water, or they may be sitting in waterlogged soil or compost. Alternatively, it’s possible the corms aren’t planted deep enough.
why are my crocuses not growing?
It could be that the squirrels have had them. Alternatively they may have been planted far too deeply. Also check the corms at planting time to make sure they are firm with no sign of rot.
why are my crocuses not flowering?
It’s important to leave the foliage to die back completely before removing it – this helps to feed the bulb and ensure good flowers the following year. If the crocus corms have been in the ground for a few years, they may have become congested. They can be dug up soon after flowering and some of the corms can be planted in another part of the garden.
frequently asked questions
are crocus perennials?
Yes, crocuses are perennial.
are crocus poisonous to cats, dogs and rabbits?
Yes, both spring and autumn crocuses are toxic to pets.
which crocus produces saffron and can you grow it in the UK?
Crocus sativus flowers in the autumn and produces the spice saffron and it can easily be grown in the UK.
do crocus spread?
Yes, crocus corms multiply by division each year if they are properly planted and cared for.
can crocus grow in shade?
Some crocus varieties can tolerate partial shade – Crocus tommasinianus is a good example.
can you plant crocus bulbs in the spring?
Crocus corms need a cold spell of 10-12 weeks, so they need to be planted in autumn.
can you force crocus bulbs?
Autumn-planted crocuses can be forced into flower in winter. Plant them in pots and ensure they receive a cold spell of 10-12 weeks. When you see them sprouting, bring them in somewhere warmer (such as into a greenhouse). If they are brought indoors, they will flower in the warm but will go over very quickly. So keep them outside until you need them for your table centre.
can you eat crocus flowers?
No, the flowers are toxic to humans and animals.
are crocus native to Britain?
No, the crocus genus is native to the Alps, southern Europe and the Mediterranean.
are crocus good for bees?
Yes, bees and other pollinators love crocuses.
how to cut & arrange crocuses
Crocuses last just a few days in a vase, but with little else around they can be invaluable. I mix my crocuses with polyanthus, mini hyacinths and anemones – all early flowers – for wonderful velvety textures and a lovely range of colours.
Get more inspiration for displaying your flowers with our flower arranging videos: