PUTNAM COUNTY — My heart skipped a few beats this past weekend when I ventured outside after the rain had finally stopped…and noticed a few clumps of small, green sprigs emerging from the soggy ground where a snow pile had once been! This was the first sign from my garden that spring is on its way!

These little sprigs of green will soon showcase a beautiful array of white, yellow, and purple blooms. These blooms are the hallmark of the crocus, one of the earliest hardy bulbs to bloom from late winter into spring.

In Ohio, two different types of crocus are commonly found – the Dutch crocus (Crocus vernus hybrids) and the snow crocus (Crocus chrysanthus). The snow crocus has white blooms and typically blooms one to two weeks before the Dutch crocus. Dutch crocus hybrids have larger, more colorful blooms in varying shades of yellow, lavender, purple and white.

Crocus are winter hardy in Ohio and survive from year to year below the soil surface. Leaves and flowers arises from a small, underground stem called a corm. The corm is often referred to as a “bulb”, but it is not a true bulb.

Once a crocus flowers, the main corm shrivels and is replaced by small, baby corms called cormels that also form underground. Cormels grow for several years until they are large enough to flower. This process repeats itself year after year, allowing crocus to bloom and multiply naturally in the garden. To encourage crocus to naturalize in the garden, plant them where they will receive ample sun. This is generally not too difficult as they often finish flowering before trees and other plants have leafed out in the spring. Allow the foliage to naturally die back, enabling the plant to pump its resources back into the growing cormels underground.

Want to add some crocus to your yard or garden? Crocus corms can be readily purchased from garden centers and retailers in late summer and early fall. This is also a good time to dig up existing corms in your garden, divide and transplant to other areas as desired! Crocus have dainty, narrow foliage, so it is best to plant a handful of corms (5 to 7) in each location. As a general rule, bulbs are planted three times as deep as their diameter, so a standard depth for most crocus is 3-4” deep and 3-4” apart.

As an interesting side note, Crocus sativus, also known as the saffron crocus, provides us with the expensive culinary spice known as saffron. In contrast to our beautiful spring blooming beauties in Ohio, the saffron crocus flowers in the fall in Mediterranean climates like Spain, Greece and the Middle East.

Why is saffron so expensive? Each crocus flower only forms three floral parts called a stigma. Each stigma must be hand-harvested and dried to yield a single saffron thread. It takes 50,000 to 75,000 flowers to yield one pound of spice! Depending upon the quality, a pound of saffron can retail for $500 to $1500.

For additional information, please call our office for assistance at 419-523-6294, by email at Scheckelhoff.11@osu.edu or stop in at 1206 East Second Street in Ottawa. You can also find us on Facebook by searching for OSU Extension Putnam County.