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Growing Eremurus (Foxtail Lily, Desert Candle)

By Katrina Godshalk

foxtail lily
Eremurus (Foxtail Lily, Desert Candle) Zones 5-8

Like giant feathery plumes or a fox’s bushy tail, the long-lasting flower spikes of Eremurus sparkle with shimmering color in the late spring to early summer garden. Also known as Foxtail Lily or Desert Candle, this striking plant will light your garden with tall, fragrant, vertical flowers. Flowers range from white through the pastels of pink and peach, to the bright, lively yellows and golds that make gardens sing.  Foliage clumps of strap-like leaves (up to 4 feet tall) surround the flower spires and die back in mid-summer once flowering is done and the plant goes into dormancy. Originating from Asia, these garden stars display stalks of flowers up to 8 feet tall. The name Eremurus comes from ‘eremos’ (solitary) and ‘oura’ (tail).

Growing Eremurus: Planting Desert Candle/Foxtail Lily

Eremurus grow from tuberous roots rather than a single bulb and will arrive as a star shaped cluster of fleshy roots around a central crown. They are very tender, so take care not to break them. (If there is breakage, let the root dry in the sun for 24 hours to heal.) Plant them in a full sun location with wind protection if needed.

Key to the success with Foxtail Lilies is the need for organically rich, well-drained soil. Sandy loam is ideal. Heavy soil is the leading reason Eremurus fail, so if your soil is clayish, consider planting them in raised beds. The addition of pea gravel may also improve drainage for heavy soils. They cannot tolerate soggy roots and will die off if the roots sit in water.

Eremurus also don’t like to have their roots disturbed. This can be challenging if you are planting them in an annual bed as the normal seasonal disturbance of digging and planting may be too much for them. Rather, consider planting them among or behind roses, or other perennials that won’t need disturbing. Situate Desert Candles at the back of a bed with evergreens behind for a stunning display.

Eremurus (Foxtail Lily)

When planting Eremurus bulbs, dig a wide hole, enrich with compost or other organic matter and create a mound in the center to hold the bud, pointed end up, at a depth of 2-3 inches. Carefully spread the roots around the mound and cover well. To ensure good drainage, plants may be planted in a raised area, above grade by 2-3 inches. Place tubers 1-2 feet apart. Plant in a row or in groups of 5 for maximum impact. Water well, gently soaking the soil. Provide consistent water through the growing season, after the plant goes into dormancy, watering may be reduced. Once established, Eremurus is quite drought tolerant.

Growing Eremurus: Maintenance Tips For Desert Candle/Foxtail Lily

Mulch well in fall. In cold areas, cover the planting area with pine boughs for extra protection and to delay early sprouts. Foxtail Lily will send up stems much like asparagus in spring. Protect them from late frosts by covering emerging plants with cardboard boxes, cloche, buckets, etc. if needed. As the flower spikes grow, be sure to stake them if wind could be a problem. The flower spires make dramatic, long-lasting cut flowers too. Once flowering has finished the spikes may be trimmed back or leave them for vertical garden interest. Be sure to leave the foliage as the leaves will replenish the bulbs for the coming season. Water weekly to maintain moisture levels. Once the foliage has yellowed and died back it may be removed as the plant is now dormant, and watering is no longer necessary. Mark the spot where your foxtails are to create a ‘do not disturb’ area.

Growing Eremurus: Plant Foxtail Lily/Desert Candle For Pollinators

Pollinators love Foxtail Lilies! The plentiful open flowers of each spike attract many of our smaller beneficial pollinators, including honey bees and bumble bees.

Growing Eremurus: Companion Plants For Foxtail Lily/Desert Candle

Eremurus likes its space! Don’t crowd it by overplanting with other plants. Rather plant at the back of the bed and consider peonies, roses, Dutch iris, allium and other late spring to early summer bloomers as neighbors.

Eremurus (Foxtail Lily)

Growing Eremurus: Foxtail Lily/Desert Candle Pest & Disease Issues

Slugs and snails like Foxtail Lily, especially in the spring when the plants are young. Slug control may be necessary during this time.

Root rot may affect plants if drainage is not adequate. Take care when planting to be sure you have adequate drainage.

Happily, deer and rabbits avoid Eremurus.

Growing Eremurus: After Season Care For Foxtail Lilies/Desert Candle

In fall, mulch with organic compost or mulch and check for good drainage. In zone 5 or where springs can be erratic, in addition to a cover of mulch, cover them with evergreen boughs. This will insulate your plants from the spring freeze-thaw-freeze that can damage tubers.

In the fall planting season, once Eremurus has established and multiplied, plants may be carefully dug and divided (every 3-4 years).

If you provide Eremurus with its basic needs you will be rewarded with an ever-increasing display of magnificent flowers that create a living sculpture in your garden.

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