How to plant fritillaria bulbs?

by Erin Marissa Russell

Once you’ve seen a checkered lily flower’s geometric markings, it’s easy to tell where this stunning flower got its name. Marching lines of squares cover each bell-shaped bloom of the fritillaria meleagris, arranged like mosaic tile in an array of alternating shades. The checkerboard effect comes from the blossom’s high-contrast hues, which set a deep, velvety burgundy against pale, papery white. However, we’re betting most readers haven’t had the chance to see one of these beauties yet, at least not in person. That’s why you should learn to grow the checkered lily in your own flower garden this year. Although this bewitching perennial isn’t fussy when it comes to care, the checkered lily isn’t part of nearly enough gardens yet.

Perhaps that’s because fritillaria meleagris is native to Europe, where swaths of them carpet the flood plains and dot woodlands with color. The UK-based Royal Horticultural Society bestowed it with the Award of Garden Merit, which is an honor reserved for plants that perform reliably for gardeners. The checkered lily’s nodding, pendant-shaped blossoms, each about two inches tall, create a kaleidoscope effect when grouped thanks to their distinctive coloration and the checkerboard pattern on their petals. The beauty of this bloom, however, has a definite spooky edge.

Folklore traditions tie fritillaria meleagris to persecution, martyrdom of saints, the Sacred Heart of Christ, and to the Biblical character Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead. These associations may be due to the blood-red hue of its blooms. The Engish poet Vita Sackville-West gave the flower a fitting (and slightly macabre) description in her visually fueled botanical meditation Some Flowers, writing that “you can look right down into its depths, and see the queer semi-transparency of the strangely foreign, wine-colored chalice. It is a sinister little flower, sinister in its mournful colors of decay.”

However, it’s unlikely that decay will be the first thing you think of come midspring when you spy the checkered lily’s first blooms. Instead, you’ll be enchanted by the otherworldly fairytale feel this one-of-a-kind patterned flower can bring to your flowerbeds or containers. Fritillaria meleagris also makes an excellent choice for lawns or other grassy, naturalized areas if you’re looking for an untamed look. Because this hardy flower spreads easily from seed, in a natural setting it will proliferate and bring beauty year after year. Though it’s an aggressive multiplier, fear not, however—the checkered lily is not categorized as invasive.

Fritillaria meleagris blooms atop stems that grow 12 to 16 inches tall, with grassy, blade-shaped silver-green leaves spaced evenly along the slender stalk. In addition to the aforementioned burgundy and white, the checkered lily’s blossoms may also feature gray, tawny brown, or purple hues. A less common variety features white flowers with pale green patterns.

The checkered lily’s height makes it a dazzling choice to edge beds or line walkways. Even better, its delicate foliage doesn’t take up much space, leaving plenty of options (and space) for complementary or companion planting. If your soil has less than optimal drainage, this unique flower is an especially good choice, as it flourishes when supplied with plenty of moisture. Checkered lily even performs well under densely canopied trees—even black walnut trees— where other flowers may struggle due to deep shade and moist soil.

The checkered lily may be largely unknown in the U.S. simply because most American gardeners haven’t yet had the chance to experience the its charms. It’s time to change that right now. Read on to learn more about this showstopping flower—and you’ll find out why fritillaria meleagris is a smart pick to revitalize drab spots in flowerbeds, rock gardens, or flowerbed plots.

Varieties of Checkered Lily

The flower’s most common name, checkered lily, is interchangeable with its Latin botanical title, fritillaria meleagris. Guinea hen flower, checkerboard fritillary, and snake’s head fritillary are other common monikers for the checkered lily. In fact, this flower’s unique markings and shape clearly spark the imagination, as fritillaria meleagris has a litany of names based on its unusual appearance. These include chess flower, chequered daffodil, drooping tulip, frog cup, Lazarus bell, leper lily, meadow fritillary, widow’s wail, weeping widow, and sometimes solely the first word of the plant’s Latin name, fritillary. That said, not all fritillaria plants on the market are created equal, so there are a few more types you should know to avoid confusion or ending up with the wrong flower.

