When to plant crocus bulbs - get the timing right for a glorious February display

A garden must-have if you want to treat yourself to pretty and reliable plants in February and March

Crocus in terracotta bowl
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As long as you know when to plant crocus bulbs, they will become a welcome arrival every February and March.

Cute crocuses are some of the first flowers to bloom in the springtime so ideal for adding a splash of colour to the garden after the long, grey winter season. They’re a boon not just for garden borders but look cute in container garden ideas, add a whoosh of colour to window boxes and happily naturalise in lawns. 

Happy in full sun or partial shade, and in all kinds of soils, from gritty and poor to moderately fertile, they will reliably appear year after year. Annelise Brilli, a horticultural expert at Thompson & Morgan explains that 'Crocus are reliable, hardy bulbs that will happily spread each year, forming natural colonies with no effort.'

Crocus blooms have small pretty petals and come in purple, white, yellow, or striped colours, with new variants such as ‘Cream Beauty’ offering elegant touches of luscious creams and apricot to the spring season.

Annelise Brilli
Annelise Brilli

Annelise Brilli is a horticultural expert and blogger for flowers, plants and seed company Thompson and Morgan. Annelise caught the gardening bug from her mother, whose tiny backyard was crammed with a huge collection of plants. As an adult, she had a career change – she used to work for a housing association - into horticulture, gaining a training apprenticeship with the National Trust at Powis Castle Garden in Welshpool.

She went on to work in a range of private and public gardens, later running a garden design and maintenance business. She is passionate about sustainable gardening and has developed her own wildlife-friendly garden which she has opened as part of Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail.

When to plant crocus bulbs

The best time to plant spring bulbs is similar to the timing for crocus bulbs as they're an early spring plant. Get it right and you’ll be guaranteed a lovely show every springtime.

When to plant crocus bulbs in borders

Aim to plant your crocus bulbs in borders about six to eight weeks before winter arrives in force. A cheerful display of crocuses is definitely one of our early spring favourite easy garden ideas, but don’t leave it too late.

Purple crocus in lawn

(Image credit: Getty Images)

'To ensure a successful display of crocus flowers, the right planting timings and techniques are crucial,' says Claire Hooper, plant area manager for Hillier Garden Centres. 'The best season for planting crocus bulbs in the ground is autumn, typically between August and December because the cooler weather allows the bulbs to establish their roots well before the ground hardens and freezes.'

 If you’re keen on naturalising crocus in your lawn, grab a friend says Sarah Raven: 'The job of planting is much quicker with two people. You’ll need a bucket of spent compost (or grit on heavy soil) and a bucket of crocuses. One person has the compost, the other the crocus bulbs. 

'Punching 20 or 30 holes in the grass (saving the soil plugs to cover them over later), stand back and check that distribution is natural. Then start planting the bulbs, popping half an inch of your compost in the hole, and half an inch on top of every crocus bulb you pop in. Then replace the soil plugs and water everything in well.'

When to plant crocus bulbs in containers

Follow the same timing rules as borders when you’re planting crocus bulbs as a container. But remember to check containers have adequate drainage to prevent water-logging – and freezing, which may harm your crocus bulbs over winter. However, Annelise reminds us that there are also, autumn flowering species, which should be planted in late summer/early autumn.

Crocus bulbs are relatively small, around 4-5cm across, so they’re ideal to pop into even the smallest of containers. 'Dig small holes approximately 10cm deep and space them around 8cm apart,' advises Claire. 'Position the bulb within the hole with its pointed end facing upwards and gently cover the bulb with soil, ensuring it's securely in place before giving it a thorough watering.'

Crocus in terracotta bowl

(Image credit: Getty)

Gardener Sarah Raven likes experimenting with different varieties of crocus bulbs in containers every year – 'it’s a good way of working out which ones you really like before you decide to put hundreds into your garden or grass.' She also recommends bringing blooming bowls of crocuses indoors: 'They make a lovely table centrepiece, and inside, in the warm, they open up fully, performing like a party trick.'

sarah raven headshot
Sarah Raven

Since the publication of her first book, ‘The Cutting Garden,’ in 1996, Sarah has led the way in introducing a new kind of productive gardening. Her aim, to create intense colour and beauty, combined with a practical and easy-to-achieve approach.

Her popular gardening podcast ‘grow, cook, eat, arrange’ has achieved 2.6 million downloads. She’s published 12 books and runs sarahraven.com, which services over 600,000 customers.


How late can you plant crocus bulbs in the UK?

Definitely before Christmas, says Annelise. 'Ideally you need to finish planting your bulbs by November. The warmer and more free-draining your site is, the longer you can delay planting.'

Can you leave crocus bulbs in the ground all year?

Always planted at the front or under late-arriving shrubs so their delicate miniature forms can be properly appreciated, crocus are an excellent no-fuss garden border idea. And once planted, with the right kind of care, they will flourish in the ground for years. 

'Crocus bulbs are typically winter hardy, but in the face of severe weather conditions, it's advisable to apply a layer of mulch,' says Claire. 'Mulch serves a dual purpose, conserving soil moisture and regulating soil temperature, and crocuses welcome this.'

 You should also keep an eye out for pesky mice, adds Sarah, as they are particularly partial to crocus bulbs and like to dig them up.

Do crocus bulbs come back every year?

Yes, crocus bulbs will come back every year if you follow a few simple maintenance tips. 'Allow the foliage to wither and die back naturally before removing it, as this helps the bulbs store energy for the next growing season,' says Claire. 

'If your crocuses remain in the ground – and there’s really no reason to dig them up - a dose of fertiliser in early spring can keep them robust and blooming beautifully.'

If you get the timing for this charming plant just right it will become one of the prettiest and most reliable features in your garden this spring.

Jayne Dowle

Jayne Dowle is an award-winning freelance gardening, homes and property writer who writes about everything from swimming ponds to skyscraper apartments, for publications including Sunday Times Home, Times Bricks & Mortar, Grand Designs, House Beautiful and The Spectator. Awarded the Garden Journalist of the Year accolade at the Property Press Awards in 2021, she has a degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Oxford and a lifelong love of homes, interiors and gardens.