How to Grow and Care for Fritillaria

Looking for a unique flower to attract attention to your spring garden, but also to keep critters away? Fritillaria are distinctive and unique varieties to add to your spring flower bulbs wish list. These warm and arid climate natives of North America, the Mediterranean, and North Africa can grow well in our Canadian gardens. So, when building a garden with a fantastic range of shapes and colours, think about adding fascinating fritillaria in your plantings of bulbs for spring. With a variety of different blooming times, fritillarias will be charming additions to your early, mid, or late spring blooming garden.

Amongst your tulips, narcissus, and hyacinths, it’s beneficial to plant some accent bulbs. Small flowers at the front of your garden bed and much taller ones in the back create a well-rounded space. The shorter fritillaria will perfectly hide the lower stems of tulips and narcissus, while the tall crown imperial will be a stunning backdrop for your spring-blooming garden. They make excellent accent flowers for other spring-blooming plants. From dainty and intriguing to bold and dramatic, fritillaria blooms are worth taking note of! There are around 100 different varieties of fritillaria, but let’s go through the most popular and commonly grown fritillaria varieties you can add to your garden this fall!

Checkered Lily – Meleagris (Snake’s Head)

Fritillaria meleagris is an astounding variety to add to the garden. It continually attracts attention. The small bell-shaped blooms of this flower have a nice small purple and white pixel pattern – perfectly named as a checkered lily. Tiny chessboard-printed blooms nod on the thin stems of the plant. The small details in nature are amazing, aren’t they? This detailed checkered pattern is akin to the pattern of snakeskin. Due to this interesting attribute, Fritillaria meleagris is also known as snake’s head fritillary. Meleagris grows to a petite height of 20 cm (8”) and is hardy to zone 3. It blends well into garden borders, grass, and containers. This variety naturalizes very easily, therefore they will come back and produce more flowers in your garden each year. Blooming in mid-spring, meleagris will help ward off deer by producing a unique scent!

Guinea Hen Flower – Michailowsky, Meleagris Alba

Like Fritillaria meleagris, the Fritillaria Guinea Hen Flowers, Fritillaria Michailowsky, and Fritillaria meleagris Alba, are both small in size and stature. Again, with nodding bell flowers, these blooms also grow to 20 cm (8”) and are hardy to zone 3. Meleagris Alba are pure white small flowers, while Michailowsky is a dramatic site to behold! The fluted small bells are wine purple, with bright yellow tips. Both work well in beds and containers and for naturalizing. Make sure to plant them in clusters for maximum impact.

Crown Imperialis – Early Sensation, Imperialis Rubra, Early Fantasy, Lutea Maxima

Fritillaria Crown Imperial are fascinating. Unique to themselves, they are like no other flower! Adding these to your garden will create an eye-catching display. Hardy to zone 5, Crown Imperial grows to 90 cm (36”). With flowers of red, yellow, or orange sitting atop tall sturdy stems, the blooms are capped with a crown of short green leaves! They are all deer resistant and fragrant. For early spring flowering, make sure to plant the lemony-yellow Early Sensation and apricot-orange Early Fantasy.

For mid to late spring blooming, plant Imperialis Rubra (dark orange-red) or Lutea Maxima (golden yellow). The early flowering varieties, Early Sensation, and Early Fantasy have a fuller look than the classic Rubra and Lutea Maxima Fritillaria due to more blooms. Plant these tall varieties near the rear of your spring flowering garden beds and watch the drama unfold.

Fritillaria Persian Bells – Ivory Bells, Persica

Like all fritillaria, Ivory Bells and Persica Persian Bells are also deer resistant and fragrant. A bonus to planting this variety of fritillaria in your garden is that you can incorporate them into your cut flower arrangements. Ivory Bells and Persica grow to 80 cm (32”) and are hardy to zone 4. The stalks bear over 30 pendant bells which travel up the strong towering stems. The blooms are akin to all fritillaria, a delicate bell shape. Ivory Bells stands true to its name, displaying gorgeous ivory cream flowers. Persica brings deep dark purple blooms to the garden. You will be enjoying these blooms in your garden in late spring.

Helpful Hint…

If you have problems with deer, squirrel, moles, and other garden pests, try planting fritillaria. Known for emitting an unappealing scent, the bulbs will deter unwanted guests from your garden beds and containers. The bigger the bulbs (crown imperial), the stronger the smell. So, be warned! After buying your bulbs, you may be welcomed by a skunky scent. Just remember though, it is the scent that helps ward-off unwanted garden visitors, The scent from the bulbs is much stronger than the fragrance from the fritillaria blooms in the spring.

Fritillaria are perfect for full-to-part sun areas of the garden. Plant your fritillaria bulbs in autumn, in September, or in October. The bulbs prefer well-draining soil in a sun to part shade location. For planting the larger Crown Imperial and Persica bulbs, plant 10 cm (4”) deep and 25 cm (10”) apart. These large bulb-type fritillaria have a hole in the middle of the bulb from last season’s stem. If these large bulbs are planted pointy side-up they will collect water in the center.  Then through the freeze and thaw cycles of winter and spring, the water will get trapped in the bulb and crack it. So, avoid bulb damage by planting these large bulb fritillaria on their sides. They will grow and flower beautifully as the stems are programmed to grow toward the light and heat and the roots want to grow deep into the soil. When planting smaller varieties, plant 8 cm (3”) apart and deep. These smaller bulbs are okay to plant pointy side up as the water drains well from the open scales. Remember to plant these naturalizing bulbs in clusters for a stunning impact – you’ll be glad you did!

Come late spring, after the last of your fritillaria have bloomed and faded, it’s time to prepare them for next spring. Snip out the faded blooms and keep the stems and foliage in place and continue to water.  After a few weeks and the foliage has become yellow, you may then cut the flower stalk to just above ground level and clean up the yellow leaves (to learn more about caring for your fritillaria at the end of the season, read our blog Caring for Spring Flowering Bulbs After They Bloom). Make sure not to disturb your bulbs if you are looking to naturalize them in your garden and have a great garden show each year.

Plant some fritillaria this fall and enjoy the different varieties blooming from early to late spring!

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  • Anna
    December 28, 2022

    Someone gifted me a crown lily bulb I didn’t plant it right away it is now the end of December is it too late to plant now thank you

  • Florissa
    January 10, 2023

    Hi Anna, if the bulb is still firm, go ahead and plant it in a container outdoors. Place it where it can still get some cool temperatures and grow it this way for the season. Then once the ground is workable in spring, pop the soil and bulb out of the pot and plant it in its forever home in your garden.

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