You’re likely to run across other fritillaria varieties because more than 200 exist. Another prevalent type is called fritillaria imperialis, with the nickname crown imperial. The Aurora and Rubra Maxima varieties showcase orange-red blossoms, and Lutea Maxima’s blooms are a sunny yellow. Fritillaria imperialis is a completely separate flower from fritillaria meleagris—one that’s vibrant and impressive in its own right. The two share a family resemblance when it comes to bloom shape and plant structure. Don’t confuse your meleagris with your imperialis, though—or the seeds you nurtured so attentively might open to reveal different blossoms than you looked forward to. Due to its skunklike odor, fritillaria imperialis isn’t a favorite for floral arrangements, despite its striking good looks.

The other widely cultivated fritillaria plant, fritillaria persica, is an unexpected garden addition known for its hues, which range from a warm chocolate brown to purple so dark it‘s almost black. This sophisticated fritillary crams up to 20 blossoms on each of its silvery stems, stacking them vertically on the stalk in the style of hollyhocks or gladiolus. Whichever fritillary you’re looking for, check online or catalog listings (or, in a nursery, the fine print on the seed packet or tag) to ensure you end up with the specimen you’re seeking. You can peruse the more than 200 types of fritillary flowers that exist at from the Alpine Garden Society.

Growing Conditions for Checkered Lily

In addition to its home in the UK, fritillaria meleagris will perform well in USDA zones three through eight. This easy-care lily is appropriate for containers or in spots ranging from full sun to half sun/half shade to full shade. However, it prefers shady areas dappled with sunlight or high, open shade, such as areas underneath trees. Select your location carefully, as the checkered lily doesn’t like to be moved once it’s planted, so bulbs should remain undisturbed if possible.

The soil where you’ll plant fritillaria meleagris should be loosened before you place the bulbs. Choose average, moist soil that’s loamy—or you can make your soil more to the checkered lily’s liking by adding upgraded black peat to the mix. Lots of organic matter will help your lilies to thrive, so you can add plenty of compost to the plot where they’ll grow if the soil isn’t already a deep, rich black. Mulch can be left on throughout the growing season if you like.

Don’t be too concerned with drainage. This flower loves moisture year-round and will happily drink up the water rain leaves in poorly draining areas. If you’re planting fritillaria melagris on a lawn or in another naturalized setting, you can rake off cut grass before you plant your bulbs to prevent the grass from competing too stiffly with your flowers.

Expect blooms in mid to late spring (around April), at the same time as daffodils and just before lily of the valley. Companion planting with annuals between the bulbs is recommended if you wish to avoid the bare spot left behind when the lilies go dormant.

How To Plant Checkered Lily

Plant your bulbs in early fall, and time your order carefully. You’ll want to get those bulbs in the ground as soon as they arrive to prevent them drying out or becoming moldy. Some bulbs may arrive with discoloration or spongy texture, but this is normal. The only cause for concern is if you receive bulbs that are so dry they’re powdery.

Plant in prepared soil at five inches deep, with 16 bulbs per square foot (or four to six inches between bulbs). You may choose to crowd the bulbs more closely if you’re going for a clustered look or when using containers. In this case, maintain the five-inch depth, but put no more than an inch between the bulbs. Whichever layout you choose, water well after planting.

Care for Checkered Lily

We’ve mentioned how much fritillaria meleagris loves moisture. Give these lilies what they love by keeping soil consistently moist. Don’t let off on hydration when plants go dormant, either. The soil should not be allowed to dry out regardless of the season.

The checkered lily’s foliage will begin to die back when the plants start going dormant in late spring. Allow this to happen naturally, and do not remove the foliage, as it will nourish the bulbs and encourage them to return next season. Let your plants set seed before mowing them, if desired, in late July. When you care for fritillaria meleagris well, it will multiply in number and come back year after year.

In fall when the bulbs are dormant, checkered lilies can be propagated by division. Every few years, dig up the bulbs and look them over to ensure their health. If extra bulbs have formed, carefully separate them. Replant the original bulbs as quickly as you can, and move newly propagated bulbs into the garden soil or container where they’ll stay. You can also harvest the tiny bulblets that form between the leaves of fritillaria melagris, but wait as long as possible to separate these bulblets from the stem and transplant them. Remember to choose your location carefully, as checkered lily thrives when it isn’t disturbed.

Garden Pests and Diseases of Checkered Lily

One perk of the checkered lily is that it’s not plagued by pests and disease. The plants are resistant to deer and squirrels, and the slightly skunky odor the bulbs give off even repels field mice. Lily beetles are the only hazard you’ll need to keep an eye out for. Remove the beetles or larva by hand (wearing your gardening gloves , of course).

