Hocus Crocus! Signs of Spring

March 6, 2009 | By | Comments (14)

For many people, the magical sudden appearance of crocus blooms are the surest sign that spring is nigh. As happy as you are to see crocus, squirrels and chipmunks are even happier.

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That’s because these stinking rodents crave crocus corms above all other forms of food. They can smell them in the ground and, once they locate them, never stop until they consume every last one. Funny thing is, they don’t seem to bother the crocus while they bloom, only before. It’s like a chipmunk preemptive strike.

One way to foil rodents is by planting crocus corms inside little wire cages. But this is a lot of time and trouble and I’d rather devote my day to more worthwhile pursuits, like searching for Atlantis or coming up with alternative energy sources based on meringue.

Absent vermin, however, crocus are indispensable to the late winter and early spring garden because they’re dependable, prolific, come in lots of different colors, are a snap to care for, and naturalize quickly to form beautiful drifts.

It is written that crocus do best in cool areas, but I guess “cool” is relative, as the Lower South (Zone 7B) is where I garden and they do just fine. I do think they need a good two months or more of winter chill and well-drained soil. They do great in rock gardens, at the edge of the woods where the leaves don’t pile too high, and in containers. You can also naturalize them in the lawn if you don’t mind not mowing the grass until their leaves turn yellow in late spring.

Some crocus bloom in fall — most notably the lavender-purple saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), whose orange-red stigmas (the female part of the flower that receives pollen) is the source of very expensive saffron. (Be very glad you’re not a saffron-picker. Day after day handling those tweezers….yeeesh!) But most bloom in winter/spring.

I divide winter/spring crocus into two groups. The first is Dutch crocus (Crocus vernus). These are by far the most popular, as they have larger flowers than other kinds, and bloom in February and March in my area. Colors include blue, purple, white, yellow, and many are striped. The ones shown above are called ‘Remembrance,’ if I remember correctly, which is roughly 50% of the time, give or take 50%.

The second group is snow crocus, so called because they bloom very early, often in midwinter while snow is on the ground. Their blooms aren’t as big as those of Dutch crocus, but they compensate by producing many more of them. Here are three species I really like.

Crocus sieberi. Usually the first one to bloom, often in January. Small blue or lavender flowers with golden throats.

Crocus chrysanthus. Sweetly scented blooms with bright orange stamens, lots of different colors. ‘Advance’ is gaudy orange and purple; ‘Gipsy Girl’ is bright yellow with bronzy-purple feathering; ‘Ladykiller’ is white inside and blue-purple outside.

Crocus tommasinianus. Flared, open flowers with orange stamens remind me of miniature water lilies. According to bulb experts Brent and Becky Heath, rodents don’t like them. Colors include pink, lavender, lilac, white, and rose-purple.

Don’t look to plant crocus corms now. They’re only available in the fall. Most garden centers sell only Dutch crocus. A great source for all kinds is Brent & Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, VA. Tell them the Grump sent you and maybe they’ll include some chipmunk recipes.

“Crocus-Stuffed Chipmunk.” Yum!

COMMENTS

  1. Grumpy Gardener

    I don’t know. I’ll ask the next one I see.

    April 4, 2009 at 9:56 am
  2. Sarah Button

    Do chipmunks prefer yellow crocus? My mom swears they do.

    April 3, 2009 at 4:42 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener

    I’m the father of a 15 year-old boy. We’ll gladly sacrifice a few chipmunks in order to enjoy the crocus.

    March 13, 2009 at 7:29 am
  4. Mary

    While I love the crocus flowers too, I’m the mother of three young boys, and they love to watch the squirrels and chipmunks! I’ll sacrifice a few bulbs for hours of entertainment for my boys any day.

    March 12, 2009 at 4:01 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener

    Wow, I have to try that rosemary thing. Before, I’d only stuck rosemary in lamb!

    March 11, 2009 at 11:13 am
  6. Frances

    Hi Grumpy, those devil squirrels are a big pest here with their mindless digging. The crocus tommies are being added to the fall bulb list. Hope they are less attractive than the chrysanthas. I also use chicken wire and rosemary stems stuck in the ground. It does seem to deter the devils and sometimes even roots.
    Frances

    March 10, 2009 at 8:00 pm
  7. Karen

    thanks for the answer about the tulips – I figured the lack of a long cold winter played a part in it.
    Karen
    http://karensquilting.com/blog/

    March 10, 2009 at 3:54 pm
  8. Grumpy Gardener

    So are you the husband of Rachel Ray? Do you eat munk everyday?

    March 10, 2009 at 7:37 am
  9. “He Who Lives With Yankees”

    I take my ‘munk’ rare with cat head biscuits and bacon grease gravy.

    March 9, 2009 at 8:23 pm
  10. Grumpy Gardener

    Karen, you are not alone. Most people can’t keep hybrid tulips flowering for more than 1-2 years. That can’t even do that in Holland. The reason is that after a hybrid tulip blooms, the bulb splits into smaller bulbs and those smaller bulbs take years to get big enough to bloom again. Complicating matters is the fact that Zone 7 is not prime hybrid tulip territory. They like long, cold winters and loose, well-drained soil. Rodents also eat them. For all these reasons, most people I know treat them as annuals.
    But that’s just the big-flowered hybrid tulips. A number of smaller-flowered species tulips come back every year for me in Zone 7B. They include Tulipa bakeri ‘Lilac Wonder’ (blooming now), T. clusiana ‘Lady Jane’ (blooming now), T. kaufmanniana, T. saxatilis, T. sylvestris, T. tarda, and T. whitallii. A great mail-order source for all is Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, mentioned above.

    March 8, 2009 at 8:42 pm
  11. Helen @ Gardening With Confidence

    Those sweet little bulbs do it for me!

    March 7, 2009 at 6:22 pm
  12. Karen

    question on tulips – I am in zone 7 but use to live way up north in WI and ID why can’t I get my tulips to flower here – they do ok the first year and then just leaves the following years, no flowers?
    Karen
    http://karensquilting.com/blog/

    March 7, 2009 at 11:50 am
  13. Grumpy Gardener

    I think all rodents like them, incuding voles and mice. Hal Bruce, who for many years was the horticultural curator at Winterthur Museum & Gardens in Delaware, once told me, “Crocus are candy for mice.” If you look “Legacy of Wildflowers,” a story I wrote about the wildflowers at Winterthur in the March 2009 issue, you’ll see lots of little bulbs and wildflowers — but not crocus.

    March 7, 2009 at 9:28 am
  14. Jean

    I planted some leftover bulb pots…most did not survive the feasting..but one little pot did…and it’s blooming right now right next to the steps with its glorious purple flowers. I guess I should enjoy them this year because next year they will probably be on the lunch menu!
    We do not have chipmunks…possibly the voles ate them too? Chipmunk stew!

    March 7, 2009 at 7:59 am

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