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How to Plant and Cultivate Saffron Bulbs at Home

Rae gardens in the Pacific Northwest and has experience with cultivating moss in a variety of methods.

This is a saffron crocus blossom. By following this guide, learn how you can grow saffron too.

This is a saffron crocus blossom. By following this guide, learn how you can grow saffron too.

The Most Expensive Spice

I live in the U.S., and when I happen to mention that I'm growing my own saffron, most people are really surprised. There's something about the idea of spices that automatically transmits mental images of faraway places and really hot climates.

Or something like that.

However, in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S., it is completely possible to grow saffron. Yep, that saffron: the most expensive spice in the whole world.

Advice for Fellow Gardeners

As a hobby gardener, it's neither difficult nor too expensive to give this a try, so if you are curious, please read on to see:

  • how I got started;
  • how to get a saffron bed ready;
  • what growing saffron is like; and
  • when and how to harvest it

And let's not forget a few comments on cooking and eating!

Getting Started: Know Your Saffron Crocus

You don't want to confuse the saffron crocus for other species—namely, because the other varietals can be poisonous if eaten. Saffron crocus is known by the Latin name Crocus sativa or Crocus sativus. It blooms in the fall, anywhere from late September to early November depending on your regional climate.

Should You Plant in a Container or the Garden?

As you are going for a productive crop here and not just something decorative, these aren't the sorts of bulbs you want to put into containers. They really need more depth and room if they are going to do their spicy thing. Also, they can be damaged by cold over the winter if you have them in pots.

Saffron goes dormant in the summer, and you don't have to worry about watering then. You do have to worry if you don't have good drainage as these bulbs can rot if they get too moist during their off-season.

My First Attempt (Failure)

My very first attempt was in a large outdoor container after planting them a year earlier, and nothing happened! I dug up the container to try and see what happened, but I couldn't find a single bulb. Either they rotted away completely, or squirrels dug them up and ate them without leaving a hole in the dirt or any sort of sign. It was an unsatisfactory first year, to say the least.

Video Tutorials on Growing Saffron

Below are some video guides to the different parts of the saffron growing process. Everybody does it a little bit differently, so it's great to get a few different points of view.

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Read More From Dengarden

Weeding Is the Key to Success

When it comes to saffron, the most important part of the tending/growing process is weeding. The bulbs are dormant for the majority of the year, and you need to protect them. Weeds will not only gobble up nutrients in the soil, but the biggest danger is having your bulbs pierced by shoots of grass growing underground. Keeping your saffron bed weed-free in the off-season can be a big chore, but it pays off!

Cooking With Saffron

If there's one thing that's common to just about any recipe where you use saffron, it's that you don't ever use a lot of it. All those teeny-tiny amounts can be confusing to cooks, and a majority of people who cook with this exotic spice most often confess that when it comes to the measuring part, they sort of guess and wing it.

The second you see a recipe that calls for large quantities of saffron, you know you are dealing with something where historically they were using adulterated saffron, some true spice diluted and mixed with fillers.

Always Soak Your Threads First

Never just throw your saffron threads into a dish. This wastes much of the rich flavor. You want to soak the threads in near-boiling water or other liquid for at least 20 minutes. This allows the threads to fully open and release the maximum flavor, scent, and color. If you grind up the threads before soaking, it breaks down the cell structures and allows more of the plant material to interact with the liquid.

Drying your spice is super easy. Saffron threads take a few days to dry and go from tiny ribbons (left) to little red threads (right).

Drying your spice is super easy. Saffron threads take a few days to dry and go from tiny ribbons (left) to little red threads (right).

My saffron harvest!

My saffron harvest!

How Much Saffron Can You Produce?

For most people, growing their own saffron is going to be fun and will bring them a small amount of saffron for their home cooking. If you happen to have acreage, and can cultivate thousands of bulbs, you might consider selling your saffron to restaurants. In order to be able to go into the saffron biz, you need acreage devoted to this tiny flower.

What you see here is the total of my first year's harvest. If I had a kitchen scale that measured tenths or hundredths of a gram, I would be able to tell you exactly what my yield was, but with what I have, the answer is "not even a gram."

It Takes Thousands of Flowers to Produce One Pound

It takes somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 flowers to get enough stigmas harvested to make a pound of saffron. The market prices per ounce of saffron are higher than the price for an ounce of gold.

Saffron bulbs do multiply over the years. You will want to dig up the bulbs and split them every three years. Some people choose to replant their crop, expanding the corm patch every few years, while others find that they prefer to sell the bulbs to other interested gardeners.

Additional Saffron Help

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Rae Schwarz

Anyone Else Growing Saffron or Have a Question About It?

Raphael M Sioni on August 02, 2020:

Im from Papua new Guinea Im interested.

john aisa on April 06, 2018:

I am from Papua New Guinea. Can it be grow in my country.

