What Is a Foxtail Lily?

Lumara Lee

A foxtail lily is an herbaceous perennial that produces stunning spikes of flowers on tall, lean stems in the middle of summer. This native of Asia is also known as the desert candle because of the shape of its flower spikes. These showy plants can reach a height between 6 and 7 feet (1.8 and 2.1 meters), with the top few feet covered in flowers growing closely together. Shorter hybrids are also available. The foxtail lily is found in shades of pink, white, and yellow.

Woman with a flower
Woman with a flower

Foxtail lily bulbs require good drainage and full sun. They can grow in partial shade but may have weak stems if they don’t receive enough sun. These gorgeous lilies prefer sandy soil but can tolerate other soil types as long as they have good drainage and plenty of water. Foxtail lilies are not drought tolerant and should be kept moist, especially when they are becoming established.

Many flowering bulbs can thrive in containers such as pots, urns, and planters, but the foxtail lily isn’t one of them. It prefers to be left undisturbed, so it will do better in a permanent location in the ground. Although the bulbs can be divided, they are very brittle and break easily, so some gardeners buy new ones to prevent the possibility of damaging the older ones by dividing them. The older plants will reseed themselves under the right growing conditions.

Foxtail lily bulbs have an unusual appearance since they have different roots radiating out and are shaped somewhat like starfish. When the bulbs are planted, holes should be dug 6 inches (15 centimeters) deep and much wider than the bulbs since they must be placed carefully in the holes with plenty of room so that they don’t break. Foxtail lily bulbs should be spaced at least 12 inches (30 centimeters) apart and planted in the fall.

It is recommended that the foxtail lily be planted in a sheltered location protected from wind. Some gardeners stake the plants, since a wind gust can break the long, narrow stems. When the foxtail lily has finished blooming, cutting off the flower spikes and leaving the foliage will enable the plant to produce beautiful blooms during the next growing season.

Foxtail lilies are popular with florists, since the cut flowers can last up to two weeks. Heirloom varieties and hybrids are available. An Internet search will yield a list of nurseries that sell these stunning summer bloomers.

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