Thursday, September 10, 2009

O, Look! Crocuses!


Crocuses are among the earliest harbingers of spring.  Like little jewels, they sprinkle the dark moist earth and bring joy to those who find them.  "O, look!  A crocus!  And look, there are more!"

When a chill remains but hope of spring is growing, native crocus species begin to paint the landscape from central and southern Europe into North Africa and eastward to China.  Meadows, woodlands, slopes and ravines come alive with color.

Cultivation began in ancient times, and they were carried in pockets and sacks to far-flung regions of Europe from the Crusades onward.  Now they seem so common, even in North America, that folks might think they are "from around here."

Crocus, is in the Iridaceae family.  The name, derived from Greek, means "saffron yellow."  Plant size is under 6".  Flower color ranges from shades of purple and blue, to pink, yellow and white.  Most species bloom in early spring, but a few, including Crocus sativus from which saffron is collected, bloom in fall.

They are superb for container and rock gardens, and low bulb borders.  There isn't a better subject for naturalizing, even in the lawn.  Tuck a few anywhere you want a dash of color.  Don't expect a handful of corms to make much of an impression; they should be planted in large quantities.

Crocuses thrive in USDA climate zones 3 through 8, so gardeners in most parts of the U.S. can enjoy them.  Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Average garden soil that is consistently moist with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is fine.

Before preparing your planting site, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send the sample to a lab for analysis.  The analysis will normally be sent to you through the mail.  If the test results seem somewhat cryptic and difficult to understand, don't hesitate to call your County Agent for explanation.

Crocus planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area.  Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep.  Though they like moist soil, crocus corms do not like soggy conditions.



Your soil sample report will include soil amendment and fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  Follow them.  A fine all-around practice for bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Crocus corms should be planted 3" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 3" to 6".  A case of 250 should cover 30 to 60 square feet.  Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Crocuses require very little maintenance.  Plant them and forget about them.  But they will surprise you and bring lots of joy when you've had about all the winter you can stand.  Plant some this fall and anticipate the pleasure.



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