A Guide to Growing Fritillaria BulbsGet tips for planting, caring for, and using these unique and showy spring-flowering bulbs.
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.
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4-9, but may vary depending on the species
Full sun to partial shade
8 to 48 inches tall
Shades of white, yellow, orange, red, or purple, some with bicolored patterns
Grassy or strap-like, usually medium green or gray-green
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.
Woodland gardens, mixed borders, naturalizing, rock gardens, containers
HOW TO PLANT FRITILLARIA BULBS
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 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.
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.
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.
Add bulb fertilizer to the soil when planting, and apply a low-nitrogen fertilizer when the leaves begin to emerge in early spring.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.