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Wildflower whimsy: Add foxgloves to your garden

Rosanne LoParco
Sentinel columnist
Posted 7/24/22

Foxgloves are one of my personal favorites. With their tall spires of colorful flowers, these beauties create drama in the semi-shade or shade garden.

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Wildflower whimsy: Add foxgloves to your garden


Foxgloves are one of my personal favorites. With their tall spires of colorful flowers, these beauties create drama in the semi-shade or shade garden.

Foxgloves, botanically referred to as “digitalis,” are classified as biennials. Biennials take two years to complete their lifecycle. For the first year, biennials only grow leaves, stems, and roots and then they produce their flowers during the second year. However, once you grow these beauties and admire their tall elegant spires, their biennial status will not be a problem for you.

Foxgloves are actually an old wildflower; they were grown in cottage gardens of the Middle Ages. Species of this plant are native in Europe, northwest Africa, and parts of Asia where they’ve long been grown for their beauty, as well as, their medicinal uses. Foxgloves are a source of digitalin, a drug used to treat heart problems.

You don’t need a big space to grow these plants. With its low rosette of foliage and narrow flower spikes, foxgloves are easy to place in between plants. If you only have a patio or deck, they also make nice container plants. There are many different varieties currently on the market. The “Camelot” and “Foxy” series are the showiest; they will usually bloom the first year. There is a variety that is considered perennial in its growth; the yellow foxglove, “digitalis grandiflora,” which comes back each year. The flowers may not be as showy as its pink, purple, or white cousins, but it is a great low-maintenance foxglove.

This plant prefers well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Heavy clay soil can retain too much moisture and your foxglove crowns may rot. The plants need a little sun to bloom, but they do not like hot, full sun; nor do they like it when the soil dries out. Morning sun is the best choice. You can purchase plants; however, starting foxgloves from seed is easy. Sow seeds outside in the spring after all danger of frost has past. These seeds need light to germinate; so, do not cover them with soil. Plants usually sprout in 14 to 21 days. You can also start your seeds indoors, as late as the end of July. Once the seedlings have two sets of leaves, transplant them to 4-inch pots. You can transplant them into the garden in the fall as long as the transplants can have at least eight weeks before the first frost to be sure the roots are established. You’ll have blooms the second year.

If you leave the blooming stalks on the plants, you may find your biennial foxglove turn into a perennial by self-seeding itself. However, the colors may not be true to the parent plant. If you want things to stay neat, cut the flower stalk after all the blooms have faded; the plant may reward you with additional flower stalks.

Keep in mind that foxgloves are poisonous plants. If you have pets or small children, this may not be the plant for you. Deer or other wild animals will stay away from these plants. Not too many problems bother foxgloves. You may find aphids or spider mites from time to time. In very wet weather, slugs may be a problem, especially if you plant small seedlings.

Foxgloves, with their tall stately appearance are lovely when grown against a fence, against a hedge of shrubs, or at the edge of a woodland. These plants may take a little extra work, but with flowers like these, that work is well worth it.

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