Videos About Checkered Lily

Scanning through for the basics? This intro to growing checkered lilies covers the highlights in just a minute and 25 seconds:

Whether you want to get the most bang for your metaphorical buck or are looking for tips on how to amp up the production of gorgeous blooms on checkered lilies you’re already tending, this video uses a troubleshooting approach to help you make the most of each bulb in your plot:

If you haven’t been lucky enough to witness the majesty of fritillaria meleagris in person (or if you just want a detailed visual reference), this short clip provides a nice view of a stand of checkerboard lily plants:

Want to Learn More About Checkered Lily?

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Iowa State University Extension covers Fritillaria

Missouri Botantical Garden covers Fritillaria Meleagris

Royal Horticultural Society covers Award of Garden Merit

Spring Hill Nurseries covers Checkered Lilies

The Telegraph covers Fritillaries, a Flower with the Power to Make You Gasp

White Flower Farm covers Fritillaria Meleagris

John Scheepers2020

Fritillaria Horticultural Tips

Deer- and rodent-resistant Fritillaria have ivory, yellow, green, plum or two-tone pendant, bell-shaped flowers on lithe wiry stems, or strong upright racemes. The degree of compaction between the pendant florets varies by variety. Varieties of Fritillaria persica have variable compaction of florets on their upright racemes. Available in diverse heights ranging from 8″ to 36″ tall and sizes, most of our Fritillaria were native to the western Himalayas and Asia Minor as far back as 1575. They prefer rich, well-draining neutral pH soil and filtered sunlight. A bit more finicky than other flower bulbs, these heirlooms don’t like being out of the soil, so plant them immediately upon receipt.

Heirloom Fritillaria
If you are looking for heirloom flower bulbs, you’ve hit the jackpot with Fritillaria.

1874 Fritillaria acmopetala
1590 Fritillaria imperialis Maxima Lutea
1590 Fritillaria imperialis Rubra Maxima
1575 Fritillaria meleagris
1575 Fritillaria meleagris Alba
1905 Fritillaria michailovskyi
1857 Fritillaria pallidiflora
1585 Fritillaria persica
1874 Fritillaria uva-vulpis

Horticultural Zone Hardiness
Each variety of Fritillaria has its own hardiness zone requirements that should be considered when selecting varieties for your garden. If your garden is in a horticultural zone that is either too cold or only marginally appropriate, you may want to apply no more than a 2″ layer of mulch after the ground surface freezes in the fall. The mulch should trap the cool temperatures into the soil, not warmth. Mulch helps to protect the bulbs from arctic temperature spikes. Good mulching mediums include straw, salt marsh hay or oak leaves. In the spring, you can loosen the mulch in the area in which the Fritillaria will be sprouting.

Bulb Inspection
Check your shipment against the packing slip and make sure that everything is as it should be. Occasionally, bags of smaller bulbs may be placed in the inner boxes of other bulbs to reduce jostling during shipment. If you can’t find something, open all of the inner boxes. If there is a discrepancy, please call us immediately so that we may resolve it with you. Since every bag or box of bulbs in your order has been scanned using its UPC barcode, we can usually tell you in which box each variety is located.

Inspect your bulbs carefully. We make every effort to ship you only healthy, firm, top quality bulbs.

Fritillaria bulbs look different from other types of flower bulbs like Tulips or Narcissi. It is natural for some types of bulbs to develop a transportation mold when they are exposed to oxygen. It is a natural gray-blue-green mold that occurs when they are exposed to air, and that disappears as soon as the bulbs are planted. The soil naturally wicks it away. If you prefer, you may spread the bulbs out in the sun, or brush it off with a paper towel although it is not necessary.

Little cuts, scars, discolored exteriors and dimples are normal marks from the flower bulb harvesting, cleaning and sizing processes in the Netherlands. Some bulbs may have a fully intact, papery skin while others have partial skins, and others may be skinless. The existence or condition of the skin has nothing to do with the performance of the bulb. The most important factor is the way that the bulb feels. As long as the bulb is firm, it is a good and viable bulb. Some bulbs may already have tiny baby bulbs developing on the basal plate (root base) of the bulb. Some bulbs may have existing roots, while others have none. Some bulbs are prettier than others, but you can rest assured that all of the flowers will be gorgeous!

