How To Grow Crocus

The crocus is a plant which flourishes in both town and country garden. It will grow to perfection in a window-box or around the sides of tubs or boxes which may be holding a specimen plant at the entrance to house or flat. As an edging to a patch or border or planted in drifts under trees they will provide a blaze of colour, but they are also of great value for planting in a tiny garden or courtyard between crazy-paving stones or on the rockery where their daintiness will be in keeping with their environment and after flowering their grass-like leaves will die away almost unnoticed.

In almost any type of soil will they flourish, though they do appreciate one containing a proportion of horticultural peat or leaf mould. The writers of the sixteenth century said that the crocus enjoyedHow To Grow Crocus Plants ‘some manure’: but rather than rank farmyard manure I think that this should be taken to mean humus in general. I have found that hops augmented by a small quantity of old mushroom-bed manure is ideal for crocus bulbs and mixed with a little soil I use this mixture when growing crocus: in the garden, in pots or bowls, and for a window-box. One thing the crocus will not tolerate and that is a stagnant situation – good drainage is essential and this may be obtained in soils of doubtful nature by incorporating a quantity of coarse sand together with the humus-forming materials for which peat is a most valuable alternative to those materials already mentioned.

PLANTING

When planting in grass, in orchard or lawn, a small amount of humus should be placed in the cavity formed when the turf has been removed. This should be done by making a firm cut with a spade on three sides. The turf should then be lifted and rolled over the side which has not been cut, exactly like a box lid on hinges. A turf of a depth of 4 in. should be removed, which may easily be gauged with a little practice. Into the cavity should be placed a little humus material and some coarse sand and into this the bulbs should be pressed, the flat side downwards. Six bulbs of the 7 cm. size should be placed under each turf which should be replaced into its original position and made quite firm by treading. The whole operation takes but a few minutes and a large area may be planted up in an hour or so.

Crocus planted in a rockery or along the edging of a path or between crazy paving should be planted 3 in. deep by means of a trowel. Plant them in clusters of self colours or species to obtain the best effect, spacing the bulbs the same distance apart as they are deep in the ground.

When planting in grass or in a special border, it will be advisable as far as possible to utilize a southern aspect for the spring-flowering species so that they will have access to every available hour of sunshine and so come into bloom at the earliest possible date. The autumn-flowering species may be given a more exposed or northerly aspect for they come into bloom at a time when weather conditions are more favourable. But like the anemone, all crocus species will enjoy a position which receives at least a little protection from cold winds – this is one reason why they flower so well around the roots of large trees and in a rockery, sheltered by the stones.

No bulb is so valuable for growing in grass, either in a lawn of billiard-table appearance or rough grass which is kept partially under control. Flowering so early in the year the foliage may be left completely undisturbed until it has turned yellow and died down. This will have taken place by early summer when the grass will need its first seasonal cut and so no untidy brown foliage will remain to spoil the appearance of the turf throughout the early summer weeks if the grass receives its first cut towards the middle of May.crocus bulbs

A word should be said about planting in a heavy day soil. Though the spring-flowering crocus may be planted until the end of November in ordinary soils and in favourable districts, those who garden in the north should plant not later than the end of October and a month earlier where the bulbs have to be planted in a clay soil which so quickly becomes cold as the autumn sun dies down. The bulbs should be planted only a in. deep in a heavy soil and the month of September is the ideal time.

The autumn-flowering species should be planted during May or early June with C. Scharojani, the earliest of all to bloom, being planted in May. I plant all the many species of crocus under a row of tall beech trees. There the bulbs have been planted in sections beginning with the well-known spring-flowering species where they obtain the maximum amount of spring sunshine. Then come about twenty species of the autumn-flowering crocus and finally a selection of the Colchicum, more generally referred to as the autumn crocus and always confused with the true autumn-flowering species. My crocus garden is like a bulb garden in miniature and there is always a carpet of colour from August right through the dark days of November and December, to early May when the last of the spring-flowering varieties withers away.

Late in June the grass is cut by a scythe and given a I oz. per square yard dressing of superphosphate which the crocus really enjoys. Then August is soon with us again and out comes the brilliant yellow C. Scharojani, which came all the way from the Black Sea. And so the crocus blooms throughout nine months of the year and will do so even in the tiny courtyard of a town house or the small suburban garden. These same varieties planted in a small lawn or amidst crazy paving will provide a constant supply of colour, the size of the bloom being in keeping with the size of the garden. The dainty little C. speciosus, with a colour range from white to deepest purple will prove most accommodating when planted between crazy-paving stones or on a rockery and will bloom throughout autumn and early winter.

THE CROCUS IN THE WINDOW-BOX

The same splash of colour during the shortest days may be obtained from the use of a window-box. If two or three bulbs of eight species are planted so as to provide colour throughout winter and spring, the window-box can always be a thing of great joy. If one has room for one or two bowls of indoor crocus, then the display may be augmented with the new and more expensive spring-flowering hybrids.

CROCUS IN THE WINDOW-BOX

When planting the window-box for such a display, the corms for autumn flowering should be planted 4 in. deep at the same time as the summer-flowering plants such as geraniums and lobelia. As such plants will remain in bloom until October, it will be advisable to plant those species which will come into bloom in November. The lovely dark purple C. asturicus atropurpureus from the Pyrenees and flowering late in November would be my first choice, with the sweetly perfumed C. longiflorus, for December flowering. As a contrast to the two purple varieties, C. ochroleucus, also late to flower and having neat white blooms, shaded at the throat with yellow, is most attractive. For an early display in the window-box one cannot recommend the so little-known Chrysanthus group too frequently. They are outstanding for several reasons, but chiefly on account of the size of the bloom and the long time that they remain in prime condition when fully opened.