Muhammad Fawad on February 03, 2017:

I am growing it successfully since past three years

kellyybrownn617 on April 12, 2014:

hello this is great.

ChocolateLily on April 02, 2014:

I would have never thought of growing saffron before reading your lens. Wow! I doubt I will give it a try, but it's really neat.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on April 01, 2014:

@MJ Martin: Be sure to come back, Ruby, and let us know how it worked out for you.

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on March 31, 2014:

After reading this helpful lens I am sure going to give it a try. Congrats on Lotd and a purple star too.

norma-holt on March 31, 2014:

Great lens and nicely done information. Congrats on LOTD, well deserved. Growing this spice is not something I would care to do and your instructions are ideal for anyone who would.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@Arachnea: Saffron reblooms each fall.

mansfisa44 on March 31, 2014:

Nice Lense

Tanya Jones from Texas USA on March 31, 2014:

this sounds like a fun project. i have a patch of dirt for which this will be perfect. i wonder if the texas climate will suit. the place i have in mind has a very warm, sunny morning to noonish then is in shade the rest of the day. i'm sorry if i missed it, but once the stigmas are picked from a plant will more grow back with the next growing season? great lens. congrats on lotd.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@strategylab: Well, it IS expensive, but I think I've shown here that is is NOT incredible hard to grow.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@MEDerby: Wow, an Arctic region... I can see why anything would have to be grown indoors.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@DebMartin: Deb, that's totally one of the factors that contributed to my interest in growing it.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 31, 2014:

@Dressage Husband: My first attempt with saffron (where the bulbs vanished) were ordered from an organic grower in B.C. Canada. So Nova Scotia might be doable, but I think you are right that it will come down to what you can do with soil and drainage.

dahlia369 on March 31, 2014:

Enjoyed your lens, thank you! I've been growing many herbs but it never crossed my mind to grow saffron even though I do use it when cooking soup...

tonnytheviet on March 31, 2014:

This is very helpful for me! Thank you very much!

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@RinchenChodron: I don't know. Some of where saffron grows in the Middle East is pretty rugged actually. I'd suggest you ask around of your local gardening groups and see if anyone has experience or insight.

Jeph Maystruck from Regina, SK on March 30, 2014:

I've heard it's incredibly hard to grow and very expensive on the grocery store shelves. I really wish I could just cook more with it! ha!

M E Derby on March 30, 2014:

Thanks. I live in an arctic region and grow cool stuff inside. Miss my paella!

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@Merrci: My fantasy at this stage of working with saffron is to grow an ounce in one season. I already have to start thinking ahead to how much space I can give these.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@GrammieOlivia: Except for the one month when these bloom, they are much less trouble than anything else I grow in my garden. Most of the year they are dormant.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@Lynn Klobuchar: Lynn, what you planted in your yard and what I planted in mine are actually two different varieties. And in the spring, those crocus are some of the very first fresh greens of spring, not one of many in the harvest season. Animals are way more likely to attack crops when there's nothing else fresh and yummy to nibble.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@JoanieMRuppel54: You know, I don't know. The majority of the saffron in the USA has always been grown by the Amish community in Pennsylvania. You might see if your climate is anything like those regions. Or see if there are any commercial growers in your area. That's how I learned I could grow it where I live.

Rae Schwarz (author) from Seattle, WA on March 30, 2014:

@MEDerby: No. Saffron crocus are only going to reproduce and thrive in an outdoor location.

M E Derby on March 30, 2014:

Can you grow this indoors?

DebMartin on March 30, 2014:

Wow. Who knew. I didn't even realize saffron came from a crocus. Yet I use it all the time. Thanks for the tips and the knowledge. Even if I never grow my own saffron, it's important to know where those things that are important to you come from.

Shamim Rajabali from Texas on March 30, 2014:

Interesting article.

Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on March 30, 2014:

No, but I was thinking about growing Hascap berries! Seems like I could make more with Saffron if only it could stand Nova Scotia winters. I will have to check to see if I could manage it?

Well done on the LOTD. Only I do have a clay soil so it would probably be too wet!

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on March 30, 2014:

Brilliant! I'm one of those who assumed saffron was grown in some very exotic locale with special permission of - someone. Glad I read this since now I know the truth. Congratulations on your very UUU lens!

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on March 30, 2014:

At one time I had quite a spice garden with a sesame seed plant and elephant garlic among others. Never tried Saffron. Sounds fun! Congrats on LOTD.

anonymous on March 30, 2014:

I'm not much on growing things but this was a very informative lens. Congratulations on getting LotD!

burntchestnut on March 30, 2014:

Excellent article. I did know that saffron came from specific crocus species, but didn't know the details.

Donna Cook on March 30, 2014:

Terrific lens! I didn't know that saffron was a crocus.