Foxglove perennial or annual

Foxglove Winter Care: Learn About Foxglove Plant Care In Winter

Foxglove plants are biennials or short lived perennials. They are commonly used in cottage gardens or perennial borders. Oftentimes, because of their short life span, foxgloves are planted in succession, so that each season a set of foxglove blooms. However, not preparing them properly for winter can throw this succession planting off and leave the gardener with empty gaps in the garden. Continue reading to learn about winterizing foxglove plants.

Is Foxglove Winter Care Necessary?

Foxgloves can be a source of much frustration for the gardener. I frequently talk with customers who are upset about having lost their foxglove, wondering what they did wrong to kill it. Many times it’s nothing that they did wrong; the foxglove plant just lived its life cycle and died. Other times, customers come to me concerned about why their foxglove grew leafy foliage but did not flower. The answer to this, too, is just the plant’s nature.

Biennial foxglove usually does not bloom its first year. During its second year, it blooms beautifully, then set seeds and dies. True perennial foxglove, like Digitalis mertonensis, D. obscura, and D. parviflora may flower each year but they still only live a few short years. However, they all leave behind their seeds to carry on their beautiful legacy in the garden. Furthermore, knowing

how to care for foxglove in winter can help ensure additional blooms each season.

It is very important to note that foxglove is a toxic plant. Before doing anything with foxglove, be sure you are wearing gloves. While working with foxgloves, be careful not to put your gloved hands on your face or any other bare skin. After handling the plant, wash your gloves, hands, clothes and tools. Keep foxglove out of gardens that are frequented by children or pets.

Foxglove Plant Care in Winter

Most foxglove plants are hardy in zones 4-8, with a few varieties hardy in zone 3. Depending on variety, they can grow 18 inches to 5 feet tall. As gardeners, it is in our nature to always keep our flower beds neat and tidy. An ugly, dying plant can drive us nuts and make us want to run right out and cut it down. However, too much fall preparation and cleanup is often what causes foxglove not to survive winter.

In order to have more foxglove plants the next year, the flowers need to be allowed to bloom and set seed. This means no deadheading spent flowers or you will not get seeds. Naturally, you can buy new foxglove seeds each year and treat them like an annual, but with patience and tolerance you can also save a little money and let your foxglove plants provide their own seed for future generations of foxglove plants.

After the plant has set seed, it is ok to cut it back. Biennial foxglove will set seed its second year. The first year, it is ok to cut the plant back when the foliage begins to die back because there is no flower or seed production. Perennial foxglove plants should also be allowed to set seed for future generations. After they produce seed, you can collect them to sow indoors in early spring, or leave them to self-sow in the garden.

When winterizing foxglove plants, cut first year biennials or perennial foxglove back to the ground, then cover the plant crown with a 3- to 5-inch layer of mulch to insulate the plant through winter and help retain moisture. Unprotected foxglove plants can dry out and die from the brutally cold winds of winter.

Foxglove plants that have grown throughout the garden from natural self-sowing can be gently dug up and replanted as needed if they are not exactly where you want them. Again, always wear gloves when working with these plants.

Learn About Foxgloves

Common Disease Problems

Anthracnose: This is a fungus disease causes brown spots with purple edges on the leaves. The spots turn black in the center, leaves become yellow, dry and fall off. The fungus overwinters in diseased plant debris. Burpee Recommends: Avoid overhead watering which can spread the fungus spores. Keep a clean garden, remove and discard all diseased plant material. Use a mulch to prevent spores from splashing from the soil onto plants.

Crown Rot: This attacks plants at the base, turning them brown and spongy. White fungal spores may develop at the base of the plant. The crown deteriorates, leaves turn yellow and wilt. Burpee Recommends: Ensure that plants have good drainage and are not overcrowded. Remove infected plants.

