Foxglove Biennial – Digitalis – Caring for Foxglove Plants

Foxglove biennial plants are spectacular to view.  The term biennial means that the plant will grow for two years and then mainly die off.  Caring for foxglove is easy – just give it part sun/part shade and evenly moist soil and you’ll be rewarded with these gorgeous flowers.

Stunning Foxglove flower

Under favorable conditions, the foxglove plant will last a year or two beyond what their normal biennial classification would warrant. 

Foxgloves will re-seed themselves easily, so once you have one plant, you garden is not likely to be without them.  I love the way the flower grows with the bottom petals opening first.The bottom petals of the foxglove open up first.

I purchased one Foxglove plant last year and also planted seeds for three more.  All of them are flowering now. The purchased plant is larger at the base but there is not much difference in the flowers of the ones that I grew from seeds.

What is foxglove?

The foxglove plant  – digitalis purpurea – is a biennial plant with spectacular flowers that requires very little care.  Once you have it situated in the right spot, just give it even moisture and let it do its own thing!

Foxglove is native to the European regions.  It was originally known by the Anglo-Saxon name “foxes glofa” which means the glove of the fox, because the flowers look a lot like the fingers of a glove.

Caring for Foxglove Biennial

Learn how to grow Foxglove, which is also known as Digitalis, by following these handy tips.

Sunlight needs for foxglove plants

Foxgloves like partial shade but I have best luck with mine in a garden bed that gets a reasonable amount of sunlight. Harsh full afternoon sun can really scorch them, though.

A garden bed that gets morning sun and afternoon shade is ideal.

Cold Hardiness

Digitalis is cold hardy in zones 4 to 8. Protect it in the winter months by mulching well.

purple foxglove plant close up

Size of Foxglove biennials

Foxgloves can get quite tall when the plant is mature.  It’s not unusual to see the flower stalks growing to  2-5 feet in height and the plant spreading to 1 -2 feet wide.  This one was in my front garden and got very tall!

Foxglove height is one of the most impressive things about it. There is nothing quite like walking up to a garden bed and being wowed by a plant stalk that is just crying to become a cut flower to bring indoors!

Be sure to give them space.  They do not like to be crowded and are susceptible to problems if you do crowd them too much.

Because of their height, foxgloves are best in the center of a two sided garden bed, or at the back if the bed is only viewed from the front.  

white foxglove flower with speckled throat

Foxglove flowers

The tubular flowers of digitalis bloom on a spike and they open from the bottom to the top.  They flower in spring and summer.  In zone 7b in NC, that means mid-May.

Foxgloves bloom in many colors.  They often have a speckled throat to the petals. I have even had two colors growing on one plant, one purple and the other peach!

Soil and Water Needs for Foxglove

Foxglove plants like well draining soil that has been amended with compost or other organic material.

As long as organic matter is added to the soil, foxgloves do not need to be fertilized.

The like even moisture.  My plants will wilt if they get too much sun and the days are hot and dry. Mulching around the plant helps to conserve water (and keeps the weeds away.)

Are foxgloves poisonous?

Foxgloves are poisonous plants, so do not have them in areas where small children may spend time alone in the yard. All parts of foxglove are toxic

All parts of the plant are poisonous, and can be even deadly, if swallowed. In addition to children, they are also poisonous to cats and dogs.

Even the water of cut foxgloves in a vase indoors can be dangerous if ingested.

Foxglove plants contain naturally occurring poisons that affect the heart. These poisons are called cardiac glycoside toxins, and they upset the electrolyte balance in the heart muscle. 

The toxins in the plants are similar to digoxin or digitalis. Digoxin is a common heart medication used in both humans and pets.

If ingested, foxglove can cause gastrointestinal problems as well as tremors and seizures.

Propagation of Foxglove

Foxgloves are biennial. The first year, they produce leaves and the second year the flowers will form.  Self seeding is one of nature’s way to make sure that you often have them in your garden bed.

You can also grove foxglove easily from seed. They will flower the second year.

Divide large foxgloves in early spring to spread the plant a bit more around your garden and give you plants for free that you can share. 

Uses for Foxgloves in the Garden

The petals of the plant have a lovely tubular shape which the hummingbirds  and butterflies love.

The are wonderful in cottage gardens, since the plant has a soft feminine look. Because of their long stems, they make wonderful cut flowers.

Nothing is quite rabbit and deer-proof, but foxgloves are not the first choice of nibbles for these animals, perhaps because of the digitalis component.

Foxgloves have a tubular shaped petal

Foxglove Photo Gallery

I have been very lucky with my plant. This is the second year of flowering for it. 
garden bed with foxgloves growing This is my group of foxglove biennials. The largest plant in the center was purchase last year and this is the second year of blooming.   The smaller ones on the outside were planted as seeds last spring.foxglovesSecond year for these foxglove biennial flowers!

Foxglove plant in full bloomThese foxglove biennial plants are almost as tall and were planted as seeds last spring!

Have you ever had a problem from the poisonous aspect of this plant?

Pin these tips for Caring for Foxglove

Would you like a reminder of these tips for the foxglove plant?  Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.

Foxglove flowers

Admin note: This post first appeared on the blog in May of 2013. I have updated the post to add additional photos and care tips, a project card to print out and a video for you to enjoy.


Yield: Flowers in the second year.

Foxglove Biennial - Caring for Foxglove Plants

Foxglove Biennial - Caring for Foxglove Plants
Foxgloves are a biennial plant that is spectacular in the garden. It likes light sun/part shade and even moisture.
Active Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Difficulty easy
Estimated Cost $6

Materials

  • Foxglove Plant
  • Compost or Organic Matter
  • Water source
  • Mulch

Tools

  • Bypass pruners or garden shears

Instructions

  1. Add organic matter or compost to a hole.
  2. Plant the foxglove plant.
  3. Give the plant filtered sun or part shade. Morning sun is best.
  4. Water evenly. Mulching helps to retain water.
  5. Prune away dead flowers, or leave them to self sow seeds for next year.
  6. Propagate by sowing seed or dividing the plant in spring.
  7. Hardy in zones 4-8. Mulch to protect from winter.

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  2 comments for “Foxglove Biennial – Digitalis – Caring for Foxglove Plants

  1. Just Prothro
    05/31/2019 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you so much for this information. I have always been hesitant about planting foxglove because of the poisonous nature but you have explained it so well that I am going to give it a try.

    • Carol
      05/31/2019 at 4:01 pm

      I’ve grown them for years (even with dogs) and have had no problems. But I like to point out any plants that have the potential for harm.

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