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How to Grow Foxtail Lilies (Desert Candles)

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If you are looking for some drama in your garden, consider adding foxtail lilies. Their flower stalks grow to 6 – 8 feet tall.

What are Foxtail Lilies?

Foxtail lilies (Eremurus robustus) are flowering plants that are native to the mountains of Central China. They are related to lilies. Unlike lilies, foxtail lilies don’t grow from a bulb. They grow from a tuberous root that is often described as looking like a starfish. They are hardy in zones 5 – 8.

These plants are quite large. Their leaves grow in a rosette at the base of the plant. The leaves can be 4 feet tall. They quite “strappy” being only 4 inches wide. The leaves appear in the early spring and start to fade in late spring as the flowers make their appearance.

Foxtail lily flowers grow on tall stalks, 6 – 8 feet tall. The stalks appear in late spring. The flowers are tiny and packed together on the stalk. They look very much like a bottle brush. Depending on the cultivar, the flowers can be white, yellow, orange, coral or pink.

The leaves grow in a rosette, appearing in the early spring.

The leaves grow in a rosette, appearing in the early spring.

How to Grow Foxtail Lilies

Foxtail lilies need full sun and well-drained soil. If you plant them in partial shade, the plants will be weak and unable to support their tall flower stalk. Well-drained soil is a must. If your soil is clay, it is recommended that you plant your lilies in a raised bed. Without enough drainage, your plants will die.

Foxtail lilies are planted in the fall. Choose a spot that is protected from the wind. High winds will knock the gorgeous flower stalks over. The tuber and roots will be dry and brittle when you purchase them. Be careful not to break them. If you do accidentally break the tuber, give it 24 hours to callous over before planting. “Callous” means to allow the moist spot where it broke to harden and dry out so that no insects or disease can get inside the tuber.

For each root, dig a hole that is 15 inches wide and 2 – 4 inches deep depending on cold your climate is. Plant your tuber pointed end facing upwards. This is where the plant will grow from. You need a wide hole so that you can spread the roots out instead of trying to cram them into a narrow hole. Plant your tubers 1 to 2 feet apart.

I have found that it is easier to dig one large hole and space all of your roots in it rather than digging many individual holes.

In the colder zones, cover the soil with a thick layer of mulch to prevent frost heave. Frost heave occurs in the winter when temperatures fluctuate. The moisture in the soil alternately freezes and thaws, pushing the soil and whatever is planted in it upwards. This can damage bulbs, tubers and perennial plant crowns. Covering your garden with a layer of mulch in the fall help keep the soil temperature more even.

In the coldest zone, zone 5, you might want to cover your mulch with pine boughs in the spring as additional protection because spring temperatures tend to fluctuate between freeze and thaw in that zone.

Yellow foxtail lilies

Yellow foxtail lilies

During the growing season, make sure that your plants get consistent moisture, about 2 inches per week. When the flowers have finished, the tubers go dormant and don’t need to be watered. You can either remove the spent flowers or leave them in your garden for added interest.

Because foxtail lilies grow in such poor soil in their native habitat, there is no need to fertilize them. You can enrich your soil with compost which is not as nutrient dense as commercial fertilizers. It also provides some drainage.

Pink foxtail lilies

Pink foxtail lilies

How to Divide Foxtail Lilies

Foxtail lilies are propagated by division. They should be divided every 3 to 4 years. Division is best done in the fall. That will give the new plants a chance to grow out some new roots and get settled in before winter.

Carefully dig up your clump of lilies using a garden fork. Gently break the tubers apart, making sure that each piece has roots. Replant your new divisions 1 to 2 feet apart in holes that are 15 inches wide and 2 to 4 inches deep depending on how cold your climate is. Plant them with the pointed end facing up. Water well and cover with a thick layer of mulch for winter protection.

© 2020 Caren White


Caren White (author) on August 29, 2020:

I'm sure that they are beautiful.

Abby Slutsky from America on August 28, 2020:

I believe I have these in my garden, but mine are not nearly as nice looking as the ones in your picture.