Foxglove Plants – Tips For Growing Foxgloves

Foxglove Plants – Tips For Growing Foxgloves

By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

Tall and stately foxglove plants (Digitalis purpurea) have long been included in garden areas where vertical interest and lovely flowers are desired. Foxglove flowers grow on stems which may reach 6 feet (2 m.) in height, depending on variety.

Foxglove flowers are clusters of tubular shaped blooms in colors of white, lavender, yellow, pink, red, and purple. Growing foxgloves thrive in full sun to partial shade to full shade, depending on the summer heat. They are hardy in gardening zones 4 through 10 and in the hottest areas prefer more midday and afternoon shade for optimum performance. The hotter the summers, the more shade the plant needs.

How to Grow Foxgloves

Foxglove plants grow best in rich, well draining soil. Caring for foxglove plants will include keeping the soil moist. As a biennial or short lived perennial, the gardener can encourage re-growth of foxglove flowers by not allowing the soil to dry out or to get too soggy.

Foxglove flowers may be grown from seed, producing blossoms in the second year. If flower heads are not removed, foxglove plants reseed themselves abundantly. Using them as cut flowers can decrease reseeding.

If flowers are allowed to drop seeds, thin the seedlings next year to about 18 inches (46 cm.) apart, allowing growing foxgloves room to develop. If you want additional foxglove plants next year, leave the last flowers of the season to dry on the stalk and drop seeds for new growth.

The foxglove plant is grown commercially for distillation of the heart medication Digitalis. Caring for the foxglove plant should include keeping children and pets away, as all parts can be toxic when consumed. This may explain why deer and rabbits leave them alone. Hummingbirds are attracted by their nectar.

Varieties of Foxglove Flowers

Rusty foxgloves are the tallest variety of this specimen and may reach 6 feet, sometimes requiring staking. Foxy Hybrids foxglove reaches just 2 to 3 feet (61-91 cm.) and may be an option for those growing foxgloves in small gardens. Sizes in between the two come from planting the common foxglove, which reaches 4 to 5 feet (1-1.5 m.) and hybrid types.

Now that you’ve learned how to grow foxglove flowers, include them in a safe, background area of the flower bed or garden to add the vertical beauty of foxglove blooms.

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This is one of the questions asked most often. Here’s the reason. Foxglove plants are available in all good nurseries and garden centres every spring and that’s a great option if you just need a few plants. Around here they cost anything from £4.99 to £8.99 per plant. So if you would like a lot of Foxgloves that can be an expensive way to get the look you want. Sowing seeds is sometimes a better option if you:

  • Visualise a swathe of gorgeous Foxgloves in your garden in a particular colour.
  • Plan to grow a variety of Foxgloves with a range of heights and colours to sell.

Foxglove seeds are tiny and it can be hard to know how to deal with them. In the wild Foxglove seeds ripen on the plants then are scattered by the wind wafting their tall stalks about. Each plant produces thousands of seeds because there are many losses. Small creatures eat the seeds and this broadcast method of seeding can be a little hit and miss. If the seeds land in the wrong spot they just won’t grow. You can broadcast seeds in your garden or cutting patch but I prefer to sow them indoors where I can control things a little.

I always plant lots of Foxgloves and they perform very well for us in our semi shaded garden. I grow them from seed and plant them around the oak tree and my garden studio in our Spring Garden. We also plant a big patch at the edge of our Bluebell Wood. In 2015 they flowered twice, as usual in spring and then quite unexpectedly again in autumn. 2015 was so mild you see.

When you tidy your garden in autumn you may prefer to cut the flowering stalks off. If you grow several types of Foxgloves it’s quite likely that any plants produced from the seeds will be very similar to our wild Foxglove Digitalis purpurea. For that reason you may wish to remove biennial Foxgloves as soon as flowering is over. We prefer to leave some seed heads on the plants so that tiny creatures have hiding places and seeds to eat over winter. And here’s the bonus. This is what’s left of my Foxgloves this year. Just the tall stalks with seed pods. Aren’t they amazing?

Most Foxgloves are biennials… That means if you sow them this year they will flower next year. What is brilliant about biennials is that you can grow lots of plants very easily and inexpensively from seed and then remove them after flowering to grow something else.

