One of the first blooms to appear is the Crocus, sometimes peeking up through a layer of snow with the promise of spring. The Crocus plant grows from bulbs and is native to central and eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia and China. They are adaptable flowers that have become part of the North American landscape, providing much needed late winter or early spring cheer. Growing Crocus in the home garden is easy if you know when to plant it.
Growing Conditions and General Care
You should purchase your Crocus bulbs in September or October but wait to plant them until soil temperatures are below 60°F (16°C). As a general rule, bulbs are planted in November. Crocus is hardy to USDA zones 3 to 8, but planting times will vary slightly depending on when you receive your first freeze.
The bulbs should be in the ground before the first frost. Crocus needs a chilling period of 12 to 16 weeks before blooming, so plan accordingly when growing it in your garden.
Crocus bulbs need well-drained soil in a sunny to a partially sunny location. They thrive in a soil pH of 6 to 7 and are tolerant of a wide range of soils. You may even grow Crocus on the lawn, but be careful as they will naturalize and spread to become a potential nuisance.
Plant the bulbs in groups in the garden bed for impact or even under trees, as they need little root space. Bulbs are planted 3 inches (7.5 cm) deep and 3 to 4 inches (7.5 to 10 cm) apart. Provide mulch over the planting area in very cold zones but rake it away in early spring so the flowers can emerge. Gardeners in zones where the winters are too harsh or too warm to plant in fall can force the Crocus bulbs indoors in time for spring planting.
Animals can be a big problem with Crocus bulbs. Squirrels and other rodents will dig up the bulbs and eat them, and deer will graze on the early foliage. You can cover the spring bulb bed with wire mesh to prevent squirrel damage, and there are deer repellents you can try to prevent their feeding on your flowers.
When the flowers are spent, leave the foliage until it dies back to collect solar energy to feed the bulbs for the next bloom. Every two to three years, clumps should be divided in fall when they are dormant. Dig up the clump and cut it into pieces with several bulbs attached and at least four healthy stems.
Fertilize Crocus beds with a slow-release fertilizer in fall according to the manufacturer's instructions.