how to plant, grow & care for foxgloves (digitalis)
complete growing guide
Our native foxgloves, Digitalis purpurea, are biennial meaning that you sow them one year and they flower the next, but they seed themselves so freely they appear to be perennial. The same goes for the true perennial types which can be somewhat tender, but with luck will make so many babies you will be none the wiser.
With their early summer flowering, foxgloves fill a gap before the rest of the herbaceous perennials really get going and are a great nectar source for pollinators of all kinds. If you can steel yourself to cut the central spire for a vase you will get plenty of side shoots coming from the base to give you a longer season of cut flowers.
Foxgloves are easily grown from seed, but we also sell foxglove seedlings and larger potted plants that are ready to flower in the current season. Some of the modern hybrids have been bred to flower in their first year and for a much longer period, but they do not self-seed, so if you live in a cold area, they will need to be planted anew each year.
- Common name Foxglove
- Latin name Digitalis
- Type Biennial or short-lived perennial
- Height 60cm - 1.2m
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Full sun, part shade, or full shade
- Planting position. Middle or back of the border or amongst shrubs and trees.
- Suitable for pots No
- Good for pollinators Yes
- Good for cut flowers Yes
how to grow foxgloves
where to grow foxgloves
Soil type: Foxgloves have a broad tolerance and can be planted in most soil types.
Aspect & position: Plant your foxgloves in full sun, partial shade, or even full shade.
when to plant foxgloves
Foxglove seed can be sown between April and July either undercover or direct sown outdoors where they are to flower. Plant out the previous year’s seedlings or larger plants in April or May, plant out spring sown seedlings in the autumn.
how to plant foxgloves
sowing foxglove seeds
Foxglove seed is very fine so if growing undercover sow thinly on the surface of a seed tray of fine compost. Once they are large enough to handle prick out the seedlings into individual modules or pots and grow on until the autumn when they are ready to plant into their final position.
planting foxglove seedlings & plants
If you have ordered our 9cm pots of seedlings or 2 litre plants these will arrive ready to plant out into the garden straight away. Dig a hole a little bigger than the pot in soil that has been improved by the addition of a little leaf mould or home-made compost. Add a sprinkle of mycorrhizal fertiliser (Rootgrow) and water in well.
how to care for foxgloves
Once established, foxgloves need very little attention. If your site is windy the tall central stem might need staking, but if you remove that one as a cut flower the next stems will be shorter and sturdier.
Deadheading the spent flowers will prevent too much self-seeding which can be a problem if you are trying to grow the more unusual varieties. The parents of Digitalis purpurea will cross, leading to eventual reversion to the wild form. So, pull out any with a purple flower stem if you want to keep to the pure white or apricot forms.
Some of the more tender perennial types (Digitalis parviflora or mertonensis) will benefit from a mulch of leaf mould or compost to protect them from winter frosts.
- Sow seeds indoors or outside
- Plant out last year’s foxglove seedlings or larger plants in the garden.
- Cut central flower stem to encourage side stems.
- Plant out spring sown seedlings.
- Protect perennial varieties with mulch.
pests, diseases & common issues
aphids on foxgloves
Blackfly can attack the emerging flower buds of foxgloves so squash any you find as soon as you see them appear. The ladybirds and hoverflies should soon appear to clean up the rest.
leafspot on foxgloves
Fungal leafspot can leave dark blotches on the leaves in particularly damp conditions, but it is unlikely to kill the plant. Remove affected leaves and try to improve air circulation.
powdery mildew on foxgloves
This might appear later in the season particularly if the weather is dry. If you need to water, make sure you water at the root and avoid the leaves.
why are my foxgloves drooping?
This could be because they have been either over or underwatered, particularly if they are still growing in a pot. Check they are not waterlogged or if they are drying out too quickly place them in a shadier position.
why are my foxgloves falling over?
Some foxgloves have very heavy tall flower heads which can fall over if they are exposed to the wind. Attach them to a long cane to keep them upright or alternatively cut off the central stem to use as a cut flower and more shorter flower stems should appear from the base.
why are my foxgloves not flowering?
Most foxgloves are biennial which means that they do not come into flower until their second year. If they still do not flower, then make sure you are not giving them too much fertiliser which will encourage leaf growth at the expense of flowers.
frequently asked questions
will deer eat foxgloves?
No, deer will not eat foxgloves – they know a toxic plant when they see it.
how poisonous are foxgloves?
All parts of the foxglove plant are poisonous so care should be taken when handling them. However, the leaves and roots are foul tasting, so there are few reports of people being severely poisoned.
are foxgloves poisonous to dogs and cats?
Yes, they are, but they are so foul tasting there are few reports of serious poisonings.
are foxgloves perennial?
Most foxgloves are biennial (flowering in their second year and then dying). Some non-native varieties and modern hybrids are perennial, but they can be tender so may need to be grown each year from seed in colder areas.
do foxgloves self-seed?
Yes, they do, the tiny seedlings appear beneath the plant in late summer, growing on to flower the following year. They are easy to hoe out if you do not want them, or you can move seedlings over to fill a space elsewhere in the garden.
do foxgloves flower every year?
Our native foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is biennial (flowering in its second year and then dying but setting plenty of seed). Some non-native varieties and modern hybrids are perennial and can even flower in their first year. Digitalis grandiflora and Digitalis lutea, are herbaceous perennials, dying right down during cold winters. Digitalis parviflora and Digitalis ferruginea retain an evergreen rosette of leaves through the winter.
do foxgloves spread?
They only spread by sowing seed which are easily hoed off if you do not want them.
are foxgloves weeds?
If the definition of a weed is a plant that is growing in the wrong place, then they can be, as they are so keen to self-seed. If that happens you can move the seedlings to the right place, pot them up for a neighbour, or simply put them on the compost heap.
do foxgloves grow in shade and do foxgloves need full sun?
As a woodland plant, foxgloves are very happy in the shade. They will also grow on a sunny hillside, although will not be quite so tall and lush.
why are foxgloves called foxgloves?
There are various theories, the most plausible being that they grow where foxes tend to live, in woodland or rough ground. The shape of the flower is something like a glove or mitten, so you could imagine a fox’s paw inside a flower – although it is more likely to be a bumblebee hunting out the rich nectar.
how do you keep foxgloves blooming?
As biennials, most foxgloves will only flower for one summer, but you can prolong the flowering period by removing the central stem as a cut flower and letting the side shoots develop. Some modern varieties have been bred to flower for a much longer period: “Camelot Cream” being the best for that.
can foxgloves grow in pots?
They are not that good in pots being so tall and rather top heavy.
can you transplant foxgloves?
Yes, they are best transplanted in their first year before they are ready to flower.
how do you get seeds from foxgloves?
As the flowers die off and the seed capsules go dry and papery hold a paper bag under the flower stem and tap gently. The tiny seeds will fall into the bag and can be sown right away or stored for future use.
what is the difference between hollyhocks and foxgloves?
Whilst both are biennials or short-lived perennials, they are from a totally different family (hollyhocks come from the mallow family and foxgloves are plantains). They are both tall cottage garden plants with a central flower stem, but the individual flower shape is totally different.
what to grow with foxgloves
Foxglove spires complement the rounded forms of allium and peony flowers, as well as the umbels of angelica and cow parsley.
how to cut & arrange foxgloves
Foxgloves will last at least a week in a vase, particularly if you condition them by dipping in boiling water for a few seconds first.
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