General gardening topics

How to grow and care for foxgloves (Digitalis)

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Foxglove, or digitalis purpurea, is a wild plant found in wooded areas and often along hedgerows and are fairly short loved but they will self-seed freely.

They are easily identified because of the trumpet-shaped flower spiked that display pink and purple flowers. These are great plants for UK gardens, especially those in shady areas where many other plants won’t grow.

The good news is that the flowers are rich in nectar and because of that, attract lots of butterflies and bees into your garden so your also doing your bit to help your local bees which need all the help they can get.

Finally, although they are a type of perennial which usually die back for winter, they tend to keep their large leaves through winter but they are shortlived and will die after flowering.

How to plant and care for foxgloves

How to plant foxgloves

Plant in deep or dappled shade in light well-drained soil

Foxgloves thrive in deep shade or dappled shade but will tolerate a sunny position too. They prefer lighter well-drained soil, and do best if you amend the soil with organic matter like compost. The digitalis represents a range of varieties through, each with unique demands for growing. There are a few varieties that need full sun so its best to check before planting but most will need shade. 

Sowing seeds indoors

If you have an existing foxglove and want to propagate from it, collect the seeds and sow them immediately. 

If you sow the seeds indoors, do so from March to early June. keep the seed tray/containers moist until germination which is easier to do if you use a propagator with air vents. When sowing indoors, do not cover the seeds once you put them in their seed trays, as they require light to germinate and temperatures of around 20°C (68°F).

Once the seedling are large enough they can be pricked out into smaller 7cm or 9cm pots. Once established they can be planted outdoors once the risk of frost has passed.

Sowing outdoors in a prepared seed bed

Sow seeds late spring to early summer in a well-prepared seedbed and keep the soil moist until they germinate. Once they are large enough to handle, space them out so they are around 2ft apart to give them plenty of space to grow. If you let seeds self-sow then space plants out once they are large enough to.

Planting Foxgloves

Caring for foxgloves

You can plant foxgloves at any time of the year except when the ground is frozen or waterlogged. Dig the area with lots of compost, manure, or leaf mould and make sure the hole is big enough for the rootball. 

Learn how to make leaf mould

When you put the root ball in the hole, adjust it so that it is at the same depth it was growing, and then backfill the area with good quality compost.

Water it well and give it a good layer of mulch around the base where the roots are for extra protection.

Caring for foxgloves

It does not take long to get them established, but during that time be sure to water regularly. Every spring, give a well balanced, granular fertiliser to the area such as growmore and always replenish the mulch which also helps retain moisture as well as suppress weeds.  

It is best to deadhead after flowering to encourage a second flush. You can also cut back the stems to the ground level but if you do remove flower spikes remember they won’t self-seed. If they don’t get chance to self-seed, just remember after a couple of years the main plant with die and not return and need replacing.

Recommended varieties

The recommended varieties include the following

  • Digitalis ferruginea which is biennial with a short lifespan and yellow/brown flowers.
  • Digitalis grandiflora is a perennial with creamy and yellow coloured flowers.
  • Digitalis Illumination Pink is a semi-evergreen and hardy perennial with flowers that boast a bright pink interior and honey interior.
  • Digitalis x mertonensis is a semi-evergreen perennial with light pink flowers.
  • Digitalis parviflora is a hardy perennial with flowers that are red.
  • Digitalis purpurea f. albiflora is a biennial which produces creamy-white flowers.

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