How to grow saffron

Autumn, Vegetables

May 1, 2011

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Saffron isn’t a spice that we use a huge amount of but like most gardeners I like to experiment with growing as many different things as possible in my garden.  Saffron is quite easy to grow.  It is produced from the stamen of  Crocus Sativus.  The crocus are a group of small flowering bulbs.  Most types of crocus flower in the spring, but the saffron crocus flowers in the autumn, not long after the leaves are produced.  For me this year it was in April.

Saffron -  the red stamens of the saffron crocus growing in my garden.

Saffron - the red stamens of the saffron crocus growing in my garden.

Saffron is produced from the stamens which are the bright red strands hanging from the flowers in the picture.  To harvest you simply pluck the stamens out of the flower, preferably as soon as possible after the flower opens, but I have harvested a few days after opening and they seem to be fine.  However it can be a bit of a battle to get to them before the snails do.  After harvesting you just have to leave the stamens in a cool dry place, preferably out of the sun to dry for a few days.  Then you can store the saffron in a sealed jar or the like.  In the picture below you can see some fresh saffron laid on some paper towel to dry along side some that has been drying for a few days.

 

Growing saffron is really quite easy.  Try to choose a site that will get full sun and has very good drainage.  Like most bulbs, saffron crocus bulbs will rot if the drainage is poor.  If you have heavy clay soils consider growing the saffron in a raised bed, or at very least dig in some grit to open up the soil.  Remember that many bulbs are originally from mountainous areas with freely draining soils and lots of sunshine.

Saffron drying

Saffron - the stamens drying, fresh ones on the right.

When planting bulbs of any description you should plant them at a depth of two to three times the height of the bulb.  Saffron crocus bulbs are quite small (1-2cm high) so plant at a depth of 4-5cm.  Some recommend covering the soil with a 1cm layer of gravel which I haven’t bothered with since I replanted the bulbs, but was quite successful when I used it in the past.  Plant the bulbs from December to January (in the Southern hemisphere), unfortunately you have missed your chance this season.  Put it in your calendar for December.  You can grow the bulbs in pots if you like but generally they will do better in the ground.

The saffron bulbs will flower for 2-4 years but eventually will need lifting and dividing as the number of flowers you get will decrease.  If you have been growing them in a good site you will find that the bulbs have multiplied many times so you will probably have more bulbs than you know what to do with.  Give them away to friends and family – spread the love!  The first year after replanting you probably won’t get much in the way of flowers, but they should flower well in subsequent years if you have chosen the site well.  They will benefit from a fertilising after flowering.

When I was living in the UK I bought my first lot of saffron crocus from the flower market in Amsterdam.  I you have the chance to do this I would recommend it.  It is a bit of a gardeners utopia with a huge variety of plants and bulbs.  However if you live in Australia or New Zealand I would recommend Boobook Hill Saffron (click to visit).  They are who I bought my bulbs from and the bulbs were healthy, good sized ones that grew well.  Being in Tasmania I don’t think they have any quarantine restrictions on shipping to other areas of Australia. For those in other countries,

Amazon has sellers who will ship saffron crocus bulbs direct to you. Click here
or on the image to the right for more information.

So give it a go!  This is something that is easy to do and the bonus is that you get an expensive spice freshly grown in your backyard along with some autumn colour.  Be sure to post a comment below to let me know about your experiences growing saffron or if you have any questions.  And if you like the article please share it with others.  Thanks for reading!

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16 Responses to “How to grow saffron”

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  6. Phyll Tierney says:

    Hi,
    I have a small property in South Gippsland, Victoria This is my third year of growing saffron….first bought 50 corms, then last year another 100 corms…. had to lift and transplant this year and my 150 had grown to almost 1000 corms.
    This season so far 1548 shoots have emerged, …my 5 year plan is looking good, but wanted to thank you for enlightening me re the reduction of flowers after transplating …..was wondering why fewer flowers had bloomed this year. About to start implementing a marketing strategy, thought I would begin with supply to local restaurants and perhaps do a few local markets, as won’t have the supply to meet demand on the net for a while yet.
    Thank you for making your information available, it is nice to be discussing things with someone else that has a passion for growing saffron….I look forward to receiving a follow-up email, if you wish to do so…..Thanks again..Phyll Tierney from ‘Saffron Willis’.

  7. Matt says:

    Hi Phyll,
    Thanks for your comment. I’m really pleased you found the article helpful. Growing saffron is definitely a passion of mine, and of yours by the sound of it! In addition to the reduced flowers after first planting, production will also drop off after a few years as the corms get crowded, so I have noticed that this is a sign to dig up and replant. If you are doing this commercially I imagine you’ll have to try to rotate your replanting otherwise you’ll end up with some lean years.
    I love the idea of marketing to local businesses and restaurants. They’ll appreciate the quality and will be cheaper to market to when you’re getting started. Let us know how you get on.
    Good luck!
    Matt

  8. Usha says:

    I a from Sydney and want to grow saffron. Do u think Sydney climate is suitable?

  9. Matt says:

    Hi Usha,

    I would have thought so. Originally it was from the mountainous areas, so it probably prefers colder climates, but if you can grow normal crocus bulbs then saffron crocus shouldn’t be a problem. Give it a try, perhaps in a pot first to be sure they get good drainage.

  10. Peter Huber says:

    Trying to grow saffron in Sydney is very dicey as the winters aren’t really cold enough for the bulbs to flower successfully. You need to be in an area that has at least a few decent frosts, so anywhere North of Woollongong along the coast would not be suitable. If you buy the bulbs from a colder area they would flower for the first season (if they are large enough) but the next season they most likely wouldn’t.
    I would also like to correct a common mistake in the article above: It’s not the stamens that are harvested: it the STIGMAS. The yellow stamens are of no use.
    Also the flowers need to be picked as soon as they open (quite a few growers pick them when still in torpedo shape) The longer you leave them, the more the potency dissipates…

  11. Matt says:

    Thanks for the info Peter!

  12. Yoom says:

    Hi peter,is it possible to grow them in Malaysia?

  13. Matt says:

    Hi Yoom, I would have thought if Sydney was no good then Malaysia would be too warm. Thanks.

  14. nikki says:

    Hi we have been considering growing saffron. How you would harvest 10 acres espec as it would have to come off quickly is there a machine that would harvest them. Thank you

  15. Matt says:

    Hi Nikki,

    I have never grown saffron commercially, but as I understand it, it has to be picked by hand. That, combined with the low harvest volume is what makes saffron so expensive.

    Thanks,

    Matt

  16. Peter Huber says:

    Hi Nikki,

    You obviously have not done ANY research about growing saffron. You would need millions of bulbs for an area of 10 acres, AND the flowers need to be hand picked daily for a period of about 6 weeks. There is NO mechanical way of harvesting the flowers yet that I know of. Matt is quite right: That’s why saffron costs so much.

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