Damping Off: This is one of the most common problems when starting plants from seed. The seedling emerges and appears healthy; then it suddenly wilts and dies for no obvious reason. Damping off is caused by a fungus that is active when there is abundant moisture and soils and air temperatures are above 68 degrees F. Typically, this indicates that the soil is too wet or contains high amounts of nitrogen fertilizer. Burpee Recommends: Keep seedlings moist but do not overwater; avoid over-fertilizing your seedlings; thin out seedlings to avoid overcrowding; make sure the plants are getting good air circulation; if you plant in containers, thoroughly wash them in soapy water and rinse in a ten per cent bleach solution after use.

Leaf Spot: This causes reddish brown to black spots on leaves. The spots can grow and eventually kill the plant if untreated. Burpee Recommends: Remove affected foliage. Avoid overhead watering. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.

Verticillium wilt: This soil borne fungus causes wilting of the leaves and stems on several branches. Leaf margins cup upward, leaves turn yellow and drop off. It enters through the roots, migrating up the stem and plugging a plant’s transport vessels. It is transmitted in the soil. It can also be spread by water and tools. Burpee Recommends: Remove plants and do not plant in the area for several years.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Japanese Beetles: Burpee Recommends: Hand pick early in the morning into a bucket of soapy water.

Mealybugs: Mealybugs are 1/8 to ¼ inch long flat wingless insects that secrete a white powder that forms a waxy shell that protects them. They form cottony looking masses on stems, branches and leaves. They suck the juices from leaves and stems and cause weak growth. They also attract ants with the honeydew they excrete, and the honeydew can grow a black sooty mold on it as well. Burpee Recommends: Wash affected plant parts and try to rub the bugs off. They may also be controlled by predator insects such as lacewings, ladybugs and parasitic wasps. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pesticide recommendations.

Slugs: These pests leave large holes in the foliage or eat leaves entirely. They leave a slime trail, feed at night and are mostly a problem in damp weather. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick, at night if possible. You can try attracting the slugs to traps either using cornmeal or beer. For a beer trap, dig a hole in the ground and place a large cup or bowl into the hole; use something that has steep sides so that the slugs can’t crawl back out when they’re finished. Fill the bowl about ¾ of the way full with beer, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, the bowl should be full of drowned slugs that can be dumped out for the birds to eat. For a cornmeal trap, put a tablespoon or two of cornmeal in a jar and put it on its side near the plants. Slugs are attracted to the scent but they cannot digest it and it will kill them. You can also try placing a barrier around your plants of diatomaceous earth or even coffee grounds. They cannot crawl over these.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Foxglove

Foxglove

Known for its towers of blooms, this classic favorite has long graced many gardens. Foxglove looks much like its name, containing glove-like bells that come in an array of colors. Foxglove is known for its wonderful patterns and makes quite the statement when planted in mass amounts. Be careful where you plant them, as all parts of this plant are highly poisonous.

genus name
  • Digitalis
light
  • Part Sun,
  • Sun
plant type
  • Perennial
height
  • 1 to 3 feet,
  • 3 to 8 feet
width
  • 1-3 feet
flower color
  • Purple,
  • Orange,
  • White,
  • Pink,
  • Yellow
foliage color
  • Blue/Green
season features
  • Spring Bloom,
  • Summer Bloom
problem solvers
  • Deer Resistant
special features
  • Low Maintenance,
  • Attracts Birds,
  • Good for Containers
zones
  • 3,
  • 4,
  • 5,
  • 6,
  • 7,
  • 8
propagation
  • Seed

Colorful Combinations

With so many colors to choose from, you will have an easy time finding a foxglove to fit your garden space. Most foxgloves are biennials, which means that the first year grows from seed and plants will simply be a rosette of foliage at ground level with no blooms. The second year, the glorious spikes of blooms will produce bountiful amounts of seed in order to start the 2-year cycle all over again. A few foxgloves are true perennials, blooming each year. Many of these come in more subdued colors with smaller blossoms, but they still are wonderful additions to the perennial garden.

See how to use pink flowers in your garden.

