Autumn Crocus – Colchicum autumnale

Delightful plants that give an attractive display of flowers from September to November, Autumn Crocuses are easy to grow and can be left in the same bowl for several seasons so that they flower again and again.

Despite their name, the plants are not true crocuses. The difference is that the corm of the Autumn Crocus is oval-shaped and that of the true crocus is flatter and rounder. Also the leaves of the Autumn Crocus are larger.

Each Autumn Crocus corm can produce several flowers between September and November. Each flower is about 5cm (2in) long and stands about 15cm (6in) high on its stem. The leaves are lance-shaped and up to 30cm (12in) long.

The Autumn Crocus named Colchicum autumnale has lilac coloured flower petals and can also be found in two varieties. The first of these is Ca. ‘Album’ which has white flowers and C.a. ‘Roseum-plenum’ which has rosy-pink double flowers.Autumn Crocus - Colchicum autumnale

Another species grown is Autumnale byzontium which has longer leaves, at 30-41cm (12-16in), and flowers that are pale pinky-lilac and 13cm (Sin; deep. This species can only be grown from offsets.

Propagation

It is very easy to make new plants from the offsets that are regularly produced by Autumn Crocus corms. Plants can also be grown from seed but this takes almost 5 years from sowing to flowering.

1 The potting compost for the Autumn Crocuses needs to be replaced every 4 years or so. This should be done in early summer when the leaves have died away. Remove the offsets and put several of the small, new corms into a half pot, shallow pot, pan or dish about 13cm (5in) across.

2 Place offsets in the compost so that they are only half covered. Use the adult soil-based potting compost and make sure it is moist.

3 For the first 5 or so weeks water the new corms sparingly, allowing considerable drying out of the potting compost between waterings. After this time, new growth should occur and the new corms can be treated as adult.

With proper care it will take about two or three years before the new Autumn Crocus plants flower.

Plant Problems

Leaves have ragged holes in them and corms appear chewed if kept in pots at ground level outside on the patio. This could be caused by slugs. Treatment: Remove and destroy slugs by hand and put down slug pellets.

Unattractively long leaves could be caused by too little sunlight. Treatment: Move to a position where the plant gets more direct sun. This encourages the plant to flower well the following season.

Leaves wither and turn brown after flowering finishes.

Treatment: This is a normal part of the plant’s life cycle. The foliage dies back every year in early summer.

PLANT CARE

It is relatively straightforward to grow Autumn Crocuses. Provided they are lifted from their compost at the right time they will flower year after year.

  • Potting: Pot the corms in groups in soil-based compost during early autumn. Every 4 years or so, repot with new compost and remove any offsets.
  • After potting, water moderately throughout the growing and flowering period. When the leaves start dying down water sparingly.
  • Feeding: Apply a dilute liquid fertilizer every 14 days during the active growing period.

GROWING CONDITIONS

  • Light: Keep in bright light all year. Sunshine helps the plants to flower better.
  • Temperature: Normal room temperatures are fine all year round as long as Autumn Crocus is kept in a cool room and temperatures are not allowed to get much above 18°C (65°F).

A bowlful of Autumn Crocus plants brightens up any sunny corner with a display of pinkish-purple flowers. They are relatively easy to grow and can be propagated from offsets.

When to buy

  • Buy in early autumn for potting straight away. You may need to try a specialist nursery.
  • Pick plump corms without any signs of damage.
  • Can be grown in the same pot from year to year for several years.

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