Crown Imperial fritillaria flowers. Photo by: Flower_Garden / Shutterstock

Many gardeners fall head over heels for Fritillaria, and it’s easy to understand their adoration. In a spring garden full of daffodils, tulips, and other conventional spring bloomers, these exotic-looking plants stand apart from the rest. From the captivating patterned blooms of the checkered lily (F. meleagris) to the stately crown imperial’s (F. imperialis) tufted tiara of bell-shaped flowers, fritillaries bring their own distinct personality to spring flowerbeds and containers.

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care | Fritillaria Varieties

On this page:

BASICS

Botanical name:

Fritillaria spp.

Zones:

4-9, but may vary depending on the species

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade

Bloom time:

April, May

Height:

8 to 48 inches tall

Flower color:

Shades of white, yellow, orange, red, or purple, some with bicolored patterns

Foliage:

Grassy or strap-like, usually medium green or gray-green

Types:

There are more than 100 species of Fritillaria, most of them native to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The tallest and most attention-getting varieties include the crown imperial (F. imperialis) and the Persian lily (F. persica), both of which bear flowers on an upright stalk growing to a height of 3 feet or more. Lower-growing selections (under a foot tall) include Michael’s flower (F. michailovskyi) and checkered lily (F. meleagris), which are characterized by arching stems of dainty bell-shaped flowers.

Uses:

Woodland gardens, mixed borders, naturalizing, rock gardens, containers

HOW TO PLANT FRITILLARIA BULBS

Fritillaria bulbs. Photo by: Olhandra / Shutterstock

When to plant:

Late summer or early fall. Fritillary bulbs are more perishable than most fall-planted bulbs, so they should be put in the soil soon after they are purchased.

Where to plant:

Fritillaries can be exacting in their cultivation requirements, particularly when it comes to moisture and soil conditions. Some species grow best in well-drained, sandy soil and bright sunlight while others require moisture-retentive soil and dappled shade. Check the growing requirements of each species carefully to identify those that will thrive in your garden.

Note: All parts of the crown imperial have a skunky odor that can be unpleasant at close range, so this plant is best positioned at the back of the border and away from pathways. Or place it among tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs to fend off rabbits, deer, squirrels, and other pests.

Soil conditions:

Soil requirements vary, but most fritillaries prefer rich, well-draining soil high in organic matter. Some species are especially vulnerable to rot caused by wet soil and will benefit from the addition of some sand to improve drainage.

Planting depth and spacing:

Plant the large bulbs of crown imperial and Persian lily about 6 to 7 inches deep and 8 to 10 inches apart. The bulbs of smaller species can go in shallower holes 3 inches deep at a spacing of 3 to 4 inches. Note that crown imperial bulbs have natural depressions on top where water can collect. Placing the bulbs sideways in their planting holes will make them less vulnerable to rotting.

Propagation:

Divide the bulbs after the foliage has died back to the ground in midsummer by loosening the soil and carefully separating the smaller bulbs from the parent. Store the divided bulbs in a cool, dark area until you are ready to plant them in the fall.

FRITILLARIA CARE

Watering:

Water well in the fall after planting and in spring when plants are actively growing (about an inch of water per week). Most fritillaries like dry conditions when they are dormant.

Fertilizing:

Add bulb fertilizer to the soil when planting, and apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer when the leaves begin to emerge in early spring.

Cutting back:

After blooming has finished for the season, you can remove the spent flowers, but don’t cut your plants back to the ground until the foliage turns completely yellow. While the leaves are still green they will continue to gather energy from sunlight to be stored in the bulb for next year's flowers.

Pests and problems:

Fritillaries are relatively trouble-free, but because they are members of the lily family (Liliaceae), they’re vulnerable to damage by the scarlet lily beetle, which will feast on the foliage and flowers. The best methods of eradication include removing the beetles by hand as soon as you spot them or by applying a botanical insecticide, such as neem oil. The foliage may also be susceptible to rust and leaf spot.

FRITILLARIA VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: imageBroker / Shutterstock

Crown Imperial
Fritillaria imperialis

Zones: 4-8
Height: 3 to 4 feet tall
Bloom time: April to May
Growing requirements: Well-drained, sandy soil. Full sun. Highly susceptible to rot in wet soil.

Cultivars to try: ‘Rubra Maxima’ (orange-red flowers, pictured), 'Lutea Maxima' (lemon-yellow flowers), 'Aureomarginata' (variegated leaves), ‘Aurora’ (burnt-orange flowers)

The biggest and boldest, wearing a crown of bright flowers topped by spiky foliage, similar to the leaves of a pineapple.

Photo by: aniana / Shutterstock

Michael's Flower
F. michailovskyi

Zones: 5-8
Height: 4 to 8 inches tall
Bloom time: April to May
Growing requirements: Intolerant of wet soil; requires dry conditions when dormant.

An unusual and striking dwarf fritillary, flaunting charming bell-shaped maroon flowers with golden-yellow tips and dark red interiors. This compact plant is a good choice for rock gardens and naturalizing.

Photo by: Olha Solodenko / Shutterstock

Checkered Lily
F. meleagris

Zones: 3-8
Height: 10 to 12 inches tall
Bloom time: Mid-spring
Growing requirements: Best in moist soil and light shade; do not allow to dry out completely in summer.

Checkered lily (also called guinea-hen flower and snake's-head fritillary) is nature’s checkerboard. The nodding blooms dangle from arching stems above slender gray-green leaves. It will naturalize readily in moist woodland or meadow gardens to form large sweeps of color.

Photo by: Danita Delimont / Shutterstock

Persian Lily
F. persica

Zones: 5-8
Height: 1 to 3 feet tall
Bloom time: Mid to late spring
Growing requirements: Prefers sandy, rocky soils and hot, dry sites with full sun. Prone to rot if kept wet, particularly over winter.

Cultivars to try: ‘Ivory Bells’ (pictured), which has flowers that emerge with a greenish cast and mature to creamy white.

Each plant bears dozens of pendulous blooms, set off by striking gray-green foliage. The flowers are incredibly long-lasting and will retain their beauty for weeks.

Photo by: Ritvars / Shutterstock

Siberian Fritillaria
F. pallidiflora

Zones: 4-9
Height: 18 to 24 inches tall
Bloom time: Mid to late spring
Growing requirements: Prefers rich, well-draining soil and light shade.

The creamy yellow blooms of this Asian species are accented with green veining and reddish-brown freckles. Silvery green leaves create a lovely backdrop for the large, pendant flowers.

RELATED:
Top 20 Spring-Blooming Bulbs
The Best Summer Bulbs to Grow

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