Crocus – The Ice Breakers of Spring

crocus blooming in snow

Crocus – Specie Bulbs

The light has changed! The harsh daylight of winter has become softer, more fluid, bathing our gardens in a warmer glow that signals our first spring perennials to wake up. I call these small, easy to naturalize crocus bulbs, The Ice Breakers of Spring. The ice breakers or specie bulbs are the tough, inexpensive little delights that frequently bloom right through the snow and bring pleasure way out of proportion to their size. These bulbs are the first colors of spring and handle late winter storms much better than the gardener does.

Ice Breakers must be planted the prior fall and overwinter to be ready to bloom in early spring, a process called vernalization. The term “specie” indicates the flowers are still the original bulbs that were first discovered and have not been changed through breeding. Specie bulbs have a lot to offer for they naturalize or spread easily and will form a charming carpet, then go dormant and disappear completely. Unattractive foliage is never an issue with these so called minor bulbs, in fact they have no issues and are even wildlife resistant.

Crocus Time-Lapse by Chris Ricker, YouTube

The most readily available and popular of the minor bulbs is the Crocus that seems to have their own heating element to melt snow around their tiny bell-shaped blooms. Crocuses grow from a button-like corm and flower in yellows, blues and often have contrasting streaks or stripes. A gardener is apt to be pleasantly surprised when their crocuses peak through the snow because they are so carefree and long-lived they have been forgotten. Crocuses’ real job is chasing away the winter blues and signaling the beginning of a new gardening season.

crocus blooming in snow
Beautiful purple crocus peeking through the snow are an encouraging sign of spring.


How to Plant Crocus

  • Plant crocus bulbs in the fall, avoiding areas where there will be dense shade, such as the north side of a building. Make sure the soil is in a well-drained area or your bulbs may rot if the soil is too wet and soggy in springtime. September and October are usually the best planting season since the soil temperature stays cool. Try to plant 6-8 weeks prior to a hard frost. Southern states may plant as late as November. Be sure to work in lots of organic matter when you are planting. Work in organic matter like peat or compost. It’s best to go as deep as 10 inches with your organic matter.
  • Plant crocus bulbs 3-4 inches deep with the pointed end up.

Crocus always look best in clusters, so group bunches of the corms together (at least 10 or more per group) with the bulbs a few inches apart. Single flowers (such as those planted in a single line alongside a sidewalk) will look scraggly and lost.

Bulb Care

  • Once spring heats up, these beautiful little flowers will disappear quickly. If it’s a long, cool spring, the bulbs will have a chance to store up more energy, so a light fertilizer may be appropriate. Cover your beds heavily with mulch in the spring to protect the bulbs. Remove the mulch in late February so the shoots can come through. If you expect severe weather after your crocus have bloomed, inverted milk jugs may help protect them. Remove the jugs as soon as the sun is out or you’ll cook your blossoms. Remove the foliage as soon as it dies back and turns yellow.

Source for plant care: Farmer’s Almanac

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