Sometimes, you might find a large Fritillaria bulb that appears kind of flat on one side….like a big tear drop with a flat side. It appears like this because the strong woody stem of the Fritillaria came out after dying back in the spring, and the bulb was so huge that it split apart as it continued to grow. Rest assured that this split-apart is a perfectly wonderful bulb, it just looks different from other bulbs. Many times, with the larger Fritillaria bulbs, you might find a beautiful bulb with a hole in the top. Again, this is where the woody stem of the Fritillaria came out of the bulb after it bloomed and died back in the spring. It’s all good, all natural. Some people plant the bulbs with a hole in the top at an angle to prevent water collection. We don’t know if that really makes any difference since water flows in all directions underground.

However, if you find a Fritillaria bulb with a discolored spot that is soft and you can push your finger into it, please call us. This rarely happens, but if it does, let us know and we will take care of it. That is not a good thing.

Many Fritillaria bulbs smell skunky. That is normal and a good thing since it helps repel rodents.

Bulb Size
Each Fritillaria variety makes its own special top size bulb. Some are as small as 5 centimeters, while others are 20 centimeters and up!

If you find that one bag of Fritillaria bulbs contains larger and smaller bulbs, it is a glass half full or half empty issue. Each of the bulbs is, at a minimum, the top size specified for that variety. They are sized on conveyor belts in the Netherlands that have holes the centimeter size just below the top size measurement. Smaller bulbs fall through these holes and are not included in our stock. All of the larger bulbs are included in our stock, and, as a result, there can be size variation. But it is definitely a glass half full! (If any variety in any season produces a smaller top size bulb than expected, we note it on our website. If a price change occurs as a result, we post the new price and make an adjustment on every order.)

Bulb Storage Before Planting
After you’ve received your order and inspected it, keep the exterior carton and the inner boxes open to give the bulbs some air. All bulbs love good air circulation. Store them in a cool, dry place with low humidity, away from heat, frost and strong sunlight at about 50°F to 70°F. Never put flower bulbs in the freezer! Poor storage conditions could cause bulbs to dry out, or to become moldy.

Again, Fritillaria bulbs really don’t like being out of the soil. It is best to plant them as soon as you can after receiving them.

Select and Prepare the Planting Site
All Fritillaria require rich, well-draining and neutral pH soil. The best soil is a sandy loam. For clay soil, break up the clay about a foot deeper than the planting depth of your bulbs and amend the bed with sand, peat moss and/or well-aged, neutral pH compost. For excessively sandy soil, amend the bed with peat moss, aged leaf compost and/or well-aged, neutral pH compost.

Please do not ever add horse manure, chicken droppings, mushroom compost, other hot manure or immature compost to your flower bulb beds. If you would like to add compost you’ve made yourself, please make sure that it is completely decomposed, healthy and neutral pH. Partially decomposed compost can spread fungal disease, such as botrytis blight, and nasty pests. What is good for vegetables is not necessarily good for flower bulbs.

Fritillaria thrive in filtered to partial sunlight. Fritillaria meleagris prefers cooler soil with a bit of moisture in it.

Easy to Plant
Plant the large Fritillaria bulbs 6″ to 7″ deep and 8″ to 10″ apart. Plant the smaller Fritillaria bulbs 5″ to 6″ deep and 5″ to 6″ apart. They are easy to plant and are low maintenance. We’ll ship you the bulbs in time for planting in your garden in the fall, once the ground has chilled down to about 55°F, after about two weeks of sweater weather when night time temperatures have hovered in the 40s. Again, it is best to plant Fritillaria bulbs as soon as you receive them because they don’t like being out of the soil. If they are planted too late, root system growth could be hampered. Immature, underdeveloped root systems could result in more foliage than flowers.

Please do not put anything in the bottom of hole that you’ve dug for the bulbs. Even if you think it is good for the bulb, it could cause root burn. Nestle the bulb into its hole, fill in the hole with soil to the level of the bed, and tamp down the soil lightly, making sure that individual holes are no longer apparent and that the garden bed surface is level. This will help to prevent water from filling up any of the individual planting holes. All flower bulbs hate to get wet feet.

