This year, crocuses have been popping up in places that they haven’t planted or popped up before. Even though the flowers are a sweet surprise, they have left many Mainers scratching their heads as to where they came from.
Warm winters, drought and even squirrels could take credit for the burst of flowers.
Cassandra Wallace spotted crocuses in her yard in Bangor in late March despite the fact that she had never grown crocuses or seen them in her yard during the four years she has lived at her current residence.
“We have a few flower gardens that were already established on the property and I have a vegetable garden,” Wallace said. “They showed up in one of the few flower-free spots in my yard, right where some raspberry bushes usually grow.”
Wallace said that since her raspberry bushes haven’t been producing well, she cut them back to give the crocuses some space. The flowers are still thriving, too.
“The ones that haven’t blossomed yet are stalling a bit because of the cold weather we’ve had lately, but the blossomed ones still look great,” Wallace said.
Further south, Kelli Keliehor noticed several clusters in her yard in Buxton. She has lived at the property for around three years and has noticed crocuses before, but never the flush of flowers she is experiencing this year.
“There have always been a few crocuses but this year they seem to be really prolific,” Keliehor said. “In the small yard where the crocuses have popped up, there is an established flower bed and an empty raised bed. They are popping up in the grassy lawn area primarily.”
What is causing these crocuses?
Understanding the boom in crocus blooms starts with the way that they reproduce. Crocuses reproduce in two ways: through seeds, and asexually through corms, a tuber-like formation at the bottom of the plant that helps it store nutrients and will propagate clusters of additional crocuses around the parent plant.
Caleb Goossen, organic crop and conservation specialist at the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, said that while asexual reproduction is more common for crocuses, the recent boom might be due to seeds finally maturing.
“That next generation that grows from seed takes three to five years to grow from that flower,” Goossen said. “Maybe three to five years ago, there were particularly good conditions that allowed them to flower [and] set seeds.”
Heron Breen, research and development coordinator at Fedco Seeds, said that while crocuses don’t usually bloom this time of year because the soil is too cold, the last few years of warm winters in Maine may have also aided in crocus germination.
“It might be allowing crocus seeds to [germinate] better and creating that lawn spread that we don’t get a lot of because of the deep, hard cold that we get,” Goossen said.
The dry summer last year also could have caused some die off in lawns that left space for crocuses. Reduced use of herbicides could also have provided the crocuses with the conditions to poke through.
“Their greatest competitor here is grass,” Breen said. “The grass competition wasn’t really high last year because of it being naturally dry. It could be that the drought last year combined with mild winters might have combined to create the perfect germinating conditions.”
Another possible culprit, especially for Mainers who are seeing only one or two crocuses, is that squirrels could have dug up and replanted crocus corms.
“We’ve had crazy squirrel populations in the last few years,” Breen said. “I’ve never actually seen them do this but I’ve heard people say that squirrels are really eating the heck out of my crocuses. I suspect that they’re doing some work to plant them just like they would do anything like acorns.”
However, squirrels alone are unlikely to shoulder the full responsibility. Goossen said that crocuses tend to be fairly toxic, so most squirrels will avoid them.
“Although I love the squirrel concept, I just can’t imagine squirrels planting enough of these to go crazy,” Breen added.
How to care for crocuses
For gardeners who like the surprised additions to their yard, it is easy to care for and transplant crocuses so that they will come back again next year.
“You can definitely do that effectively,” Goossen said. “You would want to wait for the corm to go dormant. Let the leaves die back, [then] late summer into the fall would be a good time to dig it up and move it where you want it to go. Keep track [of it] until then. It’s flowering now, put a flag next to it.”
Breen said that in Maine, crocuses prefer shady spots under trees.
“If you plant them at the periphery or edge of the lawn where there’s less grass competition they’ll start their process of spreading,” he explained. “Keeping your grass really short, keeping it from being really thick tends to help the spread.”
Also, Breen said to limit or stop the use of herbicides and fertilizers in your lawn.
“There’s often something [in it] that kills everything but grass,” Breen said.
Keliehor said that she was able to transplant crocuses in front of one of her raised beds.
“The relocated ones appear to be doing well but it has only been a couple of weeks,” Keliehor said. “I love them, as they are an early pollinator for the bees which have been struggling in recent years.”