Small flowers widespread in nature in Europe and Asia, and throughout the Mediterranean area, the crocuses have been cultivated for centuries; the genus has about eighty species, and innumerable cultivars, very widespread as garden plants.
Most crocuses bloom between late winter and early spring, as soon as the days get longer, even when the weather is not entirely favorable; it is not rare to find an expanse of crocus flowers rising from under the snow, in the middle of winter, at the edge of the forest. Few species bloom in autumn, while usually the "crocuses" that we find in the wood in October are colchics, plants with flowers similar to those of the crocus, but not related to it.
Some species of crocus bloom before they even produce leaves, while others produce leaves well before flowering; they have a small bulb-tuber, enclosed in a papyrus membrane, from which the long flowers are produced, which start with a thin, almost thread-like cylinder that widens to cup, opening into six enlarged tepals, white, lilac or yellow.
The leaves of crocus are present in number of 3-5 for each corm, are linear, long more or less like the flower, divided in half by a groove; the leaves are dark green, the groove is instead white, very showy.
The size of the crocuses is generally small, ranging from 5 to 25-30 cm in height.
How to grow them
The crocuses in Italy are present with many species even in nature; most of the species and varieties used in cultivation are suitable for freezing, so we can place them in the garden, in the open ground, and from year to year we will always have new flowers, without the corms needing care.
They prefer slightly calcareous soils, and quite sunny locations, although they generally develop well even in partial shade.
They are plants in winter rest; therefore they develop starting from the end of winter, when the bulb-tubers begin to produce leaves and flowers. Later some species only vegetate for a few weeks, while others continue to vegetate until the autumn, repeating the flowering over time, or producing flowers only in September-October.
The species most commonly found in nurseries usually bloom in late winter, and go into vegetative rest starting from the first warm, towards the end of spring.
At the beginning of the vegetative rest the foliage turns yellow and dries up, and the corm is in total vegetative rest until the following spring; during the rest period these bulbs do not need any care; however, they fear excessive humidity, especially in this period, which could lead to the decay of small corms.
Over time, the bulb-tuber of the crocus produces small cloves, from which new plants will be produced; therefore, by planting even a few crocuses, over time we will find ourselves with an increasing number of flowers. If we wish to contain the number, every 3-4 years, after the crocus specimens have entered into vegetative rest, we undermine the soil in the areas where we have placed them in abode, and we remove the smaller or ruined corms, positioning as we wish those more big and vigorous.
How to place the crocuses
As with most bulbs, as soon as they are planted the crocuses need a soft and well-drained soil, so that they can immediately settle and start producing a good root system as soon as possible.
The crocuses are planted preferably in autumn, so as to enjoy the first flowering already in late winter; the autumn flowering species are instead planted in early spring.
We begin the planting operation by working the soil thoroughly, adding little manure, and universal soil and / or sand if the soil in our garden is too compact or poorly draining.
We place the corms at a depth equal to about 2-3 times their diameter, with the tip facing upwards, and the flat part facing down, from where the bulb will produce roots in spring.
We can place the specimens of crocus well spaced from each other, to cover a large area, or arrange them in spots, in the flower beds; in this case we avoid stacking them too much, or over time they will tend to get too close and stop flowering.
We cover well with soft earth and compact with the feet or with the back of the shovel, avoiding to press too much the ground. If we carry out this operation in September-October, we also water a little; in this way we will immediately activate the bulbs that will begin to produce roots before the arrival of winter.
These corms do not fear frost, and generally do not require protection during the coldest months, when they are in complete vegetative rest.
Often the crocuses are planted in the turf, to revive the last winter weeks, when very few plants are active in the garden.
In this case the corms are usually spread directly on the ground, then small turf clods are removed, a small amount of earth is removed with a bulbs plant and the corm is placed in the hole, then covering with soil and the clod of grass.
In this way we will obtain a more "natural" flowering, similar to that which occurs in the pastures at the edge of the alpine woods.
Crocus - Crocus: Mediterranean gold
From a particular species of crocus, Crocus sativus, you get a precious spice, saffron; this crocus blooms in autumn, with small lilac flowers, whose dried stigmas give rise to the scented spice. asiatica, whose cultivation has spread over the centuries throughout the Mediterranean area, since very ancient times.
In Italy saffron is grown in the Marche and Abruzzo Apennines, on the lean and dry pastures of those areas, and also in Sardinia.
To obtain saffron it is necessary to collect immense quantities of stigmas, so it is difficult to produce an appreciable quantity simply by placing a few dozen corms in the flowerbeds of the garden.
In addition, in the cultivation areas, to obtain the best saffron, the corms are removed from the soil after cleaning, cleaned of cloves or any imperfections, and then stored in a dark, cool and dry place until spring, when they are again planted.