Foxglove Care Must-Knows

Foxglove plants are very easy to grow, and they have very few requirements in order to prosper. Ideal conditions for these plants vary depending on the variety and species, but in general, they prefer evenly moist, well-drained soils. These perennials are not very drought tolerant, especially when in bloom, so make sure to give them water during long and dry periods. They also prefer acidic soil, so depending on your soil type, it may be a good idea to add soil acidifiers.

Many foxgloves do best in full sun, but some will get by just fine in part shade. Some of these perennial types actually prefer part shade over full sun, so make sure to check which type you have before planting. The full sun varieties may have more problems with powdery mildew on the foliage if planted in shady conditions.

It’s important to remember that biennial varieties will most likely not bloom in the first year. The second year, they will send up beautiful spikes of blooms (which hummingbirds love), and if you cut them back immediately after they are done, you can encourage a second round of blooms. Also keep in mind that, as a biennial, the foxglove plants will die when they have finished blooming for the season. Make sure to leave a few spent blooms on the plant so they can produce seeds to grow more seedlings the next year.

New Innovations

Because foxgloves are largely seed-grown varieties, there is always research being done to improve seed strains and introduce new colors. Professional breeders are also looking to create first-year flowering plants.

Recently, there was a foxglove breakthrough by crossing foxglove with Isoplexis, a plant believed at the time to be another closely related genus, to create Digiplexis. There is some question now as to whether Isoplexis may in fact be a foxglove instead of a separate genus. Either way, Digiplexis is a new line of sterile foxglove that blooms all season on dense plants for quite the show.

See more plants perfect for cottage gardens.

Garden Plans For Foxglove

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More Varieties of Foxglove

Common foxglove

Digitalis purpurea is a short-lived, self-sowing perennial or biennial. It is a mainstay in cottage gardens. Zones 5-8

Digitalis grandiflora

A beautiful perennial foxglove, these plants do best in part shade, and have light yellow blooms from May-June. Zones 3-8

Woolly foxglove

Digitalis lanata is an Eastern European native that grows 1 to 2 feet tall and bears bicolor white and brown flowers in June and July. Zones 4-9

Strawberry foxglove

Digitalis x mertonensis bears strawberry-red bloom spikes up to 3 feet tall. Divide plants every two to three years to maintain vigor. Zones 4-8

‘Foxy’ foxglove

Digitalis purpurea ‘Foxy’ blooms reliably from seed its first year with 2- to 3-foot-tall spikes of pink, purple, white, or cream with maroon markings. Zones 5-8

Plant Foxglove With:

Lady’s mantle looks great in the garden and in a vase. Its scalloped leaves catch rain or dewdrops, making plants look dusted with jewels. The chartreuse flowers appear in playful, frothy clusters above the foliage. Lady’s mantle is ideal for softening the edge of a shaded path or creating a groundcover in dappled shade.

This plant not frequently grown 40 years ago is now one of the most commonly grown garden plants. Hosta has earned a spot in the hearts of gardeners—it’s among the easiest plants to grow, as long as you have some shade and ample rainfall. Hostas vary from tiny plants suitable for troughs or rock gardens to massive 4-foot clumps with heart-shape leaves almost 2 feet long that can be puckered, wavy-edged, white or green variegated, blue-gray, chartreuse, emerald-edged—the variations are virtually endless. Hostas in new sizes and touting new foliage features seem to appear each year. This tough, shade-loving perennial, also known as plaintain lily, blooms with white or purplish lavender funnel-shape or flared flowers in summer. Some are intensely fragrant. Hostas are a favorite of slug and deer.

Glossy leaves, stellar blue flowers, quick coverage — periwinkle is an ideal coverage for shade. Its only flaw is that it’s so popular it’s become underappreciated.Prepare the soil well prior to planting and add humus to retain moisture. Keep the plants cut back to encourage bushy growth, and to keep them within bounds. Periwinkle can become invasive.

