Fritillaria in California

Michael Mace
Thu, 28 Apr 2011 09:44:07 PDT
[Hmmm.  I tried sending a shorter reply to this yesterday, but the message
apparently did not go through.  I will try one more time.  Huge apologies if
you get two copies of this.]

Jane wrote:

>> I would welcome input from any of you who have grown these bulbs in
California, especially the southern part

Early in my bulb-growing activities, I bought a copy of the book "Bulbs" by
Philips and Rix.  It has lots of photos of Fritillaria species, and I tried
to grow a number of them.  Almost all my efforts failed.  I tried a number
of the common Eurasian species, such as F. meleagris.  They didn't persist
more than a year, probably because California is too dry for them in summer.
Same thing with F. imperialis, which never even bloomed.

I tried to find damp, relatively cool places for these bulbs, but the soil
here is relatively heavy clay.  There is a very fine line between soil that
is too dry and soil that is so wet that it makes things rot.  Probably I
should have tried raised beds.

I also tried very hard to grow a number of California native Fritillaria
species, back when seeds were easily available from the Robinetts and
Northwest Native Seed.  The result was almost 100% failure.  I could get
some of them to sprout (others not), but they dwindled over a couple of
years, and I rarely got any flowers.  In particular, I tried various
selections of F. glauca and F. recurva over and over, with variations in
soil mix and stratification.  Plus a number of other species, usually
concentrating on the ones with the most unusual colors.

In contrast, most California bulbs such as Calochortus, Allium, Bloomeria,
and Brodiaea and friends were easy to grow and maintain.

I did get F. pluriflora to grow and bloom for several years, in a pot filled
with heavy clay soil.  It was a pretty little thing.  But eventually it
faded out as well.

The one other temporary success I had was with one of the Asian Rhinopetalum
species, probably F. stenanthera. I obtained it as a bulb from the UK, and
was able to get it to bloom in a pot for a couple of years.  It seemed
confused by my weather, though.  It bloomed very early, with buds that
opened at ground level.  I suspect it wanted more cold in winter.
Eventually it dwindled away, alas.  It was a cute thing.

I'm not sure what I did wrong.  My guess is that my usual cultural practices
(8-inch plastic pots, no water from dormancy until October) let the bulbs
dry out too much.  But again, this was okay for other California bulbs, so
who knows.

I will be interested to hear what other growers say, especially folks from
even drier/hotter climates than me.  Dr. Koopowitz, if you would care to
give some info on your cultural practices, I'm all ears.

San Jose, CA (zone 9, min temp 20F)

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