Growing Saffron Crocus ~ A Spice Worth Growing

by | Sep 27, 2021

Growing my own saffron spice at home has been a dream of mine since starting a garden. For some reason, I waited and waited because it seemed intimidating and I didn’t feel ready. Let me tell you, saffron crocus is such a unique perennial to add to your edible landscape or herb garden!

After a full “life cycle” of growing my own saffron spice—from corm to flower to harvest and now sprouting once again—I feel somewhat equipped to share what I’ve learned so you can grow your own saffron too!

Related article: Fall & Winter Gardening Guide for Southern California

About Saffron Crocus (crocus sativus)

There are actually many different kinds of crocus out there, and some are extremely toxic! The ONLY crocus that produces the edible spice threads we know as “saffron” are crocus sativus, so check the variety from your vendor before attempting growing saffron.

Interestingly enough, saffron crocus is first believed to have been grown in the Mediterranean and they actually like long, dry Summers. They are also cultivated in Southeast Asia. I’ll get into my growing space/plant requirements later, but saffron crocus is very well-suited to our zone 10, mild, Mediterranean climate! For gardeners in other zones, (do you know your gardening zone?) it is said that saffron crocus can be grown in zones 6 and up, and zones 3-5 with special attention.

Diagram of a saffron crocus bloom. Each blooms produces three, bright red/orange stigmas that are dried for this expensive spice.

Saffron crocus is autumn flowering, while saffron’s dormant season is actually summertime. In early Fall you will start to see your little saffron tops poking out of the soil.

The edible part of the crocus sativus are the bright, red-orange stigmas that are plucked and dried before storing for culinary use. Each flower produces only 3! 

When to plant saffron crocus in the garden

What’s really incredible is that you can plant saffron corms in late Summer and have saffron flowers pop up in just a few months! I didn’t know this until I was growing saffron myself and couldn’t believe that the corms I had just planted were flowering already. Not all my corms did that the first year, but most of them did.

Ideally, plant your saffron crocus corms in mid-late September. I’ve started a new patch recently, and just got my corms in the ground September 26th. I can already see my old saffron sprouting up in my old bed (pictured below). Sometimes I take cues from existing self seeded or perennial plants, and see when they naturally make moves in the garden to determine when I should be planting. Anyone else?


Related Article: Fall Planted Anemones, Daffodils & Ranunculus for Southern California

Crocus sativus is the specific crocus that you’ll need to find, as it is the only safe, non-toxic crocus that produces saffron. 

Saffron crocus are fall blooming plants. Here are mine popping out of the ground once again. Soon little purple buds will apppear.

Soil & Planting Requirements for Growing Saffron Crocus

Saffron crocus likes well-drained soil in a full sun or partial shade area. I can say that my first patch (which survived Summer and are now sprouting again) is in full sun, but my new patch is partial shade. 

Saffron corms don’t need tons of amendment or extra rich soil, but some compost mixed in is good, or even some bone meal. Corms, bulbs and tubers in general just don’t like to sit in wet, clay, poorly drained soil—they can rot! In fact, it’s been said to avoid watering saffron during the dormant season (summer) but, it is truly so hot and dry here, that I did water my full-sun saffron area during the Summer and things did fine. I do water that section of garden sparingly anyway, as it has other drought tolerant plants in it. For my new, partial shade saffron patch, I will try watering waaaaay less in Summer and see what happens.

When growing saffron, make sure to plant your saffron corms with the pointy end up. I love how these corms look!

How to Plant Your Saffron Corms

It’s funny, I’ve seen different planting instructions depending on the seed source. If you’re curious, you can sometimes pick up saffron crocus corms (remember to make sure it is labeled as ‘crocus sativus’) at nurseries in the bulb section or order online (last year I ordered from Easy to grow Bulbs but see my update below). One set of planting instructions said to plant them closely, with as many as 12 corms per square foot! Another said to space them out with at least 3″ inches between corms. I can say this: saffron crocus reproduce by expanding/dividing which means they will quickly become crowded and demand division the closer they are planted together. For my new patch, I spaced my corms about 3 inches apart.

Once your planting area is prepared for growing saffron (you can read more tips for how I amend soil HERE), you simply plant your corms so that 2 inches of soil covers the tops of the corms. Make sure to plant them pointy part facing up!

Water after planting, but sparingly, until you see sprouts poking up out of the soil.