Digitalis

Common Name

foxglove

Traits

  • Sun
  • Shade

Flowering Season

Summer, Spring

Genus

This genus consists of around 20 species of biennials and perennials and is a member of the foxglove (Scrophulariaceae) family. They occur naturally only in Europe and North Africa, but have naturalized in many temperate climates. All species share a similar growth habit, and they have long been popular for traditional herbaceous borders. The common name foxglove refers to the curious shape of the flowers, which are thought to resemble finger gloves. The medicinal properties of this genus have been appreciated since ancient times. While all parts of the plant are toxic if swallowed, Digitalis species contain potent glycosides that were once used in cardiac medicine, and extracts are still used in some herbal remedies. Contact with the leaves may cause skin irritation.

Appearance

Foxgloves are mainly clump-forming plants with whorls of simple, smooth-edged, heavily veined, mid-green leaves that become smaller as they grow up the tall, strongly erect flower spike. From late spring, the flower spikes bear white to yellow, pink to purple, or brown blooms that are bell-shaped, 4-lobed, 2-lipped, and usually downward-facing. The flowers usually open progressively upward along the stem, ensuring a long flowering period.

Cultivation

Hardiness varies with the species, but most are easily cultivated in temperate areas. Digitalis species prefer deep, moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil, and they should be kept well-watered in spring. Most thrive in woodland conditions, but are also suitable for open borders, and they prefer a position in full sun or part-shade. Cut flowering stems down to the ground when flowering has finished to encourage the growth of new flower spikes. Taller species may need staking. Propagate the perennials by division or from basal offsets; raise biennials from seed.

Gardening Australia suggests you check with your local authorities regarding the weed potential of any plants for your particular area.

© Global Book Publishing (Australia) Pty Ltd from Flora’s Gardening Cards

Foxglove is a lovely but short-lived biennial

Foxgloves? I never could get my head around that when I was a young ‘un. Did they slip one over each toe, and why?

I did learn later in life (the other day), that in folklore the name was derived from “folk’s gloves,” meaning belonging to the fairy folk. But then they’ve also been called dead man’s bells, perhaps because they were believed to be deadly if eaten. What child hasn’t slipped one over a finger like a thimble, until reminded by a cautious adult they were poisonous? Toxic they are, despite extracts being used in heart medication. But the plants are not necessarily deadly, say those who study these things, but then too much of anything can be fatal.

Foxgloves will be for sale in spring, and like most plants at that time, they’ll likely be in bloom to attract buyers. Truth is, it’s hard to sell plants these days unless they have flowers, but consumers like to see what they’re getting, so flowers it is, even when spring isn’t the normal bloom time for many plants.

But here’s the little problem with foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea). They are sometimes sold as a short-lived perennial, but most are biennial plants. Buy them and enjoy the flowers for a while, but don’t count on them returning the following year. Although perennial varieties are hardy to Zone 4, they’re short-lived because they don’t like our wet winter soil and they don’t like dry conditions. I have to say mine didn’t like either, but I’m working on it.

The typical growth sequence of biennial plants like Digitalis purpurea is to grow from seed and produce a leafy rosette the first year. The following year the rosette will send up flower spikes, set seed, and then die. This means that when foxgloves are purchased with flowers on them, they’re probably in their second year already, unless they happen to be one of the newer hybrids, such as the Foxy series, that do flower in their first year from seed.

Whether any return the following year is the question. With a true biennial a second season of flowers can sometimes be encouraged by snipping off the flower heads before seeds are set, but then the opportunity for self-seeding is lost. One variety, Digitalis Camelot Rose, is said to flower for a second year before dying.

When foxgloves are happy and grow well, they self-seed and eventually produce a colony of plants. This is what gives the impression they’re perennial plants. If the newer hybrids self-seed, like typical hybrids the seed produced may not be viable or the resulting plants can revert to the common form.

An outstanding hybrid became available in the last couple of years. It was produced by breeding between Digitalis (Foxglove) and Isoplexis, a Digitalis relative from the Canary Islands. Named Digiplexis Illumination Flame, it won Plant of the Year at the 2012 Chelsea Flower Show and Greenhouse Grower’s 2013 Award of Excellence. It’s an impressive plant with masses of the familiar tubular flowers on tall stems and blooms over a long period.

