Saffron has always fascinated me. This tiny delicate yet flavorful spice comes from a flower so rare it only blooms one week a year. Saffron must be harvested by hand early in the day before the flower can bloom.
Saffron will cost you about $10 to $13 for a single gram at your local grocery store. A pound of saffron goes for upwards of $1500 earning it the name “red gold”. For the best results to find safron you should check your local ethnic foods store. Another great option as a gardener is to simply growing saffron in your home garden.
Due to the high cost of saffron, it has often been replaced with turmeric in recipes, and turmeric is often died red to make it like like the red stigmas of the saffron flowers creating a counterfeit product that often fools buyers that do not look to ensure that ere is not golden color to the saffron they are purchasing. When you grow your own saffron you know for a fact that you are using real saffron in your cooking and other applications.
Saffron is native to Middle East and parts of Europe but you can grow your own saffron here in the united states. It is relatively hardy and able to be grown outdoors in USDA growing zones 6 through 8. If you live in the west where it tends to be dryer you can grow saffron in usda zones 9 and 10. Planting in the early fall allows them time to build up roots and foliage in the early spring before blooming the following fall.
How to grow saffron
Saffron is the worlds most expensive spice and comes from the stigma of the crocus sativus flower also known as the saffron crocus grows from a bulb that blooms only 1 week a year in the late fall. This rare flower makes a great addition to your fall flower beds and can be a great herb to grow for profit.
Plucking the stigmas of the saffron flowers gives you this valuable spica and can easily be done from the comfort of your own home garden. The bright purple flowers make great additions to your fall garden though you will need to start with more than a single flower if you want to use it as an addition to your landscaping. Even a single bulb will eventually forgive you a large supply through dividing.
Saffron can be grown in USDA growing zones 6 through 9 depending on the side of the country where you live. Saffron should be grown where the summers are relatively dry and will not do well in tropical areas. In the dormant period over the summer, you should keep your saffron dry. If you live in a tropical area consider growing in pots that you move indoors or under a covered porch to help keep them dry.
You want to grow saffron in a dry area. Saffron can not grow in waterlogged areas. When planting directly in the garden use soil amendments like fresh compost and organic matter to create a mound that will help with drainage allowing your bulls to keep dryer while dormant in the summer. This will also help keep your bulbs nourished in the first year. In the following years, you can begin to fertilize your saffron bulbs once a year in the spring with a high potassium fertilizer to encourage growth and blooms.
Growing saffron is possible for the home gardener with an available well-draining full sun garden bed. Plant your saffron in full sun to help it thrive and stay well dried in the summer months. Saffron can handle light shade but does best in full sun if at all possible. Avoid planting right along your home foundation where water is likely to sit even if it has full sun.
Soil type is very important when planting saffron crocuses. Clay soil can lead to your croms rotting and dying off. This is is even more vital if you do not have dry summers. Plant them 3-4″ deep and 2-3″ apart with eh point facing upwards for the best results. If they are not perfectly pointed up they will shift as the roots and stem grows so don’t worry if they are not perfect or shift a bit as you cover them with loose well-draining soil.
Safron should be planted in the fall and provided with plenty of water to help encourage your saffron to put out strong roots that will help it begin to grow foliage as quickly as possible. You may see some foliage in the fall but will likely not see any pop-up until the next spring. You want to plant corms at least 4 to 6 weeks before the first frost to allow for plenty of roots before the cold starts to stunt the growth.
In the spring you will begin to see the green foliage of the saffron crocus bulbs pop up and grow. As the summer heat takes over this will slow to a dormant phase before picking back up in the fall when the bloom will appear. in the fall. This flower only blooms for one week so if you plan to harvest your saffron you will need to keep an eye on it or you will find yourself waiting until next fall. Saffron typically blooms between late October and early November.
Safron like other bulbs can struggle with a few problems like rodents eating the bulbs while they are planned. Properly caring for your garden can repelling digging animals can help protect your saffron. When it blooms you want to get to the stigmas for harvesting before birds try to take the blooms.
After your saffron crocus bulbs have finished blooming you will see the green foliage remain. Allow this to keep growing to provide energy that your bulbs will store for regrowth in the spring. In cooler climates, this foliage will yellow and die back as the weather turns cool. If you live in a hotter area it may die off in the spring before going dormant again until the cooler fall weather arrives.
How to grow saffron in pots
In most cases growing saffron in pots is ideal. By growing saffron crocus corms in pots, you can bring them inside during the dormant phase to help keep them dry moving them back out during the late summer so they can begin to grow. For those living in cooler climates, you can bring your potted saffron indoors over the winter to keep them from getting too cold.
How to grow saffron indoors
Saffron needs full sunlight to thrive but can be grown indoors if you live in an area where the climate is poor for growing saffron. To do this you will need to provide a grow light from spring to fall as long as there is foliage on your plants. For the easiest way to grow saffron indoors and be less at the mercy of the weather where you live is to grow saffron in a greenhouse
How to propagate Saffron
Saffron is from corms and sadly does not produce seeds that can be used for growing more saffron. To increase the number of plants you have you should divide your saffron bulbs after they die back. This will increase how many more saffron corms each one produces in the following years and gives them more space and nutrients. If you are digging your saffron up each year to store indoors this is the perfect time to divide. Otherwise, you can divide every 2-5 years to space out your plants and produce more saffron.
Gently split the daughter corms from the mother bulb and check each for signs of damage or disease. If you see an issue with your corms get rid of them replanting only the ones that are in the best shape. Add more organic patter and if needed some loamy soil before plant bulbs back in the soil.
How to harvest saffron crocus bulbs
The best part of growing saffron in your backyard is getting the reward of fresh homegrown saffron. It is much cheaper to grow a bed of saffron for storing and cooking than it is to purchase saffron at retail prices. With proper care, your saffron with crocus bulbs will provide you with plenty of fresh saffron for years to come.
Once your flowers form you can pluck the stigmas from the center of the flower using clean dry tweezers. The best time to harvest is before the saffron crocus flowers bloom to prevent damage to the stigmas from animals and wind but if you miss that point you can harvest at any time when the flower is healthy and strong.
Dry your saffron before storing. For the best results layer between two layers of paper towel and place in your dehydrator set to 140 degrees for 2 hours checking to be sure it is fully dried. If you do not have a dehydrator you can layer between two paper towels and leave them in a dry place for a few days to dry naturally.
After drying place your saffron threads in an airtight container. Adding a silica packet can help keep your saffron fresh even after opening and closing the container for use. Store your saffron in a cool dark place to preserve its rich color and flavor.