Saffron is quite costly when buying it in the store, which is why many people choose to grow this tasty herb at home. The issue is that this plant can be somewhat fussy about its growing conditions, so you do need to take good care of it to ensure that you have a healthy supply when you need it. They also need to be harvested at the right time for the tastiest results. If you’re interested in growing saffron indoors, the following tips can help.
- Start with the proper variety, Crocus Sativus produces edible herb, other varieties will not.
- Saffron blooms in fall and goes dormant in the summer, the opposite of most plants.
- Saffron is light hungry and needs lots of direct, bright sunlight.
- Getting watering right is key to strong growth. Water sparingly to keep some moisture in the soil, but not too much which can rot the delicate roots.
- A saffron plant can bloom for multiple years when properly cared for.
- Store bought saffron can reach thousands of dollars per pound making home grown saffron a huge cost saver for frequent users.
Choosing Your Saffron
The first thing to do when growing saffron indoors is choose the right variety. When purchasing saffron, be sure to choose saffron crocus, also known as Crocus Sativus. It is sometimes confused with autumn meadow crocus, also called Colchicum autumnale, which is a member of the iris family and not used for cooking.
Saffron isn’t grown from seeds but from bulbs or corms, which can be purchased from a local or online nursery. They are often difficult to find in local nurseries or garden stores, so looking online is usually the best option . Be sure to choose a reputable source for your saffron bulbs to ensure the best quality.
You should also limit how many to buy to avoid overspending and reducing wasted bulbs. Each saffron flower produces three stigmas, which is the part of the plant used for cooking. Three stigmas are enough saffron for one person when cooking a meal. So, when purchasing saffron corms, consider how many people you’ll be feeding with each meal and multiply that by the number of meals you’ll make each year that require saffron. The result is the number of corms you need to purchase.
Saffron plants should be planted in the fall to be sure they are ready to harvest the following year. They don’t like to be too crowded, so be sure to give them the space they need during planting. Each corm should be placed 2 to 3 inches deep in the soil with roughly the same distance between each one. Be sure that the root is facing down and the point is facing up.
After planting, place the container in a cold room with a temperature of 35 to 48 degrees Fahrenheit where they’ll receive 4 to 6 hours of daylight each day until they sprout. Lightly water them during this time until you see these grass-like sprouts. At this time, the saffron is ready to be moved to a warmer area, usually sometime in April if you planted them in the fall.
Unlike many other types of plants, saffron is a fall blooming plant. That means that you’ll see it going through the most growth and be able to harvest it in fall.
This also means that it will go through its dormancy period in the summer. During the summer, you’ll likely see the plant die back, and not need to water or feed it as much as normal. This is the opposite of most plants’ growth cycles, and is a product of its native, mediterranean climate. Keep this is mind as during dormancy the care needed to keep the plant alive changes.
The size of the container you need depends on how many of the saffron corms you’re planting. For a small crop, go with a standard clay potter that is about 6” in diameter. It will also need to be at least 8 inches deep to give the roots room to grow.
The only other requirement is proper drainage. Make sure your chosen container has multiple drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. This is important because saffron doesn’t like sitting in overly moist soil. You can also add an inch of small pebbles to the bottom of the container to further promote good drainage.
Saffron hates soil that is too wet, so you need to use soil that is well-draining to prevent the roots from rotting. A standard potting mix is a good option, though you can also create your own. Use a mixture of potting soil, coarse sand, and milled peat, using equal parts of each to give the saffron the nutrients and drainage it needs to thrive.
Once you remove the saffron container from its after-planting cold area, you need to start watering. Knowing when to do this can be tricky since too much water can rot saffron’s roots while too little moisture risks killing the roots and eventually the plant.
For the best results, flood the soil, letting any excess moisture flow out of the container’s drainage holes. Then let the soil dry out almost completely before adding more water. Continue this cycle until summer, when the plant goes back into its dormant cycle. Depending on your environment, it’s not unusual to water once only 1-2 weeks.
Saffron Light Needs
During its growing season, saffron needs a minimum of 8 hours of direct sunlight every day. Place it near a south- or west-facing window if possible. You can even place the pot outside during the summer and move it back in during the colder months of the year if needed. Then, in the spring, when the plant goes back into its dormant cycle, you can reduce the amount of light it receives, as well as its water supply.
Getting the proper light is essential to growing a harvestable plant. If you can’t hit the 8 hours of direct light then using a grow light is a must. This can be tricky, as saffron’s growing season is during the cooler months where sunlight is often less intense.
Once out of its dormant stage, saffron prefers somewhat warm temperatures, though it can handle cooler temperatures if needed. Keep them in an area that is 70 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, though do not exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. If saffron is too warm, its growth will be accelerated, resulting in spindly, floppy foliage.
Saffron doesn’t need humidity to thrive, so you don’t need to worry about misting the plant or keeping a humidifier nearby. The moisture it gets from watering the soil will be more than enough to keep this plant happy.
Outside of its growing season, saffron is extremely hardy. It can survive temperatures below 0, so can safely be moved to cooler parts of your home to save space if needed.
As long as you use nutrient-rich potting soil, you likely won’t need to use fertilizer for saffron. This plant does fine without it in most cases. If you feel as though it can use some extra help, you can add fertilizer once a year, though be sure to use one with very little nitrogen. Too much of this and your saffron will end up growing more leaves and fewer flowers. A balanced blend of 10-10-10 fertilizer is a good option. Apply this at the start of the growing season in early fall.
The edible part of the saffron plant is the stigmas in the flowers, which are long thread-like pieces. Each flower should contain three of these. The day the flower blooms, snip it from the stem and use tweezers to remove the stigmas. You can also pick the stigmas without clipping the flowers if you wish to preserve their beauty, but this is often more difficult. If going this route, it’s best to harvest around noon on a sunny day when the blooms are freshly opened.
Lay the clipped stigmas on a paper towel to dry, then store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to use them. Then trim back the foliage to allow the plant to grow and flower again. Each plant may flower up to three times during its growing season, providing you with multiple stigmas each year.
Each saffron crocus corm can produce flowers for up to 15 years, as long as they are well cared for. Each year, they also produce additional corms. Every 4 to 5 years, you can gently separate these from the main ones for more saffron plants. Be sure to plant the new corms right away since these little bulbs don’t store well.
Growing Saffron Indoors
Saffron can be a bit tricky to grow, but it’s well worth the effort. Having this pricy herb on hand can help save your and your family a lot of money, and make this exotic herb accessible to more people. If you’re a saffron fan, growing it indoors is a great way to have fun and save money.
Growing Saffron Indoors FAQ
Is Saffron Difficult To Grow?
Saffron has some particular care needs that make it tricky but not overly difficult. Make sure to understand its needs and growth cycle as it is a bit different than many other plants you might have grown.
How Much is Saffron Worth?
While its price changes it is always very expensive. It tends to range from about $5,000 to $10,000 per pound making it expensive regardless of the price. This is largely due to its time consuming harvest process and low crop yields per plant.
How Much Do You Water Saffron?
Saffron does not like overly wet soil, so you should wait until it completely dries out between waterings. This can be as infrequent as once per week and even less in some cases.