Foxtail lily (Eremurus spp)

How well established is this crop?

This crop is relatively new. It has been grown commercially for approximately 5 years. Commercial returns, current growers and some level of regional based research may be available to help those new to this industry.

Background

Foxtail lily is the common name for eremurus, a genus of plants that produce long lasting flowers on tall spikes in shades of orange, yellow, pink and white. Usually grown on dry, semi-desert and stony hillsides in their native habitat of central Asia, foxtails seem to be adapting well to the not too dissimilar climate of Central Otago.

Each crown yields one or more spikes with strong tall stems and hundreds of starry blossoms tapering slightly at the tip. As the tuber grows, it sets more crowns and can be divided with a crown in each division. Foxtail lilies produce large strap-like leaves and a tall flower stalk in spring. Some species grow up to 2.5 metres while others to around 60 cm. The leaves brown off after flowering and the roots remain quite dormant from late summer to early spring.

The market for New Zealand-grown eremurus is favourable, since it is already used extensively by florists in large arrangements in the Northern Hemisphere. Furthermore, the northern season for eremurus runs from late May to late August, as opposed to New Zealandís natural season, which is from early November through to late February, and takes in the high demand Christmas markets.

Winter Chilling and Frosts

Foxtail lilies require a period of winter chilling before they will send up flowering shoots. No work has been done on the exact amount, but it appears all areas of Otago have suitable chilling to allow flowering of this crop.

Rainfall and Irrigation

Foxtail lilies are not affected directly by rainfall at any stage of there growth. However, rainfall can lead to problems with fungal and bacterial diseases if these are not managed properly.

If rainfall is not sufficient over the growing period supplementary water should be added, especially as the stems begin to lengthen. T-tape or drip systems should be used to prevent wetting of the foliage and possible disease problems.

Wind

Like most high value flower crops, shelter from the wind is essential. This can take the form of with natural tree shelter or artificial shelter using wind cloth. A good rule of thumb when designing shelter is to multiply the final height of the shelter by 5. Use that measurement as the distance you position your shelters apart. For example, when using 2m high windbreak cloth, you will need shelters every 10m. Some consultants are recommending a multiplier of 10 for crops, but with a valuable plant such as this, a more conservative approach is advised.


If using natural tree shelter, make sure the shelters running east-west are deciduous. This will allow sunlight into the blocks in the winter. Position all shelters at right angles to the prevailing winds. Talk to your local nurserymen when deciding on the right tree type for your property. They may also be able to help with design.

Soil

To grow well, Foxtail lilies require a sandy and free draining soil.They do not like and will not tolerate wet soils.

Fertility

A reasonable level of soil fertility is required to grow this crop well.

Weed Control

Good weed control in the spring as the plants start growing is essential. After flowering over the summer period the leaves turn brown and die-off, which assists with easier weed control.

Varieties

There does not seem to be any preferred named varieties of foxtail lilies. The best way to select plant material is to talk to current growers and use crowns from their current stock which can easily be divided off the parent.

Pests and Diseases

Pests and diseases seem to be few, with slugs causing the most concern by eating the buds as they emerge. Aphids may also be found on the flower, while rabbits can cause damage by digging around the plants.

Layout

Crowns need to be planted with at least 20cm between them. They sould be planted in beds approximatly 1m wide. The beds can be as long as is practical.

General Management

If growing from crowns supplied by a local grower some flowers can be produced in the first year. If growing from seed flower production will not occur for up to 6 years.

As the foliage and flowering spikes emerge in the spring, they need water to ensure they grow at the optimum. Weed and pest control is needed during this time. After the flowers are harvested the foliage dies off. The plants do not need water over this time and in fact benefit from having these roots baked in the soil by the hot sun. Cutting back and removing the remaining foliage as the plants go into winetr ensures hygiene in the block for the following season.

Harvest

Harvest involves cutting the stems with a knife or secateurs. After harvest the stems need to be treated and packed for sale.

Equipment

Foxtail lily growing can be as high or low tech as you want it to be. The size of the block is the best determinant of this. Small blocks can be manged with generalgardening equipment and a backpackspray unit. Larger bloacks will need more specialist equipment such as a tractorand spray units.

Returns

Prices vary from year to year depending on the market and value of the $NZ. Export stems must be at least 70cm in length, shorter stems can be sold on the local market.

Contacts

If you are thinking of growing Foxtail lilies contact Jane Preston for plant material and advice

Jane Preston
Bannockburn
RD 2
Cromwell
03 445 1520