Foxglove Flowers (Witch Glove): Care & Growing Guide

Overview

Digitalis purpurea commonly referred to as Foxglove or Witch glove is a perennial plant with downward-facing, funnel-shaped blooms. It is native to Africa, central and northwestern Africa. Foxglove is usually grown as an ornamental plant due to its vivid flowers which range in color from various purple tints through pink and purely white.

Foxglove thrive in acidic soils, in partial sunlight to deep shade, in a range of habitats, including open woods, woodland clearings, moorland and heath margins, sea-cliffs, rock mountain slopes and hedge banks.

Foxgloves are a great choice for attracting wildlife such as butterflies and bees into the garden and also entice birds as well. These wonderful flowers possess a delightful fragrance and make excellent cut-flower displays to be enjoyed within the home but also look great when planted in the garden border or patio containers.

Plant Profile

Botanical NameDigitalis purpurea
Common NamesFoxglove, Witch Glove, Dead Man’s Bells, Fairy Bells
Plant TypeBiennials
Mature Size2 to 5 feet tall, 1 to 2 feet wide
Sun ExposureFull sun, partial sun or partial shade
Soil TypeWell-draining, loamy soil
FertilizerLiquid fertilizer
Soil pH4.4 to 8.3
PropagationBy seeds
Bloom TimeEarly summer months (late spring in warm zones)
Flower ColorPink, Purple, Red, White and yellow
Native AreaEurope and Northwest Africa
DiseasesMoth, butterfly, aphids
Planting ZoneZone 4 to 8

How does a foxglove Look Like?

Foxgloves have distinct flower stalks that hold many clustered blooms and arise above the foliage of the plant. The individual blooms are long, bell-shaped and pointed downwards. The foxglove flowers grow on stems which may reach 6 feet in height.  Foxgloves also have gray-green leaves 4 to 12 inches wide with noticeable vein structure. The leaves are usually found towards the base of the plant. Foxglove flowers come in shades of pink, purple, lavender, yellow and white; many have white or purple spots inside the blooms.

How To Care For Foxglove

Soil

Foxglove thrives in lighter soils that are high in organic matter and slightly acidic. Although foxgloves prefer lighter soils, they will grow well on heavy clay soils with lots of added organic matter such as compost. If your soils are alkaline in nature, you can use an organic base soil acidifier to lower the soil PH.

Light Requirement

Foxgloves prefer full sun or light shade. For optimal growth and production of gorgeous, beautiful pastle petals, grow foxglove in an area that receives full sunlight, that is, a location that receives at least three to six hours of direct sunlight per day. The shadier the location, the fewer blooms the foxglove plant will produce. When growing foxglove indoors in containers place south or west-facing window.

Also Read: Philodendron Pink Princess Care And Growing Guide

Water Requirement

Foxgloves requires plenty of water during the summer periods, especially when they begin to bloom. Watering foxgloves especially those grown in pots and containers is very essential. The most important thing to observe is to avoid overwatering the plant. Overwatering often causes the soil to become waterlogged which can eventually result in root rot, which potentially affects flowering and can also kill the plant.

Also during watering, you must avoid wetting the leaves because foxglove leaves become susceptible to leaf spot and powdery mildew if they stay wet for a long period of time.

Therefore, water the foxgloves at least once or twice a week, depending on your climatic condition. Do not let the soil to dry completely. If you live in dry regions of North America or Europe, try to use a soaker hose or other forms of ground watering to avoid chances of overwatering the soil.

Temperature & Humidity

Foxgloves tend to grow effectively in warmer conditions and can begin to wilt in temperatures over 110oF. When growing Foxgloves from seeds, the seeds usually germinate in the temperature ranges of between 75oF and 85oF.

More importantly, foxgloves can also grow well in both dry and humid environments provided they are grown with consideration to sufficient spacing between them to allow air circulation. Sufficient air circulation especially when the weather is extensively humid helps to prevent development of diseases such as white powdery mildew.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer application to the growing foxgloves may not be necessary especially where the flower is planted in the soil that is well amended with organic materials such as manure or compost. However, if you need to fertilize your foxglove plant, do so in the early spring with a small handful of granular, slow-release 5-10-5 fertilizer scattered around the plant and then water sparingly over the fertilizer to help it settle into the ground.

It is important to note that excess fertilizer application often encourages foliage growth to the detriment of the flowers; therefore it is necessary you avoid excess fertilizer application. Also, during application, keep the fertilizer away from the foliage to avoid burn.

For container/pot growing foxgloves, it is usually encouraged to apply a 2-inch layer of compost around the plant in early spring as a way of facilitating growth the following season without the need for fertilizer.

