One of the most renowned flowering plants for vertical interest, foxgloves really have a striking appearance thanks to their vivid bell-shaped blooms.
These easy-to-care for, quick-growers will give a wonderful display to your garden with a lovely rustic, cottage-style touch.
In combination with other ornamental species like ferns, alliums, lilies, or peonies, foxgloves can make a truly attractive landscape.
What Are Foxgloves?
Foxgloves are herbaceous garden plants of the genus Digitalis that consists of about 20 species. Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), the best-known species, is cultivated worldwide.
The plants of the Digitalis genus are native to most parts of Europe, as well as western and central Asia and northwestern Africa. Their natural habitat includes various types of terrain such as sea cliffs, open woods, woodlands, or places where vegetation has been disturbed.
Foxgloves produce spikes of tubular, bell-shaped flowers that come in a wide range of colors – purple, pink, white, yellow, and red. The plant can grow from 1 – 1.5 meters / 3 to 5 feet tall, which makes them a perfect plant for adding vertical interest to a garden.
Foxgloves Are Biennial
Foxgloves are biennial flowers, meaning they last for only two seasons before dying off. However, foxgloves self-seed easily, so letting the plant go to seed means any seeds that drop from mature flowers are likely to germinate and grow the following season.
Don’t deadhead foxgloves flowers if you want your plants to reseed. This way you can have these beauties in your garden every year, despite the fact they aren’t perennials.
Note: Be cautious with foxgloves – the entire plant is toxic due to cardiac glycosides, particularly one called digoxin. Foxgloves are toxic both for humans and animals.
How to Sow and Plant Foxgloves
Starting foxgloves from seeds is quite easy, and what’s more – they are fast growers. Since foxgloves are biennial, the plant will not produce flowers until the second year. Their first year of growth is vegetative – a plant develops a stem and basal leaves, but not the flowers.
If you’d like to start foxgloves from seed, you can sow directly into a garden bed or start seeds indoors.
Sowing Foxgloves Seeds Indoors
Start your foxglove from a seed in the early spring, 8 -10 weeks before the last frost date.
Choose rich, slightly acidic, well-drained, loamy soil, although foxgloves tolerate soil pH from 4.5 to 8.3. You can amend the soil with compost or manure, as well.
Press the seeds lightly into the soil, but do not cover them since they need plenty of sun to germinate. Water the seeds, and keep the soil evenly moist after sowing. The soil should be warm at 15.5 – 18ºC / 60 – 65ºF, and let the seeds get as much light as possible.
Seedlings will emerge in 2 – 3 weeks. If needed, transplant them into larger pots once they’ve developed two pairs of leaves. Seedlings usually need three additional weeks to develop a strong root system so they can be transplanted outside. Protect these young plants from strong winds, temperature drifts, and hot sun at first.
A perfect place for outdoor foxgloves is a light or partial shade. However, modify the amount of sun according to your climate – if you live in a hot climate, position them in partial shade; if you live in a cooler climate, give them more sun.
Sowing Foxgloves Seeds Outdoors
This method requires the same measures and conditions as sowing them indoors. You can sow foxgloves seeds when all danger of frost passes into prepared, weed-free, rich soil. Just scatter the seeds over the planting area and keep the soil evenly moist. When seedlings emerge in 14 – 21 days, you can thin them to make room for plants to grow.
How to Care for Foxgloves
Once established, foxgloves sow themselves and make a low-maintenance garden plant.
In general, newly-established plants require more care – they should be protected from hot sun, frost and strong winds. Mature plants are fairly easy-to-care.
As mentioned previously, foxgloves water requirements vary by climate zone.
In hot climates, you will need to water foxgloves more frequently, while the plants in cooler climates require less water. Water them more often during hot summer days.
They need a soil with good drainage, so the water won’t stay on the surface. Over watering is the main culprit for many garden problems such as root rot or fungal diseases.
Temperature and Air Conditions
Generally, foxgloves prefer cool weather over hot weather conditions. Too much direct sun and temperature above 32ºC ( 90ºF ) can damage a plant and cause wilting.
They also need good air circulation, so don’t plant foxgloves too close to each other and be sure to occasionally remove excess or damaged leaves to provide airflow. This will decrease its susceptibility to pests that tend to thrive in the foliage of crowded plants.
Soil, Mulch, and Fertilisation
Foxgloves like rich, slightly-acidic, organic soil, so you can amend the soil with well rotted manure or compost.
The layer of mulch will also protect plants from harsh weather conditions in cooler climates. You can fertilise them in the early spring, using low rate or slow-release fertilisers.
Don’t fertilise them with nitrogen. Too much nitrogen leads to the growing problems in foxgloves.
Common Problems with Foxgloves
Foxgloves can face several problems, some of them are environmental, but the most common problems with foxgloves are mainly pest-related.
Foxgloves are susceptible to aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, Japanese beetles, and snails.
If you notice any pest infestation signs, treat the plant with an organic insecticide such as insecticidal soap or try to encourage natural predators with companion planting (lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps for mealybugs, or lady beetles and wasps for aphids).
If none of this helps, you can try a chemical insecticide.
Some of the most common foxgloves diseases are these:
This happens due to over watering. Too much water causes stem root that spreads on the entire plant.
Reddish, brown spots on the leaves can grow larger and kill the plant, if not treated in time. The majority of leaf spot diseases is caused by fungi.
The sudden wilting and dying of seedlings is caused by fungi that are attracted to constantly moist soil. Do not over water foxglove seedlings and thin them to give them proper airflow.
Always remove any damaged or infected leaves, and do not compost them. Be sure to avoid overhead watering if you want your foxgloves to be healthy and showy.