In terms of raw ingredients, saffron is known to be one of the most expensive in the world. Yet this beautiful flower can be added to a wealth of dishes to provide a delicious flavour and intense yellow hue.
Commonly used in rice and dessert dishes, saffron is incredibly popular. But owing to its hefty price tag, many people are reluctant to splash out on it. But could there be another way? Can you grow saffron in the UK?
Saffron was originally cultivated in Greece, but over the years, its growth has spread across the Middle East and out to India. One would therefore think that saffron needs relatively warm conditions to thrive but in reality, this is a flower that can be grown in the UK thanks to its hardiness.
But there is much more to growing saffron than simply popping it in the ground and hoping for the best. In this guide, we will be looking at some handy tips to get the best crop of saffron possible on UK soil.
What Is Saffron?
Saffron is a spice with a bright orange/yellow colour and a musky, aromatic flavour. It is taken from a type of purple crocus flower that produces these orangey/red stigmas.
The threads can then be ground and mixed with water and salt to create a potent mixture that perfectly compliments a variety of foods. Some would say that wherever vanilla might be used, saffron can be a luxurious alternative.
Can You Grow Saffron In The UK?
Saffron originates from much warmer climates where farmers handpick each thread in intense labour of love. For this reason, the spice is worth more than its weight in gold! While some may see this as a luxury, others may feel that it is an unnecessary strain on their bank balance and would far prefer to grow saffron in their own gardens.
But the UK’s unpredictable weather makes it difficult to grow most exotic plants with any sort of success. Fortunately, saffron is not one of them.
The saffron crocus is an amazingly hardy little flower that, whilst small, can withstand the extremes of temperature that we get here in the UK. Even during the cold of winter and the height of summer, these little purple flowers power through.
Where Should I Grow Saffron?
One of the greatest things about saffron is that it doesn’t need to be grown in a greenhouse so if you don’t have one, you’ll still be able to try your hand at growing this little beauty. However, gardeners must ensure that their saffron receives a good amount of sun as this plant doesn’t like to be kept in the shade.
In terms of where in your garden you can plant the saffron crocus, your options are wide open. These plants will thrive just as well in a flower bed as they would when planted in a container on the patio, as long as the growing conditions are right, they should fare rather well.
While harvested saffron stigmas can sell for more than £10 a gram, according to the Daily Mail, buying the bulbs or seeds is surprisingly affordable. They can be picked up at specialist suppliers for as little as £3.99 for ten bulbs or on internet marketplaces like Amazon for just as good a price.
One of the first things that you will need to consider is the type of soil that you will plant the bulbs in. While the saffron crocus is a hardy plant, it does need to have the right conditions if you want it to thrive; after all, everything has its limits.
The Best Soil For Saffron
The best soil to use is one that is well-draining and offers excellent ventilation. Rich soils with an earthy quality will likely yield the best results. Furthermore, you will need to think about the moisture level; saffron flowers do not need a lot of water and gardeners would do well to water them just once every few weeks.
In some cases, you may find that they still don’t need a drink at this point. It is important to use your initiative and water the flowers when they begin to look as though they need it.
Placing The Bulbs
Regardless of how many bulbs you intend to plant, space is one of the most crucial things to consider so always make sure that you have enough room for each bulb to grow unhindered. The bulbs should be at least six inches apart and should be placed at a depth of around four to five inches.
Saffron bulbs should be planted at the back end of spring as we move into summer. However, they won’t be ready to harvest until autumn when a stunning bloom will suddenly make an appearance.
If you are looking to harvest a significant amount of saffron, then you’ll need to be willing to plant a lot of bulbs. In order to get just one tablespoon of the spice, you would need around 60 flowers. In the first year of growth, your crop may not be as impressive but in most cases, the second year will produce double the amount of flowers.
How To Harvest Saffron
When saffron farmers harvest their crops, they put in a lot of time and dedication to this delicate work. This is what boosts the price of the spice; the farmers simply cannot meet public demand as easily as they would if they were harvesting, say, potatoes. So when you are growing saffron in your garden at home, you will need to be willing to put in just as much effort.
Harvesting can be done around October, depending on when you planted your bulbs you may need to give or take a week or two. Being heavy-handed won’t benefit you here and the best way to extract the stigmas is to use a pair of tweezers to gently pull away from the filaments. If you don’t have tweezers, it is possible to do it using your nails but we cannot stress enough that you must take a delicate approach.
After you have harvested your saffron, you will need to dry it out. The optimal temperature for doing this is around 15ºc and the saffron should be placed in the room for around twenty minutes.
After this, it will be ready for use in all of your favourite dishes. However, if you don’t want to use it right away, you can store it in an airtight container where it will keep for as long as six months.
A Note About Problems With Saffron
As we have mentioned, saffron can put up with quite a lot when it comes to weather and temperature. However, there are some things that affect this plant and it is important that you are aware of how to manage any problems.
Most commonly, this type of crocus can be affected by violet root rot as well as fusarium. This can rot your plant beyond recognition and if you spot the signs, it is vital that you remove the bulbs and plant them in a different area. The things to look out for are strange or uncommon growth as well as parts of the plant turning brown.
While saffron originally comes from Greece, the Middle East and India, this hardy plant can be easily grown in the UK. However, before getting started, you must make sure that you provide your saffron crocuses with the right conditions which include rich soil, a good amount of sunlight and enough space to thrive.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Plant your saffron bulbs in a place where they will be in full sun!”
“For best results, plant your saffron bulbs in the late spring/ early summer!”
“Use tweezers to remove the filaments as they are so small!”
“Do not overwater your saffron, they do not need as much water as other flowers!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you grow saffron in the UK?
Considering that saffron was originally from Greece and also grows in the middle-east, saffron grows particularly well in the UK. They do not like to be over-watered and fair best in full sun. Plant them in late spring for a healthy crop.
Does saffron grow back every year?
Saffron are flowers that will reappear every year due to the bulbs that are grown underground out of sight. Ensure that your saffron isn’t cut back and allowed to with and die on its own to enable the bulb as much time to grow as possible.
How long does it take to grow saffron?
On average, saffron takes around 7 weeks to grow although in some cases, this has been known to be as little as 4 and as much as 10 depending on the conditions.
Hi, I’m Trev and I’ve been growing things since I can remember. When I was younger, I grew up on a farm, so I have always been around plants and animals. After studying horticulture at university, I decided to start my own nursery which I have run now for 25 years. In my spare time, I run this website – which is a resource for people who want to learn more about their gardens.