When to plant foxglove seeds?

Collecting foxglove seeds

Many gardeners buy foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) plants, enjoy the fabulous flowers, and then discard the withering stems in summer. Foxgloves are biennial, so their decline at this point is to be expected. Luckily, growing foxgloves from seed is hardly any more difficult than planting those young plants. You’ll stretch your gardening budget, too. The seeds are generously supplied by your own spent plants.

Foxglove’s flowers bloom in succession from the bottom to the top of the tall stems. The pods turn dry and brown in similar fashion. They ripen first near the bottom of the stem. Watch the lower pods for cracks and holes. The “fox’s gloves” change to resemble turtle’s beaks, and split in the middle. The seeds mostly stay inside the upright pods. When a ripe pod is turned down, tiny brown or black seeds will spill out. They are small, like finely ground black pepper, as you see in the picture to the right. The seeds are easy to collect, share with fellow gardeners, or sow in other areas in your garden.

Close view of the beak-like dried pods of foxglove

Have you heard that foxgloves are poisonous? In trying to verify this, I found many sources all repeating verbatim warnings about “sucking the flowers or eating the seeds, stems, or leaves of the foxglove plant.” And I found one testimony from an individual who claims to have suffered hives and eventually pneumonia after inhaling foxglove “spores and pollen.” I also came across an article in the U.S. National Library of Medicine describing an accidental Digitalis poisoning. Nine people were sickened by tea made from foxglove leaves. (They had mistaken the foxglove for comfrey, Symphytum officinale.) All nine “recovered uneventfully.” While I can’t prove or disprove that handling the seeds is hazardous, wearing gloves while gathering them seems prudent. Aside from the potential for poisoning, the stems can easily harbor small spiders. (I found three, and three daddy long legs, while working six stalks.)

To harvest a small amount of seed, take a pod and turn it downward over an open envelope. One pod can yield dozens of seeds. Label the envelope now before you have a chance to forget.

To gather larger amounts of seed, equip yourself with a larger collection device. A large pan, plastic bin, or disposable aluminum roasting pan gives a large collection area for the seeds. It also has corners in which to gather the seed for pouring into a storage container. Pick a dry sunny calm day, and wait until any dew has dried off. Glove up, then prune off the flower spike below the bottom bud and turn it upside-down over the pan.You may see dozens of seeds drop into the pan with no further encouragement. Or you may use one hand to gently crush the pods, from the cut end of the stalk to the tip. Seeds will fall into the pan, along with bits of pod and dry petals. Discard the stripped stem (and don’t be surprised if foxgloves later sprout where it fell.). Now gently shake the pan to make the seed gather in one corner. The tiny seeds will fall to the bottom of the pile, and larger flakes of petal and pod can be brushed away. It may be wise to avoid getting the seed and chaff too close to your face. A few minutes of work will yield a reasonably clean pile of seed. Even easier than this, a kitchen strainer works well to get the chaff out of the seeds. (Knowing what we know, or don’t know, about foxglove toxicity, you may want to dedicate a strainer to garden seed use only.) Pour the seed into a labeled envelope or small plastic bag.

A sieve makes quick work of separating tiny seeds from larger bits of dried pods

Have you planned a new foxglove patch already? Amend the soil if necessary, and rake it smooth. Cut a foxglove stem, carry it carefully upright to your chosen new location, then invert the stem and crush the pods. Hundreds of seed will fall. Let nature take over the care, and chances are good you will have plenty of seedlings by late summer.

Growing Foxgloves from Seed

Terence Baker describes the methods he uses to propagate plants for the National Collection.

The Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), so much a part of the British countryside, is perhaps one of the few native plants to be well received in gardens. They do seem to have the ability to spring up almost unnoticed, that is until their towering flower stems dominate the garden. Once there, few gardeners have the heart to remove them, thus insuring more in future seasons, for Foxgloves are great seeders.

Digitalis purpurea is just one species of a genus containing, depending on which books you read, more than twenty species, geographic variations, hybrids and abnormalities. Some are known and are commercially available garden plants, others are obscure and sought after. Several, as yet, appear to be known only in Botanic Gardens and in the collections of enthusiasts. All are interesting and worthwhile plants. In the main they are hardy but some are resentful of our winter wet, or are naturally so floriferous as to be short lived.

Some species, such as D. grandiflora, x mertonensis, parviflora, are sound perennials especially if divided, which can be tricky! Other such as D. ferruginea are biennial and like so many biennials are best considered monocarpic, that is they die after setting seed, therefore with the exception of sterile hybrids they are best propagated by seed. Seed is available of at least half the species in general cultivation from various seed companies. Many of the rest can be obtained from seed lists of various societies as well as the National Collections, enthusiasts and botanic gardens. The seed is fine, uniformly sized and easy to handle. When possible it is best collected as soon as the capsule splits. When ripe the best and most viable seed will fall easily into a paper envelope, any that remain may not be of such good quality and attempting to dislodge it may well cause the good seed to be polluted with capsule debris, a potential hazard.

