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And Get Growing some Saffron

This long stretch of summer heat has popped out lots of the late August flowering perennials early, leaving our landscape color a bit spent. The unknown and under-utilized FALL flowering crocus and colchicums are beauties for perking up your landscape when all else needs to be cut back and the saffron crocus is a treat for the home chef, planted now and coming back year after year, blooming in early September to mid fall. 

Both of these beauties are corms that naturalize and spread nicely in time, doubling and tripling in areas as new bulbs are formed underground. Colchicums are the giants of the fall flowers, with one Waterlilly Colchicum bulb throwing off several 3 to 6 inch wide double bright double pink flowers that are even deer-resistant. Both colchicums and saffron crocus should be planted at the front of your garden to optimize their impact and not let them be buried or shaded out by other overgrown August perennials. 

Colchicums reach up and stand strong on a 6 inch stem, but crocus are delicate small flowers that are most impressive if clustered in circles of 10 or so. Both plants are hardy to Zones 5 and prefer a full six hours of sun with a protected planting site close to a building or mulch for winter protection. Bulbs require very well-drained soil, especially in winter, preferably sandy loam and planted with bulb food high in phosphorus and micorhyzza. Wet soil causes the bulbs to rot, so if your garden is poorly drained or heavy clay, amend with gypsum and greensand to nourish the bulbs and break up the clay. Add 2 to 3 inches of compost in your soil and work it into the upper 4 to 6 inches of soil.

Saffron Crocus and sells for around $1,500 dollars a pound on the open market, because it only grows in certain climates and it must be harvested by hand with tweezers to retain the wondrous flavors and aromas. It is used in breads, desserts and rice dishes, especially authentic Spanish paella and Indian curry. Instead of importing it from Iran, if you have rich well drained soil and a full sun area that is NOT regularly irrigated in summer, saffron will thrive. We planted these in the front bed where a lot of snow falls off the roof for great insulation and they were happy. 

Mulching your planting in November can also help to prevent the bulbs from freezing out, however you will want to pull the mulch away in spring for the first stage of growth which is when the little grassy tops emerge. The bulbs go dormant and not much shows through the summer months, so mark your area. Only three bright, red-orange threads or stigmas inside the purple blossoms will be harvested for cooking and must be properly dried on mesh at 40-60 degrees and then stored in an airtight tin for up to two years of freshness. The smaller yellow stamens have no culinary value at all. 

During your first year about 60 percent of the corms planted will produce one flower each about 6-8 weeks after planting, although sometimes if planted late, the bulbs wait ‘til the second fall to appear. The next year each corm will produce two flowers and every five years you should dig up and divide your corms 4 inches apart. Start with one to two dozen of these rare and versatile bulbs and you could be starting a new export business!

Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+-acre farm and now is co-owner of All Seasons Garden and Floral in Sandpoint. She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 16 years in North Idaho. You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes at allseasonsgardenandfloral(at)gmail.com.

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Nancy Hastings Nancy Hastings grew up on a 300+ acre farm and is co-owner of All Seasons Garden and Floral in Sandpoint, She and her husband John have been cultivating community gardens and growing for 15 years in North Idaho. You can reach them with garden questions or sign up for classes atllseasonsgardenandfloral(at)gmail.com.

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Get Growing, Saffron

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