When you compare two fritillaria bulbs side by side, it’s easy to see differences in quality. Bigger bulbs (like the one at far left) contain more stored food energy and will fuel the growth of a stronger plant with larger or more abundant blooms. Longfield Gardens supplies top size bulbs that will give you an impressive show of flowers.
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Sun or Shade: Most fritillaria will grow in full sun or light shade. Fritillaria meleagris prefers dappled shade.
Hardiness Zone: Fritillaria will survive the winter in hardiness zones 4-8. To find your USDA growing zone, click here.
Soil Conditions: Most spring-flowering bulbs prefer relatively dry growing conditions, especially in the summer months. Most fritillaria need slightly more moisture during the growing season and perform best in soil that is high in organic matter. Well drained soil is important to ensure the bulbs don't rot during the winter.
There are several different Fritillaria species available for home gardens. It is important to understand their different growth habits when you are deciding which ones to buy and where to plant them.
Crown imperials (Fritillaria imperalis) grow 24 to 36” tall. Each bulb produces one stem, topped with a cluster of yellow, cream or red-orange bells and a spiky green topknot. These unusual-looking plants add color and excitement to spring flowerbeds. They can be planted in groups on their own, or in combination with tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and other spring-flowering bulbs. Crown imperials grow well in shade gardens and may also be planted in meadows or open woodlands.
Snake’s head fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris), also known as guinea hen flowers, are 12-15" tall. The bulbs produce grassy foliage and one or more stems, each with a dangling flower. The flower petals can be creamy white, pink or burgundy and typically display a checkered pattern. Fritillaria meleagris has a delicate charm that’s best appreciated up close. Plant the bulbs in flowerbeds and borders, rock gardens, woodland gardens and damp, grassy meadows. Snake’s head frittilaria prefer growing in dappled shade, though they will also grow quite well in full sun.
Michael's flower (Fritillaria michailovskyi) has grassy foliage and nodding bell-shaped flowers that are maroon with golden yellow edges. They grow about 8" tall and need well drained soil. Ideal for rock gardens.
When to Plant: While most fall-planted bulbs have a protective covering (called a tunic) that helps prevent moisture loss, fritillaria bulbs are naked. This makes them more perishable, so the less time the bulbs out of the ground the better. Purchase fresh, properly stored bulbs as soon as they are available, and get them planted by mid-October.
Depth and Spacing: Plant crown imperial bulbs 6” deep. Fritillaria meleagris and michailovskyi should be planted 3” deep.
Planting Tips: If you are growing fritillaria imperialis as an annual, there is no need to fertilize the bulbs at planting time. For other types, you can add compost and a small amount of all-purpose fertilizer at planting time.
Crown imperial bulbs have a natural depression on top where moisture can gather. This makes them sensitive to excess moisture and more vulnerable to rot. Be sure to always plant them in well-drained soils. At planting time, adding coarse sand, finely crushed stone or perlite to the planting hole can help encourage good drainage.
Fritillaria imperialis bulbs have a skunky odor and are said to repel voles. Deer avoid both the plants and the flowers.
For a natural look, plant Fritillaria meleagris in groups of 6 or more bulbs.
Fall-planted bulbs grow roots soon after they are put into the ground and then go dormant for the winter months. In early spring, the bulbs will sprout and begin to send up new growth, followed by stems and buds.
Though fritillaria are rarely bothered by deer or rodents, as members of the lily family, they are vulnerable to being damaged by the red lily leaf beetle. If these pests are a problem in your area, you'll need to control them, starting in early spring as soon as the foliage emerges. Continue collecting/killing the beetles and their larvae until the plants die back to the ground, which happens about a month after flowering.
One other thing to know about growing fritillaria. In any given batch of bulbs, a percentage will be "blind." These are bulbs that come up and produce foliage, but do not produce a flower. This behavior is somewhat of a horticultural mystery. It's not about the size or quality of the bulbs. Just an annoying characteristic of the species. Since there's no way to know ahead of time which bulbs will not bloom, it's good to plant some extras so you're not disappointed.
Most gardeners treat Fritillaria imperialis as an an annual, but given the right growing conditions, the bulbs may return or even multiply. If you want try getting the bulbs to bloom again the next spring, fertilize the plants before they flower or immediately afterwards. Snip off the spent flowers and allow the foliage to continue growing until it has completely yellowed. At that point you can cut off the flower stalk at ground level.
In fertile, moist but well-drained soil, snake’s head fritillaria will usually multiply and come back to bloom again each spring. To encourage these bulbs to perennialize, fertilize the plants either before they bloom or immediately afterwards. And ensure the bulbs don’t completely dry out during summer and fall.
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