14 April 2012


I've been trying to grow saffron for about 10 years. I started with some small, 1 centimetre bulbs in a mesh pack that cost about $3 each from a domestic nursery. Not having any experience with them, I tried thm in a pot. They sprouted leaves, grew, and died back in spring, just like they were supposed to, but never a flower. I persisted for a few years, with only one flower. I came home from a trip, and Ms T remarked that 'that pot of saffron had this lovely purple flower on it, but it died off' - my only chance to harvest three saffron threads, gone.
I kept growing them, supplementing my stock with the occasional purchase when i saw them for sale, planing them, removing them every spring to store the bulbs, replanting every autumn, getting more daughter bulbs, but I never got any bigger than about 15mm across, and no more flowers. Then a couple of years ago I posted on the Ozgrow forum, and one member had a source for good saffron - he was amazed that i had been paying $3 a bulb - he could get them wholesale for $1 each. I ordered a hundred, and got these huge 3 cm diameter bulbs - fantastic. So last year I dedicated a whole bed in the vege garden, and picked maybe a dozen flowers - 36 saffron threads, a king's ransom! But even better, from my 90 big fat bulbs ( I gave 10 away) I harvested about 70 big bulbs, the same number of 2 cm bulbs, and several hundred daughter bulbs. I started dreaming of a saffron farm....

Digging them up every year is problematic. They have no chance to establish big productive clumps, so the chances of a useful harvest are slim. But where to put a permanent bed? Sunny spots in the backyard are at a premium, and the house shades some of the beds in winter. A thin curving bed beside the clothes line had nothing in it, and probably gets enough sun. Done!

Planting depth is also critical for saffron flower production - deep planting gives less daughters, but more flowers. Some of the suggested planting depths in the literature are daunting - 25 cm, for a 3 cm diameter bulb sounds excessive. But saffron climbs through the soil over several years - I think daughter bulbs are produced above the mother, so over the space of 4 or 5 years the bulbs can become much shallower, reducing the flower crop.

So I undertook a trial - the bulbs have been planted in consecutive short rows - 3cm bulbs, 2 cm bulbs, 1 cm bulbs, at 3 different depths in each row - 20cm, 15 cm, 10 cm. I planted on the 18th of March, and picked the first flowers this morning, 14th of April. It will be  interesting to see where the most blooms emerge.

You can see the filaments of saffron emerging from the flowers in these pictures. Now I need to figure out a way to dry them at optimum temperature. Recent research at the University of Tasmania indicates high humidity drying (?) at around 80C - 90C is optimum for preservation of flavours and aromas.


  1. Hi Templeton,
    Thanks for your insights. 18 months ago I bought 6 saffron bulbs and planted them in a pot. Two seaons now and no flowers (just like you). I now have 20 bulbs.
    Am waiting to hear what the results of your experiment are re bulb size and planting depth.

    Hobart, Tasmania.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Gordon.
    Of the saffron I harvested this year, which was only a dozen or so flowers, all came from large bulbs, spread over a range of depths. Of the small bulbs planted deep, about a third failed to emerge, and the rest are looking particularly thin clumps. My suggestion would be to not plant small bulbs deep!
    Some other research I read indicated that late planted bulbs produce less flowers, and transposing dates from the northern hemisphere, it looks like planting sometime in midsummer is the go.
    How big are your bulbs? Good ones are about the size of a 20 cent or 50 cent piece ($A).
    And thanks for my first comment - thought I was blogging into a vacuum...

  3. Hi Templeton,
    When I bought the bulbs they were no bigger than a 10c piece. I obviously wasn't expecting flowers the first year. I left them in the pot last summer expecting to see flowers this autumn. The first leaves appeared Anzac day. But again no flowers.
    I'll take out the bulbs this xmas and see whether they have grown any bigger. I'll put them in a bigger pot next autumn (late March?)at 12cm depth and see what happens.
    From what I've read it seems that the flowers appear pretty early, almost as soon as the first leaves. Is this your experience?

    1. Yep, the flowers come almost with the first leaves, or a week or so after. I grew out bulbs for about 7 years in pots waiting for flowers, and only got flowers when I bit the bullet and sacrificed a few metres of vege garden bed. A really nice spot, lots of sun, a rich bed. I've dedicated a bed now, and will let them stay in the same spot for a few years.Big fat bulbs are also the key i reckon.

  4. Hi Templeton, I just dug up my bulbs from their 30cm pot after 2 years. The original bulbs I bought have not grown at all!! They are still smaller than a 10cent piece. The daughter bulbs are smaller than a 5 cent piece. That is all very strange. I would expect bulbs to get bigger with time until they reach their full size. Clearly there's more to growing saffron than other bulbs.

    Looks like I will have to go to the local bulb farm and buy direct. Come January I will plant into a larger 45cm pot.

  5. Gordon, send me an email, I can get some to you.

  6. Hi Templeton,
    In January I bought 10 large saffron bulbs from Vogelvry Bulbs at Salamanca Market. They had a huge box of them for sale. I planted them in my large pot about a month ago. First flower appeared on Anzac Day. Three flowers so far and more plants still coming up. So the lesson is clear. Only buy large bulbs.

    How are your saffron going?



    1. Hi Gordon.
      I planted mine a year ago, and left them in the ground over summer. When i planted, i used a range of depths and bulb sizes.
      About half of the ones i left in one bed have re-emerged this year. This bed only gets a few hours of sun in winter, and hasn't flowered particularly well.
      The other bed which half a day's sun has produced flowers on about 50% of the plants. They seem to have stopped, but were flowering for about 10 days. Some plants that were a single bulb are now multiple clumps in their second year, and the best produced 3 flowers per clump. Now all i have to master is the drying technique - I've got the blooms stored in the freezer while i do a bit more research.
      thanks for the reply, and good luck with the big bulbs.