It is a perennial plant, though only hardy if grown far to the south. At the time I discovered it, I seem to think I planted one believing it was hardy in this area, but it turned out to be an expensive annual. Hey, it was spring and it had pretty flowers — I’m far too busy to read every single plant tag.

So if your desire is to grow foxgloves, perennial, biennial, or expensive annual, plant them in part shade, that is where they’ll be in shade during the hottest part of the day. They like moist, humus-rich soil but never wet, especially over winter.

7 Foxglove Care Tips

Foxglove is the towering giant in a flower bed, with some varieties growing up to 5 feet. They are a biennial plant, which means they bloom in their second year with beautiful, bell-shaped flowers, and then die. They reseed easily, so if you want flowering plants every year, plant foxgloves two years in a row. They bloom in a variety of colors, and each plant’s offspring will produce multi-colored flowers. The first year, a foxglove will produce leaves, but no flowers.

The foxglove is best planted at the back of your flower bed, otherwise it will block everything behind it. As long as the soil is rich and drains well, foxglove can also be planted along walkways and trees. You should, however, keep foxglove out of areas where children play, as it is highly poisonous if ingested.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor Karen Thurber adds, “Besides being a beautiful flower in the garden, foxglove is also a medicinal plant. Digitalin is extracted from the leaves and used in multiple medicines to treat heart conditions.”

Here are some tips for growing healthy foxglove plants.

1. Buying the Plant

When you are shopping for foxglove, look for plants that have many healthy looking leaves. Make sure you buy one that is already a year old, so you will have blooms that year. Avoid containers with multiple seedlings as these will need two seasons to bloom.

2. Choosing a Spot

The foxglove likes full sun, but in warmer climates it should get some shade in the afternoon. Generally, the foxglove prefers cooler climates, like zones 4 to 8. If you are planting it outside of a prepared bed, look for a spot that has rich, slightly acid soil with good drainage. It should be planted while temperatures are still slightly cool.

3. Preparing the Soil

Foxglove prefers a rich soil, but can be planted in less rich soil as long as you add compost and mulch the area well. If the soil has poor drainage, you may need to add amendments to improve it.

4. Planting

Dig a hole for the foxglove and put a handful of compost into the hole. Add the plant to the hole and gently firm the soil around it. Water the plant, then add a thin layer of mulch. Use mulch like lucerne straw. This will protect the plant from slugs and snails. The plant needs to be fertilized, usually in early spring.

5. Supporting the Plant

Because of their height, foxgloves may droop under their own weight. You can help support them by tying them to a stake or by straightening a clothes hanger, inserting the straight end into the ground, and wrapping the hook around the plant to hold it up.

6. Encouraging Blooming

When the flowers begin to fade, cut the spike from the foliage. This will encourage new shoots from the sides.

TIP: Karen notes, “Foxglove blooms in late spring to early summer.”

7. Using the Seeds

When the plants die, lay the dead plant on the ground where you want more to grow. You can also manually remove the seeds and sprinkle them in the appropriate area.

Best foxgloves to grow

Foxgloves are either biennial, producing a rosette of foliage in the first year followed by flowers in the second, or perennial, flowering every year.

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For structure they’re ideal. The taller species are great for adding height and interest by cutting through frothy, more loosely structured plants. Plus, many species are woodland natives so are happy grown in shady areas.

If you’re needing more reasons to grow them, grow them for bees – bumblebees in particular love stuffing themselves inside the tubular blooms to get at the pollen and nectar.

Gather ideas and inspiration on growing the different types of foxgloves with these foxglove planting combinations.

Check out our pick of the best foxgloves to grow.

The small-flowered foxglove, Digitalis parviflora, has gorgeous, smokey orange blooms.

Digitalis x mertonensis

Digitalis x mertonensis is commonly known as the strawberry foxglove, owing to the large, pink-red blooms. It’s a perennial species that will enjoy growing in moist, well-drained soil in full to partial shade.