Never put anything, including fertilizer, in the bottom of each bulb planting hole. To do so is to run the risk of root burn. Plant the bulbs to the proper depth and spacing, tamp down the soil and broadcast a 5-10-5 or 4-10-6 granular organic fertilizer over the surface of the bed as if you were feeding the birds.

While all flower bulbs are nature’s perfect little packages and will bloom beautifully the first year, we recommend broadcasting fertilizer three times a year for all perennial and naturalizing flower bulbs. First at the time of fall planting to help grow the roots, second when the sprouts emerge in the spring to help nourish the foliage and flower, and finally, when the flowers start to die back to help feed the bulb itself. Bone meal is incomplete nutritionally and can attract animals to some varieties of bulbs (like Crocus or Tulips).

Do Not Plant Fritillaria in Exterior Containers or Raised Beds
Flower bulbs should never be planted in outdoor containers, window boxes or raised beds where bulbs experience temperature spiking and repeated cycles of freezing and thawing. This results in root growth failure, root system destruction, frozen bulbs and/or bulb rot from poor water drainage. Flower bulbs must have a consistent cold winter temperature with good water drainage in order to produce a mature root system that will permit foliage growth and flower production in the spring.

Bloom Times, Size and Color
The bloom time listed for each variety is for horticultural zone 5 in normal spring conditions. The warmer the horticultural zone, the earlier flower bulbs will bloom. The colder the horticultural zone, the later flower bulbs will bloom in the spring.

Flower bulbs do everything in response to temperature, sunlight and site conditions. Bloom times, heights and colors are approximations affected by temperature and site conditions regardless of the calendar date. If it is a warm spring, bulbs will bloom earlier. If it is a cold spring, bulbs will bloom later. If it is a long cool spring, followed by rapid warming, you may find odd bedfellows: earlier blooming Galanthus flowering right along side later blooming Crocus, Species Tulips and Narcissi. Each spring can offer a different sort of garden surprise party.

In the event of a mild winter or a warmer-than-usual spring, flower bulbs that have emergent stalks with set buds may bloom early, small and short, although they will likely grow taller and larger as temperatures moderate. Temperature spikes can also affect mature root development, the actual form of the flower or the process of flower color maturation.

Spring Care
Once Fritillaria bloom and start to die back, make sure to keep the foliage going until it dies back naturally. A maximum period of photosynthesis allows the bulbs to regenerate for the future. Once the foliage is completely yellowed or browned out, remove it from the garden.

Don’t forget that Fritillaria are good cut flowers! The smaller, more diminutive varieties of Fritillaria acmopetala, meleagris, meleagris alba and uva-vulpis are wonderful in little vases tucked here and there. The larger varieties of Fritillaria persica, persica Green Dreams, persica Ivory Bells and raddeana are terrific in cut flower arrangements and taller vases.

While most Fritillaria are not usually recommended for forcing over the winter, Fritillaria meleagris and meleagris alba are known to be good forcers.

In general, to force Fritillaria, one would pot the bulbs in mid-October and prechill them at a consistent, dark 38°F to 45°F with moderate watering for six to eight weeks. At the end of the precooling period, bring the pots out of refrigeration into progressively stronger sunlight with moderate watering. They usually bloom around four weeks later. Once Fritillaria bulbs are forced, their vitality is spent and the bulbs may be discarded.

Trouble Shooting
If Fritillaria are yielding more foliage than flowers, it normally indicates a root system issue. A mature planting may need to be dug up in the fall, and transplanted to the original depth and spacing after carefully separating the bulbs that may have been strangling themselves. Sometimes, the larger Fritillaria bulbs grow to the point that they split apart at the area where the woody stem has separated itself from the bulb. It can take years for each split-apart bulb to grow to the size whereby it would fully flower again. Please do keep the foliage growing and dying back naturally during this time. Again, Fritillaria are a bit more finicky than the average bulb. If they are planted in marginally hardy horticultural zones, they may complain by not staging return performances.

How to grow fritillaries

This form gives you stronger growth, more flowers and even longer garden life than usual. It looks splendid circled with any of the early sultry-coloured tulips, ‘Havran’ or ‘Antraciet’.

I also love the yellow imperial (which always flowers later than the orange forms in my garden) in a good zingy mix with the yellow, slashed red tulip ‘Flaming Parrot’.

