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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Growing Saffron in the Desert

Q. I live in Summerlin and I want to grow saffron crocus. Is our area suitable for the successful propagation of this plant? If so, can you tell me the best source for the sativus corms? I would like to plant in the early spring if possible.

Saffron crocus growing at the orchard
A. Yes, saffron will grow here and does quite well. Saffron, a type of crocus is in the iris family, is one of the most expensive spices in the world. It takes about 60,000 crocus flowers to make one pound of saffron. One of our volunteers began growing it successfully at the orchard a couple of years ago.

            There is no seed so propagation is by planting the bulb which is actually a corm much like a tulip bulb. Your best source for corms for planting will be online. Saffron crocus loves our alkaline desert soils, hot dry climate and mild winters. It does well in climates and soils that can grow pistachios.

            The bulbs of saffron should be planted in full sun in heavily composted desert soil with additions of your favorite phosphorus fertilizer. Planting should be about 4 inches deep and about 4 inches apart. They should be irrigated and mulched with light mulch such as straw. Lightly fertilize continuously through the season to increase bulb size so it can be further propagated.

            There are different levels of quality in saffron usually based on its color and taste. You can affect the quality of saffron by manipulating how it is grown. Grow it so it is “happy” and it will produce a good quality product.


  1. Did someone grow Saffron in Phoenix, AZ ?

  2. I have grown it in northern Afghanistan after there was some success with it in Western Afghanistan. There is enough chilling to cause the corm to vernalize each year. I would be concerned in Phoenix about having enough chilling hours. I think it would be fine in Tucson and colder climates but I dont know about Phoenix. In a nutshell, the corm needs to be at least 3/8 inch in diameter for it to be mature enough to flower and 300 to 400 chilling hours seems to be enough at that size.

    1. Hi Xtremehort. I'm thinking about growing saffron in Tuscon. My plan is plant after our summer monsoon rains a couple weeks into in September. Then when they go dormant in late spring, I'll dig them up and replant in September to skip our moist and humid summmers. How does that sound?

    2. It is definitely saffron climate. The major problem you will have are rains during harvest. I normally plant saffron corms in March/April and if the corm is large enough at planting...larger than 3/8 inch diameter...it will flower that fall. If you can plant them this spring you are better off.

    3. Won't they rot during the wet summer? That's the reason I'm avoiding July and August. I'm hoping they'll grow grow from september to april and flower in November.

    4. They will be fine. They grow in the heat of Harat and Mazar-e-Sharif Afghanistan and Iran. You don't want rain during harvest. I grew them in Afghanistan and Las Vegas with temperatures over 110F in both places.

    5. Wow cool. I'll definitely get some bulbs in the spring. :)