Digitalis parviflora

The small-flowered foxglove, Digitalis parviflora, has gorgeous, smokey orange blooms that are tightly packed in their masses on tapering stems. A hardy perennial species that is best grown in full sun or partial shade, in moist, well-drained soil.

Digitalis grandiflora

This hardy perennial species has large, warm-yellow flowers and is thought to be the longest-lived perennial foxglove. Reaches around 80cm in height and makes a lovely cut flower. Grow Digitalis grandiflora in part shade in moist, well-drained soil.

Digitalis purpurea subsp. heywoodii

We’ve highlighted this Iberian sub-species because there are several unusual cultivars with downy foliage and stems, like that of Stachys byzantina. Digitalis purpurea subsp. heywoodii cultivars to grow include ‘Silver Fox’ and ‘Silver Cub‘.

Digitalis obscura

Digitalis obscura, the sunset foxglove, is a perennial foxglove native to mountainous regions of Spain, so it’s more suited to sunny, dry borders than other foxgloves. A frost-hardy species that grows to around 1m tall.

Digitalis canariensis

The Canary Island foxglove (Digitalis canariensis) is a shrubby, tender foxglove with blazing orange blooms and glossy, evergreen foliage. Looks right at home as part of an exotic border but will need protection from frost in winter.

Digitalis ferruginea

This striking, elegant foxglove bears tightly packed, rusty orange flowers on tall stems, reaching 1.5m in height. A robust species, Digitalis ferruginea is tolerant of most spots, except soils that are excessively wet or dry. Combines well with purple-flowered plants.

Digitalis lanata

Digitalis lanata goes by the rather exotic common name of Grecian foxglove. This short-lived perennial species has pale orange flowers, each with a prominent white lip. Grows to 60cm and enjoys a well-drained soil in full sun or part shade.

Digitalis lutea

Commonly known as the small foxglove, Digitalis lutea is a delicate species with creamy-yellow flowers. A hardy perennial, it grows to around 60cm and enjoys a partially shaded spot in moist, well-drained soil.

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Digitalis purpurea

Last, but by no means least, Digitalis purpurea, the UK’s native foxglove. The pure species is beautiful, but you can take your pick of numerous cultivars, too. ‘Serendipity’ has unusual split flowers, those of ‘Alba’ are white, while those of ‘Sugar Plum’ have deep purple centres.

UK native wildflowers

Foxgloves are one of our best-loved wildflowers, and there are plenty more wildflowers that look beautiful in a garden setting. For shade, try growing foxgloves with eupatorium and bugle. Discover 10 UK native wildflowers to grow.

The RHS Foxglove Collection From only £11.99 – buy 9 plants and SAVE £9

Popular in cottage gardens and woodland-style planting schemes, the elegant, upright flower spikes of the foxgloves add colour over a long period and will help create vertical interest in the border. Found colonising woodland clearings and occasionally open grass or wasteland throughout Europe, Central Asia and parts of northwestern Africa, foxgloves will thrive in a wide range of conditions.


  • Digitalis purpurea ‘Snow Thimble’

    Tall stems bearing large, pure white flowers, which are ideal for lighting up a partially shaded border, appear from early summer. The life of this biennial foxglove can often be extended by promptly deadheading the spent flowers, otherwise they can be left to self-seed.

    3 x 9cm pots for £11.99 Buy


  • Digitalis × mertonensis

    An enchanting and robust perennial hybrid, that produces flower spikes in late spring and early summer. These are crowded with pendent, bell-shaped flowers that are a curious mix of pink with a pale yellow flush. The clumps of large, dark green leaves are also attractive.

    3 x 9cm pots for £11.99 Buy

  • Each pale yellow flower has an attractive pattern of brown veining inside its throat. They appear in open clusters on the upright racemes from early to midsummer above the large, lance-shaped foliage. A short-lived perennial, it looks wonderful planted in bold swathes.

    3 x 9m cm pots for £11.99 Buy

  • RHS Foxglove Collection

    Buy 1 of each for £11.99

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    Buy 3 of each for £26.97 (Save £9.00)

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