What's the Best Way to Grow and Harvest Saffron Crocuses in the UK?

12 June 2024

Saffron, often referred to as the "red gold," is a coveted spice derived from the flower of the Crocus sativus plant. It's prized not only for its unique flavor and vibrant color but also for its hefty price tag. Saffron is deemed one of the most expensive spices globally due to the labor-intensive process of harvesting and processing. However, with the right approach, you can successfully grow and harvest these pretty purple flowers in your home garden in the UK.

Choosing the Right Saffron Bulbs

Before you start planting, the first thing to consider is where to source your saffron bulbs, also known as corms. The quality of corms will profoundly impact the successful growth and flowering of your plants.

Crocus sativus is the species you're looking for. Avoid confusion with other crocus species that flower in spring, as these do not produce the precious saffron spice.

When selecting corms, choose large and firm ones without any signs of rot or disease. A size of 2cm or more in diameter is ideal. Quality suppliers often grade their corms and offer planting advice. Buying from a reputable supplier is slightly more expensive but usually ensures better results.

Preparing the Soil

Now that you have your corms, it's time to prepare the soil. Saffron crocuses aren't too fussy about soil types, but they do require good drainage. They prefer loamy or sandy soil, slightly alkaline with a pH of 6-8.

Before planting your corms, prepare the soil by removing any weeds or stones. Work in some organic matter like well-rotted compost or manure to improve fertility and drainage.

Remember, saffron crocuses dislike wet feet. If your soil is heavy clay, consider planting in raised beds or containers with additional grit to enhance drainage.

Planting Your Saffron Crocuses

Saffron corms are typically planted in late summer to early autumn, from August to September in the UK. This timing allows the plants to establish themselves before winter and ensures a burst of vibrant purple flowers in October.

To plant your corms, dig a hole about 10-15cm deep. Place the corm in the hole with the pointy end facing upwards. Cover with soil and pat gently to firm. Leave about 10-15cm space between each corm to allow room for growth.

Once planted, water the corms thoroughly but ensure you don't overwater. The soil should be moist but not waterlogged.

Caring for Your Growing Saffron Crocuses

Growing saffron crocuses require minimal maintenance, but a few simple care tips will boost your success.

Once the leaves emerge, feed the plants with a balanced liquid fertilizer to support growth. Keep the soil moderately moist, but be cautious not to overwater.

During winter, protect your plants from extreme cold and wet conditions. Mulching the soil surface can provide extra insulation, but remove the mulch in spring to let the soil dry out, as the plants go dormant during this period.

Harvesting Your Saffron

Harvesting saffron is a task that requires precision and care. The saffron spice comes from the flower's stigma, which needs to be handpicked.

As soon as the flowers open, usually in October, it's time to harvest. Pick the flowers early in the morning when the flowers are still closed to protect the delicate stigmas.

Once the flowers are picked, gently remove the three red stigmas inside each flower. These are your saffron threads. Lay them on a paper towel to dry for a few days, then store in an airtight container away from light.

Growing and harvesting your own saffron may be a labor of love, but the reward of this homegrown spice is well worth the effort. Plus, the beautiful crocus flowers will be a lovely addition to your autumn garden. Happy growing!

Creating Ideal Conditions for Saffron Crocus Growth

Saffron crocuses, like other plants, require a certain set of conditions to thrive. These requirements don't just stop at the soil quality, bulb selection and planting techniques; they extend to environmental factors such as sunlight and temperature as well.

Saffron crocuses enjoy full sunlight. They do tolerate partial shade, but for best results, plant your crocuses in an area that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Sunlight is essential for their photosynthesis process and overall healthy growth.

The average UK climate is generally suitable for growing saffron. However, they can be sensitive to extreme conditions. Extreme cold and wet winters can damage the corms and prevent them from flowering the following autumn. To protect your plants, consider providing some form of cover or insulation during harsh weather. This could be in the shape of a garden cloche or a layer of mulch.

While saffron crocuses are hardy plants, they are not immune to pests and diseases. Watch out for common garden pests such as slugs, snails, and aphids. Regularly check your plants and employ organic pest control methods if necessary.

In terms of temperature, saffron crocuses prefer a range between 15-20 degrees Celsius. In the UK, this makes them ideal autumn flowering plants, as they can tolerate the mild frost but cannot survive harsh winter conditions.

Maximising Saffron Harvest and Ensuring High Quality

As the most expensive spice in the world, you'll want to ensure you're getting the best possible harvest from your saffron crocus plants. This means not only maximising the quantity of your saffron threads but also ensuring their quality.

The quantity of your saffron harvest largely depends on the number of flowers your plants produce, which, in turn, depends on the health of your plants. Ensuring your plants are well cared for – with appropriate watering, feeding, and sunlight – can significantly improve your harvest.

Quality, on the other hand, is determined by careful handling during the harvesting process. Saffron threads are delicate and can be easily damaged. Handle the flowers gently when picking them and removing the stigmas.

To ensure high quality, harvest your saffron early in the morning when the flowers are still closed. This not only protects the stigmas but also ensures that they're at their freshest.

Once harvested, dry your saffron threads properly to preserve their aroma and flavour. Spread them out on a paper towel in a warm, dry area for a few days until they're completely dry. Store them in an airtight container away from light to maintain their quality.


Growing and harvesting saffron in the UK might seem like a daunting task given the spice's reputation for being high maintenance and difficult to grow. However, with the right approach, anyone with a little garden space and dedication can successfully grow their own saffron crocuses.

From choosing the right saffron bulbs to understanding the ideal growing conditions and ensuring a high-quality harvest, each step has its importance. Despite the effort involved, the reward of harvesting your own saffron spice is well worth it.

Beyond the culinary benefits, saffron crocuses also add a splash of colour to your autumn garden, making the process of growing them rewarding in more ways than one.

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