Pruning

Pruning foxgloves is especially rewarding as it helps the garden look neat and promotes healthy growth and a long season of blooms. Prune up the foxglove plant in late or early spring by removing damaged and ragged-looking stems. Cut individual stems near the ground if the plant has several stems. Otherwise, cut well below the damage and just above a leaf. Continue removing stems with faded or damaged foliage throughout the season.

Mulching

Adding a layer of mulch to your foxglove flower bed improves their appearance; helps retain soil moisture and suppress weeds. Mulching materials can either be organic or inorganic. Common mulches include wood chips, shredded bark, nut shells, pine needles, shredded leaves and straw. Once you have selected the type of mulch you want to use and determined how much you need, place at least 2-inch layer of mulch around the base of the plants once they start growing vigorously.

Planting Foxgloves Outside

Plant the foxgloves in the ground in autumn or wait until the following spring if they aren’t large enough. Allow plenty of space between plants as if they are overcrowded they will not grow as tall as they could otherwise. More importantly, outdoor growing foxgloves should be protected from wind as they are easily buffeted about and can change their growth shape if grown in area with frequent strong winds.

How To Deadhead Foxgloves

Deadheading is the horticultural term that refers to removal of faded or dead flowers from plants. Usually fading flowers are not as appealing and direct a lot of energy into seed development if pollinated. Deadheading is generally done both to maintain a plant’s appearance and to improve its overall performance.

Observe the length of your foxglove plant’s flower spike. It is ready for deadheading once 75% of the flower on the spike have faded or wilted. To effectively deadhead foxgloves, first ensure that your pruning shears or garden clippers are dry-clean so as to help prevent the spread of plant diseases while cutting the foxglove flowers.

Using your pruning shears, cut the foxglove flower spike off at its base where the base meets the foliage. Discard the flower spike or cut it further into pieces with your pruning shears and then throw it to your compost.

Growing Foxglove From Seeds

The most appropriate time to sow foxglove seeds is late summer right after the seedpods mature, but in case you’re not ready for summer planting, you can plant the seeds in the fall or spring. The seeds can be propagated in garden bed or seed tray. Here is what you will need to do when propagating foxglove seeds on seed trays:

  1. Get a seed tray with drainage holes in the bottom and then fill it with compost, manure or soilless seed starting mix rather than garden soil.
  2. Sprinkle or scatter the seeds on top of the soil, ensure the seeds are evenly spread over the soil.
  3. Sprinkle water sparingly over the soil, avoid sprinkling water excessively.
  4. Do not cover the seeds with compost. Like many tiny seeds. Foxgloves require enough light to germinate.
  5. Place your seed tray on the windowsill (preferably facing north so that the tray is surrounded by plenty of light).
  6. Foxglove seeds take 20 to 28 days to germinate. When the seedlings appear, begin to water the seed tray at least twice a week.
  7. When the seedlings are large enough to be transplanted, you can now transplant them in containers/pots or in the garden.

Also Read: Different Types of Pothos Plant

Growing Foxglove In The Garden

Foxgloves grow effectively in the garden bed provided they are grown in a nutrient rich soil and watered regularly. This is what should happen in this regard:

  1. Before planting the foxgloves, get the garden ready by turning over the soil with the use of a tiller rake or pitchfolk.
  2. Amend the loosened soil with organic materials such as compost or manure. This helps to improve soil nutrients, drainage and promote growth.
  3. Dig holes in the prepared garden bed; make sure the holes are to a spacing of between 12 to 24 inches so as to prevent overcrowding.
  4. Transfer the seedlings from the seed tray into the holes and cover them with the soil.
  5. Water the plants thoroughly after planting.
  6. Continue watering the plants sparingly at least 3 times a week until your foxgloves are fully established.

Growing Foxgloves In Pots

  • Choose the right size of the pot with drainage holes at the bottom. Any good planter should have drainage holes so that the soil does not get waterlogged.
  • Fill the pot with preferably sand or loamy soil and amend it with compost or manure, together with peat moss, vermiculite or perlite.
  • Get the foxglove seedling from either the seedbed or seed tray and plant it in the pot.
  • Water the soil thoroughly and place the pot in a shady area with bright sunlight.
  • Water the plant at least twice in a week.

How To Overwinter Potted Foxglove

Gardeners in cold climates should take steps to overwinter their container/potted foxgloves to shelter them until the milder temperatures of spring arrive. The goal of overwintering isn’t to keep plants warm but rather to keep them from getting too cold.

A few weeks to the beginning of winter period, move the potted foxgloves indoors and place it in a room with moderate amount of sunlight. Alternatively, if your house does not have enough space considers taking the pot in a cool place such as basement. During the entire winter period, avoid overwatering and fertilizer application.

How To Harvest/Collect Foxglove Seeds

Harvest seeds as soon as the pods turn uniformly brown and start to split open. The simplest way to harvest foxglove seeds is by holding an envelope or a fine-mesh bag under the pods and gently shaking the seeds out. Foxgloves self-seed readily, therefore any un-harvested seeds are likely to germinate and grow the following season.