Easy – Sow in late summer or early autumn and they will grow and develop through the winter with little or even no attention from you as long as your garden has sufficient rain! Then they burst into life in spring sending up tall spires of blooms so you will have masses of early flowers in May and June.

Inexpensive – Foxgloves produce masses of tiny seeds. If you have friends with foxgloves in their garden they will probably be delighted to give you some of their seeds. They probably won’t be exactly the same as their parents so it’s exciting to see what grows. Alternatively you can buy a packet of seeds for just a couple of pounds and choose the colours and height that you prefer.

The bright pink wild form is Digitalis purpurea. Foxgloves also come in white and cream and lovely pastel pinks and peachy apricot too. Many of them have beautiful markings inside each bloom which acts like a landing strip for bees and other pollinating insects.

Take Care With Foxgloves

Please note that all parts of the plant are poisonous to people, pets and livestock. Foxglove is considered invasive along the West Coast and in some parts of New England.

  • Sun: Full sun, partial sun, part shade
  • Height: 2-5 feet
  • Soil: Acidic, moist, well drained
  • USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-10
  • Bloom time: Early summer, late spring
  • Disease: Plants are susceptible to crown rot. Space them adequately apart to promote air circulation because powdery mildew and leafspot also can be a problem.
  • Did you know: The plants are used in the production of heart medications, such as the well-known Digitalis.

Foxglove, lupine and perennials surround bird feeder with climbing rose and clematis.

Foxglove, lupine and perennials surround bird feeder with climbing rose and clematis.

Foxglove, lupine and perennials surround bird feeder with climbing rose and clematis.

A toxic flower with a storied past, foxglove can become a welcomed addition to your farm, as long as you plant it with care.

For years I’ve lobbied for a bed of foxglove here at the farm. My husband, like so many gardeners, was convinced of the danger inherent in this beautiful flower and has vetoed it every year. This year, I thought I would take a different approach. I decided to do some research on the history of the plant, hoping that knowing more about it would make my husband more comfortable. Now, I’ve just got to lure him into reading my blog …

The latin name for the common foxglove is Digitalis purpurea. It’s a biennial and a fairly successful self-seeder as long as it’s planted in the right location. It likes a partly sunny to shady spot in acidic soil. Here in Ohio, we’re just inside its preferred climate, hardiness zone of 5 to 8. Unfortunately, to get it to grow, we need to amend the soil to encourage acidity. I have friends in the coffee-roasting industry that might be able to help me with that!

Everything about foxglove is striking, but the flower is most noticeable and most likely its namesake. The name points to how this plant became controversial for the first time. When it was originally categorized, the “folk” already had a long history of using the plant and the common names included fox’s gliew, little folk’s glove, witches bell, floppy dock and fingerhut. It had quite an association with fairies and the occult, which set it in opposition to the modern medical therapies of the time—so much so that botanist John Gerard called it useless in his 1597 herbal and anyone who made claims of its health benefits was quickly dismissed as uneducated and backwards.

An English botanist named Will Withering, while doing research on the plant in 1741, rebelled against the scientific community when he came across someone who had used foxglove to cure a common ailment of the day: dropsy. Withering met a man who had survived the disease (known today as edema), which was a sure death sentence at the time. While enduring the jeers and disrespect of the medical community, he dove into 10 years of clinical study on the plant. Eventually, he came to prove its efficacy. As his reward he was appointed to Birmingham General Hospital in England by none other than the grandfather of Charles Darwin.

The toxicity of foxglove is in the dosage. It is highly dangerous to eat the plant. Very few herbalists use it as medicine these days, as one must be highly trained to understand the correct dose. Instead, the medicinal compound found in foxglove is isolated and used in the drug industry, where its concentration can be exact. Death from eating foxglove leaves is rare, but this is just because the side effects of eating too much tends to stop you from eating anymore. Eating any amount of any part of the plant can make you seriously ill. The heart tonic, when in drug form, is used for arrhythmias and congestive heart failure.

If you would like to grow foxglove, plant it out of reach of small children. The history of this plant is fascinating, but no one should try to use it for a heart condition without the supervision of a highly trained and experienced herbalist and consultation with their doctor.

I plan to grow mine in a gated pasture and be really clear with my children that the foxglove is not one of the safe snacking plants on the property. I can’t wait for my first foxglove bouquet! It’s said that the addition of foxglove will keep the other flowers in your arrangement fresher, longer. A beautiful flower with benefits—how can I resist?