Sourcing Corms for Growing Saffron

This section has been updated as of November 2022. After last year’s saffron growing season, I stumbled upon a California Saffron Grower, Melinda Price of Peace and Plenty Farm. This incredible business grows saffron right here in California! You all know that I’m a huge fan of buying local and supporting local businesses, so I highly recommend purchasing your saffron corms from Peace and Plenty Farm in the future. You can check out their saffron inspired offerings HERE, and they do sell corms when the season is right, so keep an eye out or follow them on Instagram.

I was fortunate enough to learn a couple great tips from Melinda regarding saffron and harvesting too:

“In terms of harvesting, some people think they can use the saffron right away once they have dried it, but it really does improve in flavor after a few months of seasoning in a jar in a cool dark place (once it’s fully dried).

Also, make sure that you aren’t using any scented hand lotions or have handled raw garlic or onions before harvesting. I use one of those stainless steel ‘soap bars’ to remove any scent from my fingers before harvesting.” – Melinda Price, Peace and Plenty Farms

Protect Your Saffron Corms

From personal experience I can tell you that animals (like squirrels) like to dig up corms and bulbs! To keep your precious saffron safe, cover the planting area with some sort of mesh or grid to discourage digging while the corms are dormant underground.

Here is a newly planted saffron crocus bed that I’ve protected from squirrels, raccoons, and other garden critters using materials I already had on hand.

Harvesting Saffron Crocus

I don’t think I’ll ever get over these magnificent purple blooms. The flowers tend to pop up first, with just a few grass-like leaves. Mine came up in November last year. Just be aware that the bloom can happen fast once the bud pops up, so be watchful.

To harvest the ACTUAL saffron spice for drying and saving, pick the flowers when they are in full bloom (and fresh). Late morning, when the dew has dried is best.

I’m sure large-scale farms have other ways of harvesting and drying saffron, but because I grew a whopping SIX last year, I just dried my stigmas on a paper towel. Remove the bright red stigmas from the flower and let them dry in a warm spot indoors until they are completely dry and brittle—if you live where it’s warm, it won’t take long so check every day. I have heard some gardeners in colder regions use a dehydrator for drying their saffron, but I’ve never tried it.

Store your precious saffron threads in an air-tight container like you would most other dried herbs and spices. Keep in a cool, dark place.

Even though we pick the flowers to harvest the stigmas for spice, the grass-like leaves will continue to grow and eventually die back on their own.

A snap of my first ever saffron threads. It was so exciting to see how this expensive spice is grown—from corm to drying!

Overwintering & Dormant Care for Saffron

It can be kind of panic-inducing to be growing saffron and all of a sudden it’s dying back and turning yellow in Spring. Let me reassure you, this is totally normal. Remember, saffron crocus us a Fall blooming flower, so its dormant season is actually the Summer! Personally, I leave my crocus in the ground all year, so during the Summer it is basically invisible. I just make sure it doesn’t get over-watered or completely dry out. If you see the photo below, that’s my saffron patch dying back in April. 

As your saffron patch is dying back, do not trim or remove the leaves. Ultimately, any green color on the foliage means that there’s still energy there that the corm needs before going dormant. Once your saffron foliage has died back completely, you could technically lift the corms (but I have never done that). 

the green foliage of saffron fading back to be dormant in summer

Saffron grows duringour Winter months and dies back in Summer. This is my saffron patch in April, preparing for dormancy. You can see the saffron foliage is turning yellow and looking sad.

Fertilizing when growing saffron

Saffron is a surprisngly low-maintenance and hardy plant. It needs very little fertilizer! In fact, aside from the initial planting of the corms, I only usually maintain my saffron patch by topping with some compost right around their sprouting time in late Summer/Fall. That’s really it!

A Perennial Flower & Spice Worth Growing at Home

I’m still bummed it took me this long to start growing saffron, but better late than never right?! This low-maintenance perennial flower is truly worth growing, especially considering the cost of this spice in the market. Take your prized saffron threads and get cooking! I encourage you to research all the different cultures that use this spice. Saffron is important to so many cuisines.

I hope my adventures growing saffron here in Southern California inspires you to grow your own!

Meet Randi

Urban gardening is my jam. I’m Randi, California girl who obsessively gardens to grow food and flowers around my urban home. Seasonal, simple living is what inspires me~ I hope it will inspire you too. Join me in crafting a life and home connected to the garden Read More>>>>

For Growers & Gardeners from High Mowing Organic Seeds
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