how to plant, grow & care for fritillaries
complete growing guide
Imperial fritillaries are the first whopper garden bulb to flower in spring. You've got alliums, lilies and eremurus later, but it's the good old crown imperial which gives you drama early in the year. I love it for that and always remember it - huge healthy stems, shiny leaves and glamorous hanging bells - appearing en masse at the base of a yew tree in my parents' garden. It was a key moment of spring and for a sunny or lightly shaded bed, it's hard to do better. Add the less well known, subtle and aristocratic Fritillaria raddeana and you have two winners, or try our native but exotic looking snake’s head fritillary which pops up every year in the grass, multiplying as it seeds itself about.
Browse our range of fritillary bulbs and add some drama to your spring garden.
- Common name Fritillary
- Latin name Fritillaria
- Type Perennial bulb
- Height 15cm (6in) – 1m (3ft)
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Full Sun, Part Shade.
- Planting position Borders, in grass, in containers.
- Suitable for pots Yes
- Good for pollinators Yes
- Good for cut flowers Yes
how to grow fritillaries
Fritillaries are best grown from bulbs, although some, such as the snakeshead fritillary will seed themselves about readily.
where to grow fritillaries
Soil type: Plant fritillaries in moist but well-drained neutral soil. The snake’s head fritillary will grow in most moist soils and can even grow in particularly heavy soil. Other smaller varieties like Fritillaria uva-vulpis and Fritillaria michailovskyi are particularly intolerant of wet when dormant, so make sure to plant in a spot that doesn’t get waterlogged.
Aspect & position: Depending on the variety and size, fritillaries can be planted at the front, middle or the back of the border. Some also naturalise in grass or grow well in pots. They prefer full sun or partial shade.
when to plant fritillaries
Fritillary bulbs should be planted in the autumn as soon as they arrive. They do not have a tough outer skin like a tulip and might already be putting out roots.
how to plant fritillaries
planting fritillary bulbs
As with most bulbs, the depth of planting should be about four times the depth of the bulb. For taller varieties it can be beneficial to plant deeply as this makes stronger, more reliably perennial plants that are less likely to snap. The large concave types, like the crown imperials are better planted on their sides so that they do not fill with water and rot. If your soil is not well drained it is a good idea to add some grit to the planting hole.
naturalising fritillaries in grass
If you are planting smaller varieties, like the moisture loving snake’s head fritillary, to naturalise in the lawn, try to avoid regimental spacing and scatter the bulbs from the bag with a sweep of your hand, like a sower, planting each bulb where it falls, roughly 20cm apart. To get the water meadow look, plant as many as you can.
The easiest way to plant 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 the moisture-loving snake’s head 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.
Planting fritillaries in grass 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.
You can also start your bulbs off in pots, with around five to a 4-inch pot. Once the leaves start to show in early spring, plant the potfuls in the lawn, disturbing the roots as little as possible.
planting fritillaries in pots
The markings of many varieties of fritillary are so exquisite it is always a good idea to put a few in a pot. That way you can really see them in detail, and you have the benefit of finding exactly the right gap in your border or lawn to pop them into once they have finished flowering and have completely died back. Use a loam-based compost such as John Innes No 2 mixed with grit to give plenty of drainage.
You can also plant out pot grown fritillaries from February to May before they flower. A root system will have established, so take care when transplanting into position and make sure the planting depth matches that of the pot.
how to care for fritillaries
Water fritillaries regularly and thoroughly throughout the growing season, but not when dormant. Unless you are growing them in a pot, they really won’t need much more attention in terms of watering.
Fritillaries can remain dormant in the soil and will begin to grow again the following spring. Once the leaves die back on fritillaries planted in borders, cut the stems back to just above the ground level. In the autumn cover with a mulch, which should be removed and replaced with a top-dressing of compost in the spring.
If you want naturalised fritillaries 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 dig these out. Do not add any nitrogen fertiliser to your grass. This feeds the competing grasses more than your bulbs.
- Protect against slugs and snails.
- Enjoy your flowers.
- Protect against lily beetles.
- Water pots regularly.
- Plant new bulbs to increase stock.
- Apply a mulch of grit or leaf mould to large border varieties to improve drainage.
pests, diseases & common issues
slugs and snails
Slugs and snails particularly love the tender shoots of the large fritillaries, so be on your guard early in the season and take appropriate defensive or offensive action.
Being from the liliaceae family, fritillaries do suffer from the attention of the bright red lily beetles that emerge from the soil, usually as the plant is in full flower. The adults are easy to spot and cannot fly, so apart from their devious habit of falling to the ground upside down just as you are about to catch them, they are fairly easily despatched.
The larvae are also easily spotted once you have your eye in – revolting blobs of excrement hanging on the leaves conceal the juicy grubs beneath. Rubber gloves might be needed for the faint hearted, as well as a wad of tissue to squash them. Prevention, using the liquid spray Grazers G4 does work well, as long as you keep it up every couple of weeks – the natural ingredients make the leaves unpalatable to adults and larvae alike.
why did my fritillaria not flower?
Being bulbs, fritillaries will usually flower well in their first year, but unless they are really happy with their conditions, they can fail to flower in future years. The important thing is to know where your fritillary comes from in the wild, if it comes from the high Turkish mountains, it will not mind the cold, but it will hate the wet, so adding drainage is the key. If it is our native snakes head fritillary then the contrary is the case – it hates to dry out.
why does my fritillaria have yellow leaves?
Like all bulbs, as the leaves die down they will turn yellow before turning brown and withering away completely. Once they have turned yellow it is time to cut them back as they have finished their job of feeding up the bulb ready to flower next year.
frequently asked questions
do fritillaria bulbs multiply?
Yes, they do. The bulbs will gradually clump up by dividing into bulbils that might take a little while to get to flowering stage. The smaller native varieties will also set seed as long as you do not dead head.
are fritillaries hardy?
Yes, all varieties can put up with any amount of cold. What some of them dislike, however, is the combination of cold and wet, so drainage is the key.
should I deadhead fritillaries?
The large-flowered types are unlikely to ripen and set seed in our climate, so it will save some energy for the plant if you do deadhead. However, the seed heads are rather dramatic, so might be worth leaving one or two that are in full view. The smaller types can self-seed, however, so do not dead head if you would like them to multiply.
are fritillaries poisonous to dogs?
They are not specifically listed as poisonous to dogs but, being of the lily family, it is probably best to ensure your dog doesn’t eat the bulbs. The crown imperial has a strong foxy smell which is probably designed to put most animals off eating it.
what to grow with fritillaries
The orange flowered crown imperial such as ‘William Rex’ or ‘Brahms’ combine well with 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'.
how to cut & arrange fritillaries
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.
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