Flower Facts: Foxglove

May 7, 2018

Tall and stately foxglove plants (Digitalis purpurea) have long been included in garden areas where vertical interest and lovely flowers are desired. Early summer blooming foxglove grows best in Plant Hardiness Zones 4 - 8. Their graceful upright appearance grows 3 - 6 feet in height with a 2 foot spread, all depending on variety. Foxglove flowers are clusters of tubular shaped blooms in colors of white, lavender, yellow, pink, red, and purple. Foxgloves need full sun to part shade to grow properly, and they do best in moist, well-drained soil. In the hottest areas, they prefer more midday and afternoon shade for optimum performance. The hotter the summers, the more shade the plant needs.


Foxglove plants are resistant to deer and rabbits. All parts of foxgloves are poisonous, so the deer snub them. However, they are excellent for attracting hummingbirds. Most nurseries carry the variety 'Foxy', which blooms the first year from seed but lacks the grace of the 4-6-foot cottage-garden biennial. Look for Excelsior Hybrids or other tall types.



How to Grow Foxglove
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. Sow foxglove seeds in a pot anytime in spring. In late summer, plant them in well-drained soil in part shade. They'll go dormant, then revive to bloom dramatically the following June. Let some seeds ripen on the stalk to harvest or self-sow. The fading flowers make this an awkward stage, so plan ahead with good-looking companions such as perennial geraniums, hardy begonias (Begonia grandis), or ferns.


If flowers are allowed to drop seeds, thin the seedlings next year to about 18 inches 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.



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 - 3 feet 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 - 5 feet 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.



Foxglove Plant Care in Winter
Most foxglove plants are hardy in zones 4 - 8, with a few varieties hardy in zone 3. Depending on variety, they can grow 18 inches to 5 feet tall. As gardeners, it is in our nature to always keep our flower beds neat and tidy. However, too much fall preparation and cleanup is often what causes foxglove not to survive winter.

In order to have more foxglove plants the next year, the flowers need to be allowed to bloom and set seed. This means no deadheading spent flowers or you will not get seeds. Naturally, you can buy new foxglove seeds each year and treat them like an annual, but with patience and tolerance you can also save a little money and let your foxglove plants provide their own seed for future generations of foxglove plants.


After the plant has set seed, it is safe to cut it back. Biennial foxglove will set seed its second year. The first year, it is fine to cut the plant back when the foliage begins to die back because there is no flower or seed production. Perennial foxglove plants should also be allowed to set seed for future generations. After they produce seed, you can collect them to sow indoors in early spring, or leave them to self-sow in the garden.

When winterizing foxglove plants, cut first year biennials or perennial foxglove back to the ground, then cover the plant crown with a 3 - 5-inch layer of mulch to insulate the plant through winter and help retain moisture. Unprotected foxglove plants can dry out and die from the brutally cold winds of winter.


Foxglove plants that have grown throughout the garden from natural self-sowing can be gently dug up and replanted as needed if they are not exactly where you want them. Again, always wear gloves when working with these plants.



How to Save Foxglove Seeds
Foxglove seeds form in pods at the base of wilted blooms when flowering ends in midsummer. The pods, which turn dry and brown and look a little like turtles’ beaks, ripen at the bottom of stems first. Foxglove seed harvesting should begin when the pods begins to crack. Always collect seeds on a dry day after morning dew has evaporated.


Don’t wait too long because the pods will soon turn down and the tiny seeds will fall onto the ground. If you’re concerned about missing the opportunity for harvesting at the optimum time, you can cover the ripening blooms with cheesecloth secured to the stem with a paperclip. The cheesecloth will hold any seeds that drop from the pod.


When you’re ready to harvest the flower seeds, just cut the stems from the plant with scissors. Then, you can easily remove the cheesecloth and empty the seeds into a bowl. Pick out the stems and other plant debris, or sift the seeds through a kitchen strainer. Alternatively, if you need to harvest the pods before they’re completely dry, drop them into a pie pan and set them aside in a dry location. Once the pods are completely dry and brittle, shake out the seeds.


At that point, it’s best to plant the seeds as soon as possible. However, if you want to save the seeds for planting later, put them in an envelope and store them in a dry, well-ventilated room until planting time.

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