Once collected there is much to be said for sowing some as soon as possible, the seed is generally ready by early August and sowing at this time allows the young plants to become established before any hard weather. Such sowings may be over-wintered in a well ventilated cold frame or, in the case of less hardy species, a frost free glasshouse, for planting out in early April.

Depending on the quantity required, 4 inch (10cm) half pots or seed trays may be used. A seed tray will easily accommodate several hundred seedlings, far more than the average gardener requires even to support local NCCPG or other sales. Do not sow too thickly. Ideally the young plants should not touch. A good quality seed compost should be used, this should be levelled and gently firmed in the usual way. Once sown do not cover the seed as Digitalis require light for germination, this accounts for the failure described by some gardeners. The seed should be lightly pressed into the compost. I prefer to water-in overhead with a very fine rose watering can. Watering overhead is preferred as a general rule because this can reduce any germination inhibitors that adhere to the seed of some genera. If you would prefer not to use a can, then the sown pots may be stood in a shallow depth of water, once the surface of the compost darkens the container should be removed, the compost should not be allowed to become sodden.

The containers should be covered with clean glass. If the seed is sown in late summer a shaded cold frame or cool greenhouse is a suitable environment, or the north side of a wall; high temperatures should be avoided. If the seed is to be spring sown it should be stored in a dry paper bag or envelope which must be kept cool and dry under which conditions the seed lasts well. Long term deep refrigerated storage in a sealed container with silica gel is possible, this should last indefinitely.

Spring sown seed usually in March is sown in the same way, preferably in a frost-free glasshouse. Earlier sowing in January will produce plants which may well flower the first year from seed. Such sowing should be made in a warm glasshouse or propagator kept at 60-65°F (15-18°C). Whichever way is chosen the resulting plants should be pricked out. In the case of species the strongest should be chosen. With hybrids try retaining some of the weakest plants as these occasionally produce the most interesting colours. Both should be potted into small pots.

Alternatively seed can be sown directly into the flowering position and if kept moist germination takes about 21 days and, when large enough, the resulting seedlings may be thinned to stand about 12 inches (30cm) apart. Generally the species will come true from seed, however hybrids and forms will intercross; parent plants should be isolated to avoid confusion.

Terence Baker is the holder of the National Collection of Digitalis. He runs the Botanical Nursery in Wiltshire.

Source of article
Growing From Seed – Winter 188-89 Vol. 3 Number 1
© The Seed Raising Journal from Thompson & Morgan

Grow Foxgloves from Seed

Foxgloves are easy to grow from seed and will give you the most amazing early display of flowers in your garden.
If you are growing flowers to sell or simply want to be able to cut flowers for your own home then I can recommend Foxgloves. They are both glamorous and productive.

How Can I Grow Foxgloves from Seed?

This is one of the questions asked most often. Here’s the reason. Foxglove plants are available in all good nurseries and garden centres every spring and that’s a great option if you just need a few plants. Around here they cost anything from £4.99 to £8.99 per plant. So if you would like a lot of Foxgloves that can be an expensive way to get the look you want. Sowing seeds is sometimes a better option if you:

  • Visualise a swathe of gorgeous Foxgloves in your garden in a particular colour.
  • Plan to grow a variety of Foxgloves with a range of heights and colours to sell.

Foxglove seeds are tiny and it can be hard to know how to deal with them. In the wild Foxglove seeds ripen on the plants then are scattered by the wind wafting their tall stalks about. Each plant produces thousands of seeds because there are many losses. Small creatures eat the seeds and this broadcast method of seeding can be a little hit and miss. If the seeds land in the wrong spot they just won’t grow. You can broadcast seeds in your garden or cutting patch but I prefer to sow them indoors where I can control things a little.

I always plant lots of Foxgloves and they perform very well for us in our semi shaded garden. I grow them from seed and plant them around the oak tree and my garden studio in our Spring Garden. We also plant a big patch at the edge of our Bluebell Wood. In 2015 they flowered twice, as usual in spring and then quite unexpectedly again in autumn. 2015 was so mild you see.

When you tidy your garden in autumn you may prefer to cut the flowering stalks off. If you grow several types of Foxgloves it’s quite likely that any plants produced from the seeds will be very similar to our wild Foxglove Digitalis purpurea. For that reason you may wish to remove biennial Foxgloves as soon as flowering is over. We prefer to leave some seed heads on the plants so that tiny creatures have hiding places and seeds to eat over winter. And here’s the bonus. This is what’s left of my Foxgloves this year. Just the tall stalks with seed pods. Aren’t they amazing?