Foxglove Varieties

  1. Pam’s Choice

Pam’s choice is one of the best foxglove cultivars available. The plants have tall, strong spires of cream-white flowers with gorgeous, burgundy-purple-speckled throats.

  1. Primerose Carousel

Primerose carousel is a dwarf foxglove with unusual yellow blooms, which are finished with a heavy dusting of purple freckles. Being shorter than most foxgloves, this cultivar is ideal for growing in containers and at the front of ornamental borders.

  1. Dalmation Purple

Dalmatian purple foxglove features bold spikes of purple tubular flowers with white overtones and deep purple spots rising above the foliage from late spring to mid-summer. The plant forms a low rosette of downy, green, oblong leaves and typically blooms in its first year.

  1. Camelot Rose

Camelot rose has tall spires of outward-facing, funnel-shaped, pink flowers. The flowers tend to hang down and you cannot see into the beautiful spotted throats. The flowers of Camelot foxgloves, however, are held more horizontally, which creates a fuller-looking flower spike and reveals the spotted interior of the flowers. The plant blooms profusely from early summer to mid-summer.

Also Read: Different Types of Sansevieria Plant

  1. Straw Foxglove

Straw foxglove get’s it name from the straw-colored flowers it produces, which are less showy than those of other foxgloves. This foxglove variety has petals that are pale yellow and interiors that contain brown specks. They grow up to three feet high and have glossy green leaves and elegant tubular petals.

  1. Snow Thimble

Snow Thimble foxglove has large, pure-white, bell-shaped blooms, born on relatively short spikes. These white flowers are pure unspotted white.

  1. Pantaloons

This variety of foxglove produces split flowers that are white with burgundy spots on the interior. It grows to between 4 and 5 feet and blooms in the late spring and summer.

  1. Milk chocolate

Milk chocolate is a compact foxglove, bearing dense spikes of dense, brown-red flowers with a purple-brown lip from June to August.  Its foliage is a rich, dark green, which provides the perfect foil for the striking blooms.

  1. Giant Yellow Herod

This variety of foxglove carries yellow blooms that are almost the color of Dijon mustard and when fully grown, it can get to between 5 and 6 feet in height.  It blooms in June and July and the interior of the bloom looks slightly rusty in color.

  1. Dusky Maid Sunset

Dusky Maid Sunset also referred to as Willow-leaved foxglove is a semi-evergreen with linear to lance-shaped, dark grey-green leaves and racemes of tubular to bell-shaped, spotted, veined, reddish-brown to yellow-orange flowers from late spring into summer.

Is Foxglove Poisonous To Dogs, Humans & Cats?

According to ASPCA, Foxgloves are indeed very poisonous to dogs, cats and humans; they contain naturally occurring poisons that affect the heart, specifically cardenolides or bufadiolides. These poisons are referred to as glycoside toxins and they interfere directly with electrolyte balance within the heart muscle. Signs of foxglove poisoning include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Drooling
  • Loss of coordination
  • Dilated pupils
  • Respiratory distress
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Slowed pulse rate

Diseases & Pests

Aphids

Aphids can be a constant headache for foxglove gardeners, often popping up at the worst times. These small, soft bodied insects suck sap and can cause wilting of the foxglove plant. They also excrete honeydew that leaves a sticky, sugary substance that can encourage the growth of dark grayish, sooty molds all over the plant. If not controlled promptly, aphids may cause irreversible cosmetic damage to the entire foxglove plant.

Snails & Slugs

Snails and slugs are common pests of foxglove. Adult slugs dine at night and on foggy or cloudy days, eating leaves, shoots, flower buds and flowers. It is not easy to see the slugs feeding, but they leave silvery mucus trails and irregularly shaped, smooth-edged holes in your foxglove plant as a sign of their presence. During the day, they usually remain underground or in moist, dark hidden places in the garden.

Japanese beetle

The Japanese beetle is a widespread and destructive pest of turf, landscape and ornamental plants in the United States. The adult Japanese beetles emerge from the soil in early to mid-summer and fly onto ornamental plants like foxgloves; they feed on foliage, flowers and fruits. Leaves are typically skeletonized or left with only a tough network of veins.

Powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is one of the most widespread and easily recognized plant diseases. Powdery mildews are characterized by spots or patches of white to grayish, talcum-powder-like growth.  This disease is generally common when temperatures are mild, between 60oF and 80oF and is most severe when nights are cool, days are warm and plants are crowded or shaded.

The symptoms of this disease are commonly begins to appear in late summer after the flowers have faded. The badly affected leaves may die and fall off. If not controlled promptly, powdery mildew can eventually cover leaves, stems, flowers and even the entire plant.

