When winter seems like it might never leave crocus seem to arrive just in time to raise your spirits and allow you to believe that spring is just around the corner. It's no accident that crocus also means cheerfulness and my love affair with this flower dates back to my childhood. Often found rising up through the final blanket of ice and snow, the crocus is frequently the opening act of the spring-bulb performance.
In Greek mythology, crocus was a mortal whose love affair with Smilax angered the gods who turned him into a flower. Another Greek myth says that crocus was accidentally killed by the god Hermes during a sporting event and as a result of his grief over the fatality Hermes turns crocus into a flower. The Crocus is part of the iris family and there are more than 90 species of this flower which can be found all over the world. While the spring blooming varieties might be the most popular there are also varieties that bloom in the fall as well. The fall blooming varieties produce saffron which is a popular spice used in the Mediterranean and other types of cuisine.
The crocus is a versatile bulb (It’s actually a corm which is slightly different than a bulb) and it is found in a wide variety of environments ranging from woodland to alpine exposures in addition to our home gardens. Their cup-shaped blooms appear from within clusters of grass like foliage which often has a white central stripe. Crocus flowers are usually purple or yellow but there are also white and tri-colored varieties as well. While they are usually grown for the color of their flower some varieties also have a pleasant fragrance which is an added bonus.
Crocus will thrive in any well-drained soil in full to partial sun. They are best planted in groups of 10 or more and should be planted in clusters rather than in a linear pattern. The bulbs are planted about 3 to 4 inches deep and 1 to 2 inches apart. Mass plantings of crocuses under trees and shrubs can be quite eye-catching and their ability to multiply make them a good choice to plant in your lawn as well. This practice is known as naturalizing and can also be done with daffodils. If you decide to try this yourself just be sure to allow the foliage to ripen and yellow before you cut the grass for the first time in the spring.
Crocus can be grown in garden zones 3 through 8 and are equally at home in containers as they are in a flower bed. In the North, you can plant the bulbs in September and October and in the South, you should plant them in October and November. While crocuses are not usually bothered by deer or rabbits they can be a favorite food of squirrels and mice. When you plant the bulbs you can put a layer of chicken wire over the top if the planting hole or try to add some cayenne pepper in the hole as a deterrent.