All bulbs, and the crocus is no exception, will enjoy an additional amount of peat in the window-box soil which will keep the soil in a moist condition and provide aeration which the crocus must have if it is to flower to perfection. Where it can be obtained, old mushroom-bed compost will be ideal for a window-box, especially if the soil being used is old town soil generally taken from a border which has only on rare occasions been enriched. Where this cannot be obtained, a 4-oz. Dressing of bone meal to an average-sized window-box will be of value. And do not forget to provide crocks for drainage before the compost is placed in the box. May I suggest that if the later spring-flowering yellow varieties of crocus are being used for a window-box these look especially lovely when grown with one of the modern primrose hybrids. Of these P. Wanda, the royal purple, Fiirhlingzauber, or the free-flowering Romeo, with flowers as large as a pansy, will each produce a brilliant display through late March and early April. After flowering, the primroses may be removed, divided and replanted in any shady corner for use the following year, whilst the crocus bulbs should be allowed to dry off and the foliage to die down in a box in any dry cupboard, shed or on a greenhouse shelf. Where a window-box can expect to receive its full quota of winter sunshine then by all means concentrate on the winter-flowering species, but where a cold northerly or easterly aspect is enjoyed, then it would be better to wait until the warmer spring weather and to plant for a big splash of colour in the spring.

INDOOR CULTURE

The cultivation of crocus indoors presents no difficulty provided no forcing is done – indeed, like the snowdrop, the bulbs will resent anything but the coolest of temperatures throughout their days indoors.

For pot or bowl cultivation a top-size corm should be used, one at least 9 cm. In circumference and these should be in a sound, clean condition. The growing point may be seen appearing just above the top of the corm and so they should be handled with care. To a 60-size pot or a small bowl (and both the crocus and snowdrop look their daintiest when in fairly shallow bowls) six to eight corms should be planted 2 in. deep, spacing them about 1 in. apart each way. A compost similar to that recommended for window-boxes will be ideal, though to assist drainage a very small quantity of broken charcoal should be incorporated with the mixture.

A good-quality bulb fibre may be used instead of the peat, but I always recommend the use of a little loam and sand to give the compost some ‘body’. A compost correctly made up of a handful of turf loam, one of a good-quality horticultural peat, and one of rotted mushroom-bed compost to which is added a little coarse sand, some charcoal and a dusting of bone meal to a 60-size pot has always given excellent results. Those who live in a flat in the city must rely almost entirely on a prepared bulb fibre which will give good results provided it is of good quality. I do find that a compost which contains a small amount of turf loam will be more easily controlled as to moisture requirements than where a fibre only is being used. The crocus, flowering indoors in February or earlier, should be potted in early September so that it will have a prolonged period in which to form an adequate root system.

Where the pots can be stood in the open under a wall or in a cellar or attic and covered with deep ashes, soil or sand with an occasional watering for those indoors, this method will ensure a sound rooting system. At the end of November, the bowls may be removed from beneath their covering, watered if necessary and placed in a cool but light position where they will remain to bloom. Over watering and any degree of forcing will prove fatal to the crocus. Give water only when the compost appears to be unduly dry.

ATTACKS FROM BIRDS

If the crocus has one drawback, it is that in some years of prolonged bad weather the spring-flowering species may receive too much attention from birds which find a sweetened moisture at the base of the flowers. The autumn-flowering varieties which are in bloom at a season of plenty rarely suffer in this way and of the spring species I have found that it is almost entirely the yellow varieties that are most liable to attack. Where growing in large numbers `Glitterbangs’, patented by the Chase Protected Cultivation Limited, prove most valuable and they may later be used for protecting strawberries and later, autumn-sown seeds in the open. But for those with only small groups, then the old method of placing black thread (rather than cotton) around the plants when in bud will prove effective. Do not wait until the flowers are fully showing colour before protecting, for the whole display may be destroyed in a few hours and there is nothing in the garden more disappointing.

Mice, too, may prove troublesome to newly planted crocus corms especially where a hard winter is being experienced and there is precious little food about,. A non-poisonous preparation of a proprietary brand placed about the ground where the corms have been planted will keep this pest under control. The crocus-lover who has room in the garden to plant in large numbers will find that a cat is quite the best deterrent to both mice and birds and a brilliant display can be expected with certainty. A cat who in this way is so active in the early spring months, will have more than earned the summer days lying in the sunshine and mid-winter in front of a log fire.

PROPAGATION

The crocus which comes to Britain in such vast numbers each August from Holland has achieved much of its popularity from its great ease in cultivation. Bulbs which have been planted a quarter of a century ago still produce a magnificent carpet of colour year after year and there seems little value in lifting them at any time and replanting the younger and most virile corms. But the crocus species, being more expensive and some being obtainable in only small numbers may be more rapidly increased, apart from those which are known to reproduce themselves easily from self-sown seed, by lifting every three years when the foliage has died down. On top of each parent corm will be found growing new corms of various sizes which should be removed, dried and replanted at the appropriate time together with the parent corms. Those growing in a sandy loam which may have made a large size may be used for pot culture.

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