Foxglove Flowers (Digitalis purpurea) - Varieties, Growing And Care Tips

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by Max - last update on August 13, 2019, 8:15 pm
Foxglove flowers in pots

Foxgloves can grow up to six feet and produce beautiful flowers that are perfect for attracting butterflies and bees. Be careful to plant it in an area where it will have some afternoon shade, and keep it away from children and pets, as foxglove is very toxic.

Foxglove Quick Facts

OriginNorthwest Africa and Europe
Scientific Name:Digitalis purpurea
Common NamesFoxglove, Fairy Bells, Dead Man’s Bells, Witches Glove
FamilyPlantaginaceae
TypeBiennial flowering plant
WateringMaintain moist soil
LightFull sun to partial shade
HeightUp to six feet
HumidityAverage
ToxicHighly toxic to humans and pets
PestsLeaf spot, crown rot, aphids

Foxglove Varieties

Digitalis purpurea is the common foxglove that is found growing in woodlands as a wildflower, but there are many other varieties which grow well in home gardens. Most foxgloves are biennials, including the Digitalis purpurea, but some varieties are more reliably grown as perennials if you are looking for something more long-lasting.

Digitalis grandiflora

Digitalis grandiflora

This is the foxglove variety that is most reliably grown as a perennial. It has large, creamy colored blooms that are around two inches long, and the spikes reach up to three feet in height at maturity. The evergreen foliage is dark green in color, and as a native to Europe, this variety likes plenty of sun (Royal Horticultural Society).

Digitalis parviflora

Digitalis parviflora

This variety of foxglove looks quite different from its cousins. The flowers are tiny and are an orange-brown color. It is shorter than many foxgloves, reaching two feet at its maximum height (Gardeners World Magazine).

Digitalis 'Illumination Pink’

Digitalis 'Illumination Pink’
Digitalis 'Illumination Pink’ - Credit to Andy Mabbett

This hybrid is a cross between the common Digitalis purpurea and the Canary Island foxglove. It is semi-evergreen and perennial, with peachy pink flowers that have a tropical look about them. As a sterile plant, this foxglove variety won’t reseed but will continue to flower for several months at a time.

Foxglove Care Instructions

Watering

Water the foxglove flowers

Foxgloves like moist soil, but are prone to crown rot, so a well-draining soil is vital. Young plants will need consistently moist, but not wet soil. As the plant matures, you can water it less, but it should not be allowed to dry out. In order to avoid overwatering, only water the plant when the top two inches of the soil is dry to the touch.

Light

Foxglove in full sunlight in the spring summer garden

Foxgloves can grow in a range of lighting conditions, from full sun to partial shade. If you live in a hot climate, then a position which offers morning sun and afternoon shade will be best to protect the plant from the afternoon heat. In cooler climates, this plant can tolerate full sun but will grow equally well in partial shade. Full shade is not an option for foxglove plants, as a good amount of bright light is needed for the plant to produce flowers.

Temperature

This plant enjoys mild temperatures and will grow best in cooler climates. The flowers wilt if the temperature reaches in excess of 90º F. Protect it from very hot temperatures with some afternoon shade.

Propagation

Foxgloves self-propagate by reseeding themselves. Do not deadhead spent flowers if you are hoping for your foxgloves to reseed, as this is where the seeds are housed. Foxgloves are short-lived plants that typically flower in their second year, and the plant then dies. Often, a new foxglove appears, and the owner believes that their foxglove is continually blooming year after year, when, in actual fact, the previous foxglove has reseeded, and the plant you now see is an entirely new plant.

To propagate manually, collect the seeds from spent flowers and keep them in a dark paper bag until you want to use them. Plant them in summer during warm temperatures, as the seeds require heat to germinate. They can be sown directly into moist soil in the ground, or in seedling trays inside.

Pruning

Once the main spike has flowered, you should cut it back to allow all of the plant's energy to go into the surrounding spikes, which will result in better blooms on the remaining spikes. The exception to this is if you are trying to get your plants to self reseed. In this case, leave spent flowers on the plant to naturally spread their seed.

Flowering

foxglove flowers

In the first year of growth, the foxglove will not produce any flowers, just vegetative growth close to the ground. In its second year, a tall spike emerges from which lots of tubular flowers will emerge, lasting from May to June. The flowering stalks can reach heights of up to six feet, making them ideal for planting along a back row of flower beds or borders. The stalks will need to be staked for support to prevent them from bending over. Flowers range in color from purple to white, and are rich in nectar, making them very popular amongst bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

Toxicity

All parts of the foxglove are poisonous to humans and animals
All parts of the foxglove are poisonous to humans and animals

All parts of the foxglove are poisonous to humans and animals, with the common wildflower Digitalis purpurea being among the most toxic. If you have a problem with deer or rabbits invading your garden, then this might be a good plant for you as they will stay away from it, but you should plant it with caution if you have any pets or children and keep it at the back of flowerbeds to keep it at a distance from curious mouths.

The leaves of the foxglove plant contain cardiac glycosides, which are actually harvested for their use in the cardiac medication digitalis. This medication helps to regulate patient’s heartbeats, but the medicinal dose is dangerously close to the lethal dose, and so the plant itself should never be ingested for its medicinal properties. It is known as one of the most lethal flowering plants, and if you have any concern that pets or children might nibble on your plants, then you should not grow it at home. Foxgloves are also popular as cut flowers, and equal caution should be taken when having them in floral displays in the home if you have pets or children.

Common Pests and Diseases

Foxglove common problems

Foxgloves are susceptible to a host of pests and diseases, including crown rot, leaf spot, and aphids.

Crown Rot

This common problem with foxgloves is a result of overwatering, poor air circulation, or poorly draining soil. Signs of crown rot include leaves turning yellow and wilting, a spongy brown rotten base, and white fungal spores around the base of the plant. There is no cure for crown rot, and it's important to dig up infected plants and dispose of them to prevent the disease from spreading to nearby healthy plants. In an attempt to prevent crown rot in the future, ensure your foxgloves have good air circulation around them by planting them approximately 20 inches apart. Also ensure the plants are growing in well-draining soil, and be careful not to overwater them.

Leaf Spot

Leaf spot is caused by a fungus that presents itself as dark red, brown, or black spots. It typically begins in the spring and will continue to take hold of the plant if left untreated until the plant dies. As soon as you notice leaf spot, you should remove the plant and dispose of it to prevent the infection spreading to other plants. As a preventative measure, you can spray healthy plants with a fungicide, and make sure to water at the base and avoid wetting the leaves during irrigation.

Aphids

These tiny green flies generally don’t kill the plant, but an infestation can cause stunted growth because they feed on the moisture and nutrients within the plant's foliage. Control aphids with neem oil or insecticidal soap.

Do you have any questions about foxlglove? Leave us a comment! And don’t forget to share this page with other interested growers!

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