Fritillaria Planting Guide

Fritillaria aren’t well known plants and that’s part of what makes them fun . . . you don’t see them everywhere. Most members of this offshoot of the lily family produce bell-shaped blooms, singly or in clusters, in early to mid-spring. The blooms range from brights – yellow, orange, red – to deep purples. There’s even one with a plum and ivory checkerboard design. Fritillarias are excellent choices for garden use where critters – deer, rabbits and rodents - are a problem as these plants generally aren’t bothered. Provided with conditions that make them happy, fritillarias are long-lived garden additions.

Choosing a Site

Choosing a site with optimum sunlight based on each cultivar’s preference:

  • Crown Imperials, Persian lilies (persica) and Michael’s flower (michailovskyi) prefer full sun in northern regions and appreciate some light afternoon shade in hot areas.
  • Meleagris, or checkered lilies, prefer light dappled shade.
  • Fritillaria michailovskii is happiest in full sun in the north to part shade in hot regions.

Like many bulbs, fritillaries are susceptible to bulb rot so taking time to prepare the planting bed will be rewarded with healthy, long-lived plants. These plants are actively growing in the spring and dormant in the summer and fall. Early season moisture is needed to support growth and flowering, while drier conditions during the plants’ dormancy period is best. These conditions can often be found in settings where deciduous trees – maples, oaks, sweetgum, ash, etc. – grow. Fritillaria planted on the east side of these trees receive sunlight in the early part of the day and have sufficient moisture while the trees are just starting to wake up and leaf out for the season. Come summer, the trees provide shade and consume much of the available water. Perfect!

Soil Prep

Fritillarias need very good drainage to thrive. If there are puddles still present an hour after a rain, look for a different site. Fritillaria do not thrive in clay soil.

Fritillaria grow best in organically rich soil. Dig the soil to a depth of 12 inches. If there’s any question about your soil’s drainage, add several shovels full of course builder’s sand and mix in with the soil. This helps improve drainage.

When to Plant

Fritillaria plants resent being dig up and moved. Best results come from planting promptly in sites where they will remain.

How to Plant Fritillaria Bulbs

In the bottom of your planting holes, add ½” of course sand before placing the bulbs pointed end up. Plant fritillaria bulbs at the following depths:

  • Crown Imperials 10-12” deep and 12" apart (plant bulb on its side to keep center hole from filling with water and prompting rot)
  • Persian lilies 6-7” deep and 10-12” apart
  • Checkered lilies 4-5”deep and 3-4” apart
  • Michael’s flower 6” deep and 4-5" apart.

Crown Imperial bulbs have a hole in the top where the previous season’s stalk sprouted. To avoid having this depression collect water and encourage bulb rot, plant the bulbs on their sides.

During the Growing Season

Actively growing fritillarias need about 1” of water a week from rain, irrigation or a combination of the two. After flowering has finished, trim off spent blossoms. The stalks will dry and then can be removed. Drier conditions are required during these plants' summer and fall dormancy period. 

At Season’s End

Trim off any remaining dried foliage. Top dress beds with 1” of compost. Plants resprout in spring.

Insider Tips

  1. Plant promptly. These bulbs don’t like being out of the ground.
  2. On arrival, bulbs may feel slightly spongy and look somewhat discolored. This is normal and does not mean the bulbs are unhealthy. Fritillaria bulbs do not develop hard exteriors like tulips, daffodils and many other bulbs.
  3. Crown Imperials have an odor that most people find unpleasant up close. Site these tall, showy beauties in the middle or back of garden beds.
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Success Snapshot

Light: Sun to dappled shade, see details, left

Soil: Average soil

Depth: See variety specific details, left

Water: Average moisture

Uses: Best in well drained garden soil, not well suited to containers

Tip: Plant promptly, don’t allow bulbs to dry out

GUIDE: Fritillaria Planting Guide

They Start Out Looking Like This: