Some years, spring seems to tease out its transition for weeks and months. It plays cat and mouse with the winter chill, wanting to stay, but receding under another few inches of snow. Other years, we all wake up one morning with temperatures in the 60s and sunny skies and we never look back to winter. In these years of starkest contrast are when our honeybees take off quickly before we can get a handle on what they need. Usually, nature has a way of knowing, and she usually begins with the crocus.
A member of the iris family, the crocus comes in a rainbow of colors including violet, gold and white. Crocuses are considered perennials in most regions, which means, once planted, they’ll return year after year. For spring flowering, they usually must be planted in the fall, and their bulbs overwinter. Some do flower in the autumn. Some also can be planted late winter, in regions where the winters is mild and the ground is thawed. In the spring, crocuses pop up with little to no help from the gardener. They’re eager, too; sometimes you’ll see them burst through a layer of snow, begging winter to succumb to spring. The crocus grows easily in agricultural zones 3 through 8, and they will bloom through the early spring months with little fertilizer.
To start your crocus garden, first determine your planting zone to know when to plant bulbs. Next, find a sunny location for planting (though crocuses will tolerate partial sun), and then purchase bulbs from a reputable company. If you need help with visual orientation, try mapping out where you’ll plant your bulbs and which colors you’ll place in which locations. Crocuses are lovely along the edges of lawns, offering a pop of color for the gardener and neighbors, while at the same time offering a food source to bees in an otherwise floral food wasteland. Once in the ground, crocuses can be moved, but the beauty in growing a perennial flower garden is that you don’t have to. So choose a spot wisely and then leave them be.
Be sure your planting area has garden soil that drains well. Crocus bulbs should be planted about 4 inches apart and 4 inches deep, with the pointed end of the bulb facing up. Plant a cluster of a dozen bulbs or so in one location—large clusters of flowers are best to attract bees and provide them with ample food sources. Remember, when planting for bees, group the same flowers together in bunches several feet wide if possible—the more, the better.