All imperial fritillaries have a slightly foxy smell – particularly on a sunny day – but I still like the odd one picked and brought inside in a tall, single stem vase; they last up to two weeks. All bulbs do best if you minimise the number of leaves you cut when you pick the flowers.

When the foliage is at the base of the plants, it’s easy, but when you cut imperial fritillaries, make sure you leave a short section of the leafy part of the stem to give the bulb a chance to make enough food to survive dormancy.

Snake’s head fritillaries

Is there anyone who would not like a patch of grass – large or small – scattered with snake’s head fritillaries, our own mini meadow?

“The fritillary looks like something exceedingly choice and delicate and expensive, which ought to spring from a pan in a hothouse, rather than share the fresh grass with buttercups and cowslips” (Vita Sackville-West). Yet it does.

Seeing fritillaries carpet a field, every flower like a Moroccan lantern lit from inside, is one of those scenes so extraordinary, it is hard to register. You feel a Chelsea show garden designer must have been there the day before and put the whole lot in.

Where to grow

As a native, the snake’s head fritillary is relatively easy to grow. You can place it at the front of a border – it looks good with sun-tolerant hellebores such as H. sternii and Hellebore argutifolius – but its home is spring grass and you need to plant it in the next few weeks.

Unlike most bulbs, it’s happy on heavy soils and that is where you’ll still see it growing wild in April and May in the water meadows of Oxford, Gloucestershire and Suffolk.

It thrives with a bit of moisture and plenty of humus in the soil, but I have a friend who has it self-sowing on thin chalk, too.

So, planted right and helped along by the correct mowing regime, you can grow the snake’s head in most soils. Having said that, if you have tried and failed, then F. acmopetala or michailovskyi are lovely alternatives in sun or partial shade.

Fritillaries Planting tips

  • Planting any of these small fritillaries is easier if the grass is short, so mow once growth has slowed in the autumn and then plant. This also helps you see the flowers more clearly in spring.
  • Avoid regimental spacing and scatter the bulbs from the bag with a sweep of your hand like a sower and plant each bulb where it falls.
  • Plant all three fritillaries deep, at least 6-8in and the same sort of distance apart. To get the water meadow look, plant as many as you can. The easiest way to plant to this depth in grass is to use a bulb planter with a long handle like a spade.
  • If you were planting crocus or narcissi like this in heavy soil, you’d add a little grit or spent compost to the hole, but not with these moisture-loving fritillaries.
  • Just drop in the bulb and move on to the next, one per hole. As you cut the second hole, the first core of soil is dislodged and this can then be placed over your first bulb.
  • In Bulb (Mitchell Beazley, £30), Anna Pavord recommends, when trying to naturalise bulbs in grass, to start them off in pots, five to a 4in pot. Plant the potfuls, disturbing the roots as little as possible, when the leaves first show in early spring.
  • If you want them to self-sow, you must leave the flowers to set seed and not mow until late August at the earliest. The trouble with that is there may be things you don’t want – thistles or docks – also in the grass, so you’ll have to pick these out.
  • Do not add any nitrogen fertiliser to your grass. This feeds the competing grasses more than your bulbs.

Planting Fritillaria bulbs – Summary and Instructions

Fritillaria summary

Height: 30-150cm
Spread: 5-45cm
Period for planting Fritillaria bulbs August to September
Fritillaria bulbs flowering period April to May

Planting Fritillaria bulbs – instructions

Well-drained soil

Planting Fritillaria bulbs is easy, rewarding and will give you great flowers. Plant your fritillaria bulbs in sandy or medium loamy, well-drained soil for best results. Generally, fritillarias grow well in any type of garden soil, but they grow best in a moist swampy soil in an open garden, and can be easily cultivated in a relatively fertile soil. Fritillarias also perform well in fairly arid soils and, when mature, will tolerate drought.

How to plant Fritillaria bulbs

It’s best to plant the rough and peeling fritillaria bulbs on their sides, or surrounded in sand, to prevent water from accumulating in their hollow tops. Plant them 4 to 5 inches deep and 6 inches apart.

Location for planting Fritillaria bulbs

A lightly shaded and sheltered location is ideal for cultivating fritillarias, but they will also tolerate full sun.

When to plant Fritillaria bulbs

The best period for planting fritillaria bulbs is between August and September. The bulbs will be flowering around April and May.

