Foxglove is a stately flower with tall, elegant spikes covered in bell-shaped blossoms beloved by hummingbirds and bumblebees. It’s also rabbit- and deer-resistant. Learn more about growing foxglove.
Common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a biennial or short-lived herbaceous perennial in most regions, although there are hybrids that grow in flower in year one. It is hardy in zones 4-9.
In its first year, the plant simply forms a rosette and foliage; in the second year, the plant grows a 3 to 5 feet spike covered in 20 to 80 small downward-facing, tubular flowers in purple, pink, or white.
Each flower tube has a small lip on which bumblebees can land to access the nectar at the base of the tube. Hummingbirds may also visit the flowers.
The flower blooms from late spring through midsummer and then dies. Therefore, for continuous blooms, plant it for two consecutive years. Or, look for varieties that flower in Year 1.
Foxglove are gorgeous in tall borders or background plantings and also look attractive against a background such as a building or a fence. They make excellent cut flowers.
Be aware that foxglove also self-seeds prolifically. In some places, it’s considered an invasive plant. Deadhead after flowering to avoid an excess number of seedlings, or reconsider planting foxglove.
Is Foxglove Poisonous?
Yes. Foxglove is poisonous, although recorded poisonings from this plant are very rare. The plant contains digitalis and other cardiac glycosides. These chemicals affect the heart. To be poisoned from foxglove, you would need to eat the seeds, stems, or leaves, or suck the flowers.
Foxglove grows best in full sun, with light afternoon shade. The plant prefers moist, well-drained soil high in organic matter, with a slightly acidic to neutral pH. Prepare soil by mixing in a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost or aged manure.
When to Plant Foxglove
Sow seeds in late summer. Any seedlings should be planted into the garden bed in early fall so that they can establish the root system before cold weather arrives.
Or, if planting containers, set out in late spring or fall.
How to Plant Foxglove
Foxglove is easy to grow from seed. If seeding, do not cover with soil; the seeds need light to germinate, so do not cover. Thin the seedlings to about 18 inches apart.
When planting pots, space 1 to 2 feet apart; the foliage spread can be 1 to 3 feet. Dig the hole twice the diameter of the container. Set the top of the root ball level with the soil surface. Fill in around the root ball and firm the soil. Water thoroughly.
Keep soil moist.
Add a thin layer of compost around the plant each spring.
Stake tall varieties to keep the flower stalks upright.
Cut the center flower stalk back after flowering for a chance for additional flower stalks to develop later in the season.
Leave the flower stalk on the plant if you want it to reseed, as well as to attract birds to the garden in the fall.
There are many foxglove cultivars and a few hybrids commonly available. Here are a few of our favorites.
‘Alba’ has pure white flowers on 4-foot sturdy stalks
‘Apricot Beauty’ has apricot-pink flowers with spotted interiors; 3 to 4 feet tall
‘Camelot’ series is a variety that flowers in year 1; in the South, they can be treated as cool-season annuals; flowers face outward instead of down in shades of lavender, rose and white; 3-foot stalks
‘Candy Mountain’ has strong 4-foot stalks with large, upturned flowers. The blooms change from rose to purple as they age.
‘Foxy’ also blooms reliably from seed the first year; blooms are white, cream, purple and rose; up to three-feet tall
Cut stems for arrangements when lower flowers are just opening. Vase life is 10 to 14 days.
Wit and Wisdom
Digitalis comes from the Latin word for finger (digitus), referring to the shape of the flower. Purpurea refers to the color of the flowers, which often is purple.
Foxglove leaves were used in the treatment of heart failure in the 18th century and were once the source of heart stimulants.
Each foxglove plant can produce 1 to 2 million seeds.
Foxglove was often grown in cottage gardens in the Middle Ages.
Foxglove is rabbit- and deer-resistant plant due to its toxicity. Diseases: anthracnose, southern blight, leaf spot, powdery mildew, crown and rot, Verticillium wilt Pests: aphids, Japanese beetles, mealy bugs, thrips