The foxtail lily is often called a bulb but it is actually a perennial tuberous root that blooms during the late spring into early summer. The foxtail lily can grow between 3 to 8 feet (depending on the variety) with spires of densely packed bottle-brush-shaped flowers in warm shades of yellow, orange, pink, and coral that are also deer-resistant. In the spring, strappy leaves emerge and form a rosette at the plant's base. Foxtail lily grows best in full sunlight, well-draining sandy to loamy soil, and seems to thrive in the cooler temperatures of zones 5 to 8.
|Common Name||Foxtail lily, desert candle, king's spears|
|Botanical Name||Eremurus robustus|
|Plant Type||Tuber, perennial|
|Mature Size||3-6 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Sandy, loamy|
|Soil pH||Acid, alkaline, neutral|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer|
|Flower Color||Yellow, white, pink, orange|
|Hardiness Zones||5-8 (USDA)|
Foxtail Lilies Care
Here are the main care requirements for growing foxtail lilies:
- Grow in full sun for stronger plants.
- Water well and keep the soil somewhat moist but never soggy.
- Fertilize the growing flower spike.
- Protect the plants in frigid weather.
Plant foxtail lilies in the fall. Choose a site for your foxtail lilies that receives protection from strong winds. Make sure the site has well-draining sandy or loamy soil. Space the plants at least 2 to 3 feet apart because they dislike crowding and like room to spread.
Note that this plant needs special spacing when put in the ground to properly spread its fleshy starfish-shaped roots where it holds food. Dig a 15-inch wide and 2- to 6-inch deep hole (deeper in colder climates and more shallow in warm zones). Add compost to the soil, then add an inch of coarse garden sand. Lay the roots over the sand, then add 4 to 6 inches of soil but leave the crown exposed and uncovered. This plant does not like to be disturbed so make sure you will not need to transplant this flower.
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.
Rich, well-draining sandy loam is perfect for their needs. Providing the right soil tilth (condition) is critical for foxtail lilies, as heavy soil is the main reason these plants fail in gardens. Foxtail lilies must have soil that drains well. Soil that is on the sandy side is preferred to clay.
Foxtail lilies have average water needs, about an inch a week, so water well during the growing season. Don't let the soil dry out or get soggy. When the first inch of soil is dry, it is time to water. Foxtail lily is drought tolerant.
Temperature and Humidity
The plants thrive in a narrow temperature range that generally makes them suitable for USDA growing zones 5-8. Cold but not frigid winters spur flowering and growth from one year to the next.
As the flower spike is developing, feed your foxtail lily with liquid fertilizer or liquid manure. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.
Foxtail Lilies Varieties
- 'Cleopatra': Features dark orange flower spikes and petals that have a narrow red line that looks like eyeliner
- '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
- 'E. himalaicus': Grows to 4 feet tall with dense, pure white racemes, and 18-inch strappy leaves
- 'E. stenophyllus': Dwarf with 24- to 36-inch primrose yellow flowers
Once your foxtail lily's flowers are spent, prune back with clean gardening shears.
Propagating Foxtail Lilies
Propagate foxtail lilies by division or by seed. Division should be tackled infrequently (every three to four years) and seeds can be hit-or-miss, take long, and you will likely not grow a duplicate of the parent. If you wish to divide the tubers in the fall to get more foxtail lilies, wait several years, as colonies are slow to form.
Here's how to propagate by division in the fall.
- Gently lift established foxtail lilies as they die down in the fall. When you dig them up, the tubers may seem dry or brittle because they are dormant so take care not to snap off any pieces while handling.
- Remove the soil and then cut or carefully break them into separate sections. Make certain there is a full crown with every section you divide.
- Plant divisions far apart in a large hole but let the crown breathe.
How to Grow Foxtail Lilies From Seed
- Harvest seeds from foxtail lilies after they bloom and seeds ripen in the fall.
- Sow the seeds into trays with a compost mix for seeds.
- Water the trays and place them into a cold frame so they get the proper cold treatment.
- Keep the seedlings moist (but not soggy) in the cold frame for two seasons to have enough time to germinate.
- Plant the tubers in their permanent home outdoors and remember, you probably won't see any flowering for another year after planting.
In the colder zones, especially in zone 5 (which can reach -10 to -20 degrees Fahrenheit) 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.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Slugs and snails tend to be the most bothersome pest of the foxtail lily, especially young springtime lilies. Slug and snail control will likely be necessary.
If foxtail lilies are not planted in well-draining soil or the plants are overwatered, they could develop root rot. It's one reason why it's a good idea to lay the roots on a bed of sand when planting.
How to Get Foxtail Lilies to Bloom
How Long Do Foxtail Lilies Bloom?
Each spike can stay abloom for three weeks to a month during the late spring and into June or July.
What Do Foxtail Lily's Flowers Look Like?
Each tall spike has hundreds of tightly packed tiny buds that blossom into delicate but brightly colored starlike flowers. Flowers have a sweet fragrance that attracts pollinators.
How to Encourage More Blooms
The best way to encourage more blooms is to keep the soil well-drained and fertilize annually. Allow the plant cold (but not frozen) dormancy and it will reward you in the spring and summer.
Caring for a Foxtail Lily After It Blooms
After a foxtail lily blooms, you can leave it to self-seed or dry out so you can harvest seeds. Or, after it blooms, you can cut the spike down but do not dig up the plant. You can remove the spent flower heads if you wish, but they look showy when left in place.
Common Problems with Foxtail Lilies
When properly planted, this plant does not experience many problems with just one exception.: its height. Since it is a tall plant, it's best to choose a site to plant the flowers where it will receive protection from strong winds or a spring storm could snap the stalks in half. However, the plants may need staking, especially in areas where there are high winds or even very strong breezes where they are not protected.
Are foxtail lilies annuals or perennials?
The foxtail lily is a hardy perennial.
Do foxtail lilies multiply easily?
No, not really. They may reseed over time but this is a painfully slow and iffy process. The plant may grow a new root every year and slowly creates a multi-stemmed clump. But you will need to gently lift and divide it to propagate.
Is the foxtail lily considered a true lily?
No, it is not a true lily because it is not a bulb. The foxtail lily is a tuberous root, where its food is stored.
Will a foxtail lily bloom in its first year?
No, you will see it bloom in its second year.
Eremurus robustus. Missouri Botanical Garden.