Anthracnose

Anthracnose is a fungal disease that tends to attack plants in the spring when the weather is cool and wet, primarily on leaves and twigs. Anthracnose is noticeable along the leaves and the veins as small lesions. These dark, sunken lesions may also be found on stems and flowers.

Keeping foxglove healthy by growing it in area that receives adequate light, water and fertilizer will strengthen the plant’s ability to ward off a fungus attack like anthracnose. Fungicides are normally used to control anthracnose in cases where, the disease has advanced to the detriment of the overall plant’s health.

Leaf spot

Leaf spots is common in foxgloves especially when they are grown in a garden in an area where the air is humid or still or when generally when the weather is warm and wet.  The main symptom of leaf spot disease is spots on foliage, the spots are most often brownish, but may be tan or black. Concentric rings or dark margins may be present. Leaf spot disease weakens foxglove plant by interrupting photosynthesis.

To avoid problems of leaf spot disease on foxgloves, grow the plant in well-drained soil, spacing them 1 to 2 feet apart to avoid crowding. In cases where your plant is already under attack by leaf spots, spray your plant with fungicides as per label instructions.

Crown rot

Crown rot also sometimes referred to as Southern stem rot, is caused by several soil-born fungus which can survive in the soil indefinitely. Crown rot results in severe damage and rotting of tissues at the crown of the plant causing the leaves to turn yellow, collapse and die. Rotting may appear on one side or only on lateral branches at first and eventually spreads to the rest of the plant.

Prolonged moisture stress coupled with relatively high soil temperature in the fall enhances development of crown rot condition. Infected areas may be discolored, usually tan or dark colored. Treatment of crown rot is very difficult especially if it’s not detected early.

The use fungicide can help prevent the disease but more often ineffective once the disease has spread all over the plant. Avoiding overly wet soil around your foxglove plant is usually the most effective way of preventing occurrence of crown rot disease.

Mealybugs

Mealybugs are oval, wingless, segmented insects that often appear as white cottony masses on leaves, stems and fruits of plants. Mealybugs feed on the leaves and stems of plants, resulting in stunted or deformed leaf growth, yellowing of leaves and leaf drop. Mealybugs also feed on plant sap and excrete honeydew and wax, which eventually makes your foxglove plant to have unsightly look.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why Is My Foxglove Leaves Turning Yellow?

The most common reason why your foxglove leaves are turning is because of moisture stress, which can be either overwatering or under watering. Check the soil in the pot to see if the soil is dry or excessively wet. Also, leaves of the foxglove can turn yellow because the soil might be low in nitrogen, an important nutrient that plants need to grow properly. Lower leaves are usually the first to start yellowing when a plant doesn’t have enough of nitrogen.

Why Is My Foxglove Drooping?

Drooping of leaves can be attributed to a number of reasons, but most are related to either improper care or poor growing conditions. Always ensure that your foxglove grows in the right conditions as described above.

Why Is Foxglove falling over?

When your foxgloves topple over, it isn’t because you’ve done anything wrong.  They simply become top-heavy, especially after a heavy rain. When thoroughly drenched, water collects between the petals to make the blossoms even heavier and the plant’s thin stems can’t support them.

Why Foxglove Leaves Turning Brown?

When leaf tips of your foxglove turn brown, it is easy to blame diseases or insects. However, there are many reasons why the leaves on your indoor plants may turn brown, they include: improper watering, fertilizing or plant shock; environmental causes due to lighting, heat drafts or humidity; pests or diseases issue and natural causes such as acclimatization or age.

What Flowers Can You Grow With Foxgloves?

Plants that grow effectively with foxgloves include: Peonies, Roses, Sage, poppies, and irises.

How Long Does It Take Foxglove To Grow From Seeds?

Foxglove seeds take 20 to 28 days to germinate.

What Part Of Foxglove Is Poisonous?

Foxglove plants contain toxic cardiac glycosides. Ingestion of any parts of the plant especially the leaves as a result of misidentification for comfrey or Symphytum officinale can result in severe poisoning.

How Often Should I Water The Foxgloves?

If foxgloves get too much water and remain soaked for long periods of time, crown rot can result, killing the plant before it flowers. Foxglove being a perennial plant, watering at least once per week is usually the recommendation for most perennial plants.

Do Foxgloves Attract Pollinators?

Foxgloves can indeed attract pollinators. The process of evolution has resulted in a number of adaptation or modifications on foxglove so that it can attract the right type of insects such as bumble bees so that flowers can be pollinated.

What Caterpillars Eat Foxgloves?

The buds of flowers of Foxgloves are eaten by budworm caterpillars, butterfly caterpillar and regal moth caterpillar.

Do Foxglove Seeds Need Stratification?

Indeed foxgloves seeds require cold stratification for best germination and should be sown in late fall to sprout in spring.