Fritillaria maintenance instructions

Fritillarias don’t need too much attention once planted. You should remove the flower heads after the blooms have faded and before it goes to seed. Allow the foliage to wither naturally each year, as this will allow the bulbs to replenish in preparation for next year’s display. Water your fritillaria often and generously in the spring until after it flowers, then hold back on water in the summer. Fritillaria is a great choice for areas with dry summers.

Enjoy your Fritillarias again next year

Fritillarias are one of the easiest flowering bulbs to grow, as the bulbs reproduce year after year. Fritillarias are propagated by division of bulbs in the autumn. Divide the bulbs in autumn and replant them straight away. Offshoots of the fritillaria bulbs are widely used to propagate these plants.
Our fritillaria bulbs and all our products are delivered with detailed planting instructions.
Want to start planting Fritillaria bulbs in your Garden.

Growing Fritillaria Bulbs – How To Grow And Care For Wildflower Fritillaria Lilies

Delicate and exotic, Fritillaria flower varieties may appear difficult to grow, but most Fritillaria care is simple after the large bulbs bloom. Fritillarias are true lilies, growing from non-tunicate bulbs. Fritillaria imperialis, or Crown Imperial, has the showiest flowers of the species, but some say it also has a malodorous fragrance reminiscent to that of skunk odor. These Fritillaria bulbs have nodding flowers, topped with a tuft of foliage.

Another of the wildflower Fritillaria lilies is the snakeshead lily, Fritillaria meleagris. This flower has a checkered or mottled pattern on the drooping blooms. Information on the Fritillaria plant indicates that most are Asian or European natives; however, Fritillaria pudica is native to western North America. Information on the Fritillaria plant also describes the Chocolate lily, Fritillaria affinis, which grows wild in southeastern Canada south to the San Francisco bay area.

Growing Fritillaria Bulbs

Unusual and hardy, Fritillaria bulbs produce best when planted in moist soil in a sunny to part shade location in the flower bed. Wildflower Fritillaria lilies are an excellent choice for the gardener who wants an out of the ordinary specimen among more common spring-blooming bulbs.

Growing Fritillaria may reach 4 feet or more in spring. Use wildflower Fritillaria lilies as specimens, in groupings or as an addition to a traditional bulb bed. Imperialis and meleagris types are available in some local nurseries and through mail order catalogs.

Be prepared to plant bulbs as soon as they arrive. Plant larger bulbs with the base about 5 inches below the soil surface, while smaller Fritillaria bulbs should be planted about 3 inches down. Plant bulbs in well-drained soil and keep it moist until the root system is established.

Fritillaria Care

Fritillaria bulbs resist deer, squirrels and bulb digging rodents and may help protect other bulbs that are favorites of the critters.

Wildflower Fritillaria lilies, as with other lily bulbs, like cool roots. If possible, plant a low growing ground cover to shade bulbs of the growing Fritillaria plant or mulch the plant to protect it from the summer sun.

Separate wildflower Fritillaria lilies every two years. Remove young bulblets and replant in moist, shady conditions for more of this unusual flower every year.

How to Grow Fritillaria

Fritillaria are a genus of about 100 species of bulbs of which the most commonly grown are Fritillaria michailovskyi illustrated left, F. melegaris known as Snake’s Head fritillary, illustrated centre, and F. imperialis, illustrated right. Whilst the same group, they have different growing requirements. Fritillaria may look exotic but they are relatively easy to grow and fully hardy.

Fritillaria michailovskyi (illustrated left) is the less commonly grown of the three and is a late spring, or early summer flowering bulb growing to around 20cms with nodding flowers. Like all bulbs it should be planted 3-4 times its own depth, and it is particular about growing conditions. This Fritillary likes fertile, well-drained soil and will not tolerate wet, particularly winter wet. It will tolerate partial shade and relatively dry soil. It has nodding flowers which are brown/amber edged with green.

The Snake’s head fritillary illustrated centre has a delicate chequered flower in purple or white. It is an unusual plant in so far as it will grow in diverse conditions. Snake’s head fritillaries will grow both in full sun on well-drained soil, and also in damp areas in full sun or light shade. Snake’s head Fritillaria will grow in both exposed and sheltered areas it is very tolerant of conditions. It is spring flowering and the bulbs will naturalise and multiply. Snake’s head Fritillary is a delicate plant and can be swamped by planting companions. It looks good growing in grassy semi wild areas. Although it will grow in drier areas, and is seen planted in wild meadow areas, it is happiest in cooler areas with some shade. Plant bulbs about 3/4 times their own depth in the Autumn.