Foxglove Flowers: How To Grow Foxgloves - garden

Biennial or Perennials, Digitalis

Now here is an old garden gem. Foxgloves have spikes of distinctive, freckle-throated bells that stud the flower stems. They provide a graceful, stately look in a partly shady garden. They are at home in the woodland or native garden, and look well in the back of the home garden.

Foxglove blooms during early summer in various shades of shell pink, rose, cream and white, with contrasting freckles. They are natives of Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa.

Caution: The leaves are poisonous. If you have children or pets, you might want to steer clear of this flower.

The poisonous substance in the leaves is called Digitalis. You may recognize this as a chemical sometimes used in the treatment of heart disease.

Foxglove are started from seed. Sow Foxglove seed directly into your flower garden after all danger of frost. They can also be spread around fields as a wildflower.

Sow seeds early in the season and cover lightly with 1/8" of garden soil. Give them plenty of room. Final spacing should be 24". We recommend sowing a few seeds every 24", marking the position. Then, thin the seedlings to one after they have sprouted and grown an inch or two.

How to Grow Foxglove Plants:

Foxglove plants like full sun to partial shade. Fast growing Foxglove, will reach a height of 2 to 5 feet, depending upon the variety you have selected for your yard or woodlands area.

Foxglove will do well in average soils and in cool weather. The soil needs to be kept moist to feed their quick growth. Water them during dry periods, once or twice per week. Adding a general purpose fertilizer once a month will result in bigger, fuller blooms.

Cut blooms just before they reach their peak. Place them in a vase and arrange with other flowers, or alone by themselves.

Insects and disease problems are not a major problem. If problems occur, treat early with organic or chemical insect repellents and fungicide. Gardening Resources:

How to Plant Foxglove Flowers

Related Articles

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) blooms with tubular-shaped spikes of colorful flowers that bloom for four weeks from late spring through early summer. Although the plants have low-growing foliage, the flower spikes usually grow 3-to-5 feet tall. Foxglove flowers are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. This short-lived perennial plant is often grown as a self-sowing biennial. Gardeners can add instant color and visual appeal to the outdoor space by transplanting plants that were started the year before since the plants only develop leaves the first year after being planted from seed.

Choose a planting site that has moist, well-draining, acidic soil. Although foxglove plants adapt to varying light conditions and can grow in areas with full sunlight, the plants prefer planting areas with partial shade.

Prepare the area by tilling the ground 12-to-15 inches deep to loosen and aerate the soil. Mix 2-to-4 inches of compost or other organic matter into the garden soil since foxgloves prefer growing in soil that is rich in organic material.

Dig a planting hole for each foxglove plant, making it twice as wide, and as deep, as the diameter of the plant's current container.

Remove the foxglove from its container, avoiding disturbing or damaging the roots. Place the plant in the hole, making sure that the top of the root ball is level with the surrounding ground.

Fill the hole halfway, lightly firming the soil around the root ball. Water the area, lightly flooding the hole to encourage the soil to settle around the plant’s roots. Once the water is absorbed, finish filling the hole. Firm the soil gently and water the plant thoroughly.

Add a 2-inch layer of the mulch of your choice to help keep the soil moist and weed-free. Maintain foxglove flowers by watering them regularly when rainfall is less than 1-inch each week. Add a fresh, thin layer of organic materials and mulch to the planting area annually in spring.

  • Plant foxglove plants in spring or fall.
  • Gardeners growing the plants from seed can sow foxglove seeds in early summer by sprinkling them in the prepared planting area without covering the seeds with soil. Ideal germination happens when the seeds are exposed to sunlight and temperatures range from 70 to 80 degrees. Foxglove seeds that fall from the spent flowers of mature plants usually self-sow.
  • Avoid eating any part of this plant and keep it out of reach of small children and pets. Foxglove, the botanical source of cardiac medication, digitalis, is a poisonous plant.

Caryn Anderson combines extensive behind-the-scenes writing experience with her passion for all things food, fashion, garden and travel. Bitten by the travel bug at the age of 15 after a trip to Europe, Anderson fostered her love of style and fashion while living in New York City and earning her degree at New York University.

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