How to Grow Foxtail Lilies (Eremurus)

Cleopatra foxtail lilies with tall orange flowers in garden

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

The humble bulb can yield a spectacular plant a few months later, and the foxtail lily is a vivid reminder of this transformation. From one spidery, woody tuber you can grow spires of densely packed flowers that may grow as tall as 6-feet tall, depending on the variety. Be sure to buy enough of these fast-growing plants so that you won’t mind harvesting some for the vase, as the foxtail lily is an excellent cut flower specimen.

Fast-growing foxtail lilies should be planted in the fall.

Botanical Name Eremurus robustus
Common Name Foxtail lily, desert candle, king's spears
Plant Type Tuber
Mature Size 3-6 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy loam
Soil pH Acid, alkaline, neutral
Bloom Time  Late spring, early summer
Flower Color  Golden yellow, white, coral, orange
Hardiness Zones 5-8 (USDA)
Native Area Central Asia
Toxicity Toxic to pets and humans

Foxtail Lilies Care

The genus Eremurus contains about 40 species of plants native to central Asia, especially rocky areas in high elevations. They need a good deal of sun, so if you want the look of foxtail lilies in the shade, plant the bugbane flower instead.

Also known as desert candles and king's spears, fast-growing foxtail lilies grow from 3- to 8-feet or even greater depending on the species. Foxtail lily foliage is strappy and insignificant and may begin the fade before the flowers even form. The late spring bottlebrush-shaped flowers come in warm shades of yellow, orange, pink, and coral, and open from the bottom of the spike to the top.

It may be tempting to crowd your foxtail lilies with other plants that will hide their fading foliage, but don’t do this, as Eremurus likes to have its own space in the garden. Do place these flowers in the back of the border, where their otherworldly spikes will inspire oohs and aahs as they rise seemingly out of nowhere. Foxtail lilies look striking beside peonies or a group of Dutch iris flowers, which bloom at approximately the same time. Deer and most other pests avoid the foxtail lily, but slug control may be necessary for the spring.

Cleopatra foxtail lily with orange flowers closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Pinoccio foxtail lilies with tall yellow flowers in garden

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Pinoccio foxtail lily with yellow flowers and buds closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

White beauty favorite foxtail lilies with tall white flowers and buds

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Light

Foxtail lilies need a site in full sun. While they can grow in partial shade, the shadier the location, the less strength your lilies will have to grow strong stems to support their magnificent flowers.

Soil

Rich, well-draining sandy loam is perfect for their needs.

Water

Foxtail lilies have average water needs, so water well during the growing season and don't let the soil dry out.

Temperature and Humidity

The plants thrive in a narrow temperature range that generally makes them suitable to USDA growing zones 5-8. Cold but not frigid winters spur flowering and growth from one year to the next.

Fertilizer

As the flower spike is developing, feed your foxtail lily with liquid fertilizer or liquid manure.

Foxtail Lilies Varieties

  • 'Cleopatra': features dark orange flower spikes
  • 'E. robustus': offers all the beauty of an heirloom variety, with pink flowers growing to 7-feet or taller
  • 'Pinocchio': boasts yellowish-orange flowers
  • 'White Beauty': showy ivory flowers with prominent yellow stamens

Pruning

Once your foxtail lily's flowers are spent, prune back with clean gardening shears.

Propagating Foxtail Lilies

Foxtail lily tubers are dormant root pieces rather than bulbs. When you get the tubers, you’ll notice that they seem dry and somewhat brittle. The dormant plants will plump up after you expose them to moist soil, but take care not to snap off any of the pieces in the meantime.

Providing the right soil tilth is critical for foxtail lilies, as heavy soil is the main reason the plants fail in gardens. Foxtail lilies must have soil that drains well. Soil that is on the sandy side is preferred to clay. If your garden is comprised of heavy clay, plant your foxtail lilies in raised beds.

Choose a site for your foxtail lilies that receives protection from strong winds. What a shame it would be to nurture these giant flower spikes, only to find them snapped in half after a spring storm. Plant the tubers 2-4 inches deep (deeper in colder climates and more shallow in warm zones). Give the tubers plenty of room to spread slowly over the years in their permanent garden home, which is approximately three feet apart.

Overwintering

You can remove the spent flower heads if you wish, but they look showy when left in place. If you wish to divide the tubers in the fall to get more foxtail lilies, wait several years, as colonies are slow to form.

In the colder zones, especially in zone 5, you must literally tuck your foxtail lilies in with a blanket when winter arrives. The blanket should consist of loose organic material like compost, straw, or mulch. A finishing touch of evergreen branches on the plant crowns is also desirable. This blanket will help your tubers avoid the deadly freeze-thaw cycles that might otherwise turn them to mush.