The Fritillaria Imperialis, known as Crown Imperial is quite different again. Whereas F. meleagris grows to around 30cms (12″) the Imperialis grows much taller, up to 1.5m (5′) F. Imperialis will not tolerate damp conditions, it likes drier growing conditions with well-drained soil. If planted on poorly drained soils Fritillaria Imperialis is prone to the bulbs rotting which makes dry, well-drained soil essential. It is a robust plant with large showy flowers; a statuesque plant which makes a bold statement. It is often planted with other spring-flowering bulbs and plants.

Also best planted in September/October, the Crown Imperial will flower in spring and its flowers are yellow red and orange. It is easy to grow and requires no real maintenance. Both are attractive plants and often overlooked.

Fritillaries are members of the Lily family and so they can be prone to Lily beetle attack.

Fritillaria bulbs will bring a touch of the rare and exotic to your garden with their distinctive bell-shaped flowers, some of them bold and showy, others delicate and discreet.


Some bulbs originate in the dry mountains of Eastern Europe and some in native British meadows, but given the right conditions most types of fritillary are relatively easy to grow.

Take a look at our handy Fritillaria Grow Guide, below.

Fritillaria bulbs will bring a touch of the rare and exotic to your garden with their distinctive bell-shaped flowers. Snakes head fritillary growing in a container

Where to plant fritillaries

Depending on which species you choose, Fritillaria will grow in either well-drained soil and bright sunshine or moisture-retentive soil in dappled shade. Check the growing requirements of your chosen Fritillaria species carefully.

Planting fritillary bulbs underneath turf

Planting fritillaries

Bulbs should be planted in September and October. Plant the large bulbs of Fritillaria imperialis deeply to ensure flowering – around 30cm below the surface.

Follow some bulb planting tips from Monty Don.

Fritillaria imperialis ‘Crown Imperial’

Looking after fritillaries

Allow the foliage to die down completely after flowering. Fritillaria meleagris will naturalise in grass if bulbs are left undisturbed. For the larger, showier types of fritillary, mulch in spring when the first shoots appear and feed with tomato fertiliser before flowers appear.

Fritillaria affinis

Propagating fritillaries

Fritillaries can be propagated by seed. Sow in autumn under glass. Once germinated, grow seedlings on for two years before planting out. Alternatively, divide established clumps of Fritillaria imperialis in late-summer by splitting off and potting on the small bulbils around the edge of the bulb.

Follow our guide to dividing crown imperials.

Fritillaria sewerzowii

Fritillaries: problem solving

Fritillaries are relatively trouble-free, although being part of the lily family, they’re susceptible to the voracious lily beetle. The best method of protection is to remove the bright red beetles by hand as soon as they’re spotted.

Slugs and snails will also enjoy the foliage so take the usual precautions.

Advertisement Fritillaria persica

Fritillaries to grow

  • Fritillaria meleagris RHS AGM – also known as snake’s head fritillary, this species native to Britain and northern Europe, is quite unique. The delicate checkerboard bell-shaped flowers, purple or white, appear in spring. In the wild it’s found in damp meadows, but it can be grown in containers, as well as spring borders or wildflower meadows
  • Fritillaria imperialis – crown imperials are the biggest and boldest of the fritillaries, reaching up to 1.2m in height, with large orange flowers appearing under a spiky crown of leaves in April/May. Bulbs can take a season to establish. For best results grow in well-drained soil, ideally on a bed of gravel, in full sun
  • Fritillaria affinis – the chocolate lily is almost extinct in the wild but is becoming a popular garden plant. It’s native to the Pacific coast of North America, from California north to British Columbia and east to western Idaho. Fritillaria affinis bears dark purple-black flowers from mid- to late spring. It thrives in moist but well-drained soil in sun to partial shade
  • Fritillaria persica – in spring, Persian fritillaries send up 90cm spires of grey-green leaves with dark purple bell-shaped flowers, appearing along the stem. They’re very attractive perennial bulbs that need a sunny location, and look good with other lower-growing perennials
  • Fritillaria raddeana – grows up to 1.5m with pale green flowers

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