When it seems like winter will never lose its icy grip, the dainty goblet-shaped 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.
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 degrees F. This is usually during September and October in the North, and October and November in the South.
- 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 waterlog. 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.
- 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 rots and molds.