Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 10:52 pm
Checkered flowers are bulbous flowers and delight in the spring with unusually patterned flowers. In the right location, the plants run wild willingly and then require little care. We give tips on how to make them feel particularly at home in your garden.
Checkerboard flowers (Fritillaria meleagris) grow a good 25 to 30 centimeters tall and delight with bright purple or whitish flowers in April and May.
These are patterned with a probably unique, darker checkered pattern that actually gives them the cube-like appearance of a tiny checkerboard. Also known as lapwing egg, lapwing flower, or sometimes just chess flower, it is a hardy plant of the lily family (Liliaceae) native to much of Europe and, like many Fritillaria, is strictly protected in the wild. The plants form abundant seeds and thus also reproduce industriously, forming quite large stands over the years.
In the garden, checkerboard flowers are very long-lived and are an extremely popular bee pasture at flowering time. The only drawback is that the plant and especially the bulb are poisonous, and gloves are appropriate when handling them.
Appearance and varieties of Checkerboard flower
Fritillaria meleagris grows in a horst-like manner, resulting in one upright shoot per bulb with dull green, narrow, smooth-edged and pointed leaves. The flowers grow up to 10 inches tall, depending on the variety, and bloom in the garden beginning in April. Often two flowers sit at once at the end of the shoot, but all hang over like bells.
The leaves grow up to 15 centimeters long, dry up after flowering, as with all bulb flowers, and then retreat into the ground. Those who wish to collect seeds for propagation should collect them in time. Since chess flowers leave holes or bare spots in the garden after flowering, taller plants should grow in the neighborhood to cover these bare spots in the summer.
By the way, don’t be surprised if the stems with their flower buds reminiscent of lizard heads initially lie half on the ground, making you think that nothing will come of these parts of the plant. This is not uncommon, and it doesn’t take long for the stems to straighten up and stand tautly upright and blooming one morning.
Is the checkerboard flower poisonous?
The checkerboard flower is poisonous. Therefore, always use gardening gloves when caring for it.
White, pink or almost red: In addition to the wild form with purple flowers, checkerboard flowers with different flower colors are also available for the garden. For example, the cultivar ‘Aphrodite’, like ‘Alba’, has pure white flowers in which the checkerboard pattern is barely noticeable, while ‘Charon’ virtually flirts with this pattern in its purple, almost black flowers with light purple checks. This also applies to ‘Saturnus’ with its checkerboard pattern in light and dark red.
What kind of location does the checkerboard flower need?
The checkered flower prefers a sunny to semi-shady location with fresh, nutritious, deep, but still well-drained soil, which is closest to the natural locations in wet meadows or near ponds. However, the checkerboard flower does not like waterlogging at all, nor does it like a site with calcareous potting soil. Very sandy and light substrates should therefore be improved with compost or potting soil before planting, but heavy clay soil on the other hand should be made permeable with plenty of sand and also potting soil.
How to plant a checkerboard flower?
Planting time for the hazelnut-sized bulbs begins in late summer and does not end until October if the weather is suitably mild. You should not plant a checkered flower much later than this, as it should be relatively slow to root and grow by winter. It is best to place the bulbs of a checkerboard flower in the soil immediately after purchase and do not leave them out in the air for long before planting, where the bulbs dry out quickly.
The checkerboard flower works best as a team, so arrange the bulbs in larger groups of 10 or 20 and plant them a good 6 to 8 inches deep in the planting hole. There should be a good 15 centimeters of space between the bulbs so that the young checkerboard flowers don’t get in each other’s way for now. In the first year after planting, you should protect the soil with a layer of leaves in case of severe frost.
How to care for checkerboard flowers?
Unlike many other bulbous plants, checkerboard flowers love moist substrate and therefore need quite a lot of water in dry spring. However, think about the bulbs in the summer as well and water their location as well – even if you can’t see anything of the checkerboard flowers themselves then.
Fritillaria meleagris is incorruptible and cannot be coaxed into more or larger blooms by fertilizer applications. A little compost after flowering is quite enough to sustain the hardy plants.
Although the slowly yellowing leaves of a faded checkerboard flower may not look as pretty in the summer, don’t cut them off until they are straw yellow and dried out. Until then, each bulb is still drawing important nutrients from the foliage and storing them for new shoots next year.
How to propagate checkerboard flowers?
The propagation of a checkerboard flower succeeds either by sowing or with brood bulbs, which you collect in the summer from the already moved in plants or the bulb in the ground and replant immediately afterwards somewhere else. The little bulbs are even more sensitive to desiccation than the large ones.
The other method of reproduction of checkerboard flower is by seeds, which are formed in the capsule fruits. But: checkerboard flowers set abundant seeds, but, as with any cold germinator, they germinate only after the influence of low soil temperatures just above freezing, taking months to do so. If you propagate a checkerboard flower by seed, you should remember that the plants will then bloom only after three or four years.
For propagation by seeds collect them immediately after ripening in late summer or even leave the seed pods on the plant until autumn. Fill a sowing tray with a mix of bird sand and common sowing soil. Scatter the seeds in a wide dice and cover them very lightly with soil. Place the seed tray outdoors over the winter, well protected, keep the soil moist throughout and prick out the seedlings or young plants in the spring into small pots with sowing soil. The disadvantage of this method of propagation of a checkerboard flower – you will not have young plants until spring.
Alternatively, you can collect the seeds, store them warm for two or three weeks, and then store them for 5 to 6 weeks, for example, in the refrigerator at a good six degrees Celsius. During this time, the built-in germination barrier disappears and you can sow them in the same year, but should then overwinter the young plants in a cool place indoors, not in the garden.
Common diseases and pests
In general, checkerboard flower is rarely affected by diseases or pests. Occasionally, however, lily chafers have it in for them. This is a beetle that eats at the leaves and causes lasting damage to the plant.