Eremurus

(Question)

If I plant this strange ‘fat spider’ root (eremurus) in Toronto:
1. How deep do I plant it ?
2. Do I have to leave the shoot exposed to the sunlight (I have read this on the internet) ?
3. How do I plant this root to survive the cold winters we have ?

(Answer)

Eremurus, commonly know as foxtail lilies or desert candles, are a striking addition to one’s garden.  It is a wonder how the spider-like tuberous root produces a such a colossal and showy flower stalk (7 ft.).  It is also interesting to note that the Genus name is “derived from the Greek words eremos meaning solitary and oura meaning tail, in reference to the showy terminal flower spikes”. Eremurus is native to the semi-desert and dry grassland areas of eastern Europe and central/eastern Asia – knowing its provenance is key to understanding the growing conditions.

Well-drained, organically rich soil in full sun is essential for eremurusEnriched sandy loams are preferable to un-amended clay soils, which do not allow for good drainage.  One should also consider a site that is protected from strong winds given the height of the flower stalk.  Early fall is the best time to plant eremurus as the root growth begins in the fall as it needs a cold period to induce spring flowering.  Planting in the early spring is possible although it may not produce a flower until the following spring.  Nevertheless, good drainage is essential as otherwise, the crown will rot.

The spider/octopus-like tuberous root actually is a “center crown from which fleshy tapering roots spread outward”.  To plant, make a wide shallow hole at least 6 inches deep and 10″ to 12″ across to accommodate the spider-like roots.  Mound the soil in the center so that the crown will be 2-3 inches below the soil surface, carefully spread out the roots downward from the crown, cover with gritty soil and water well, allowing the soil to settle around the roots.  Good drainage is the essential element in successfully growing eremurus.

The  flower spike actually consists of  hundreds of slightly fragrant flowers which open from the bottom upwards.  They create a stunning sight that is very attractive to bees.  After flowering, the plant will gradually go into dormancy, the leaves will die back in mid-summer and the large stalk can be cut back to the ground.  Mulching the plant with dry leaves or compost over the winter will protect the plant roots and the emerging foliage in the spring from temperature fluctuations during the winter.

Good luck with growing your eremurus.  It will certainly provide much interest in your garden.