Most Foxgloves are biennials… That means if you sow them this year they will flower next year. What is brilliant about biennials is that you can grow lots of plants very easily and inexpensively from seed and then remove them after flowering to grow something else.

Easy – Sow in late summer or early autumn and they will grow and develop through the winter with little or even no attention from you as long as your garden has sufficient rain! Then they burst into life in spring sending up tall spires of blooms so you will have masses of early flowers in May and June.

Inexpensive – Foxgloves produce masses of tiny seeds. If you have friends with foxgloves in their garden they will probably be delighted to give you some of their seeds. They probably won’t be exactly the same as their parents so it’s exciting to see what grows. Alternatively you can buy a packet of seeds for just a couple of pounds and choose the colours and height that you prefer.

The bright pink wild form is Digitalis purpurea. Foxgloves also come in white and cream and lovely pastel pinks and peachy apricot too. Many of them have beautiful markings inside each bloom which acts like a landing strip for bees and other pollinating insects.

How to sow Foxglove seeds.

Foxglove seeds need light to germinate. I prefer to start them off indoors in trays of compost. I have found that sowing a tiny pinch of seed in just 10 cells of a module tray is the best way to raise Foxgloves. Sowing in cells like this means that you don’t sow too thickly. If you aim to sow just 10 seeds in 10 cells then you will have 100 Foxglove plants. That should be enough for most gardens!

Growing them in cells means that each tiny plant has more space and light so your newly germinated seedlings won’t damp off and rot away. They will develop into nice healthy seedlings which can be pricked out into their own individual cell to grow on. They are quite hardy and don’t need heat at this stage. You can pot them on as they grow then plant them outside when you are ready.

Foxgloves are really woodland edge plants. Like most woodland plants their broad leaves will make the most of the sunshine in early spring before the leaves form on deciduous trees. And then wooosh… up come the flowers in late spring. They prefer partially shaded positions and moisture retentive soil.

You can cut the flowers for a dramatic display indoors.
Foxglove flowers last about 5 days in nice fresh water. Once you remove the main flower spike the plants will send up side shoots with more flowers… these will be smaller but still gorgeous.

If you prefer to leave your blooms in the garden then please take some time to sit and watch the insects make a bee line for your Foxgloves.

A note of caution: All parts of Digitalis purpurea/Foxgloves are poisonous including the seeds and petals. Please take care handling them and don’t let children play with them.

Sowing Foxglove Seeds Step by Step

  1. In summer fill a small module tray with fine seed compost to the brim and level off to make a smooth surface.
  2. Sow a tiny pinch of seeds in each cell spreading them out evenly over the compost.
  3. Do not cover the seeds with compost. Like many tiny seeds Foxgloves need light to germinate.
  4. Place the module tray in a tray of tepid water for 10 minutes then remove and allow excess water to drain away
  5. Stand your seed tray on the windowsill (preferably north facing so there’s plenty of light but no scorching sun)
  6. Tiny seedlings will appear in a few days. Allow them to grow on and water from below as necessary.
  7. When the seedlings are large enough to handle prick them out into larger cells or small pots and grow on outdoors for four to six weeks.
  8. Your young foxgloves will form healthy roots and can be planted out in their flowering positions in September.
  9. Allow them to grow on throughout autumn and winter. Water if necessary during very dry spells.
  10. In May and June your Foxgloves will flower giving you a beautiful display and many stems for cutting.

Here’s some of the beautiful Foxgloves you could grow very easily and inexpensively. They are all available here in the Store.
These are tall varieties:

Foxy is a gorgeous shorter version with pastel blooms probably more suited to bouquets than the taller flowers above.

There’s a Foxglove for most gardens and gardeners.
You may want to:

  • Grow plants to provide pollen and seeds for wildlife,
  • Cut flowers for the house, church or special events
  • Grow and sell your own flowers
  • Add a splash of colour to your garden in late spring

Whatever the reason I hope you’ll love the Foxgloves you choose for your garden as much as I do! Happy Gardening 🙂

Spike Your Heart Rate: Grow Your Own Foxglove from Seed

September 27, 2018 17 Comments

Close your eyes and imagine an English cottage garden. There in the background, up against the stone or earthen plaster walls…see those tall spikes of bell-shaped flowers? Those are foxgloves. If you want the same multi-layered, charmingly-chaotic look for your own landscape, then you’re going to want to include these colorful garden standards.

Digitalis purpurea’s large flowers and sturdy stems hold their own against foreground plantings. From a distance, as your eye makes the meandering journey from sidewalk to structure, it’s rewarded by a spectacular multi-colored display and large, vivid green leaves.

Foxgloves are easy-to-grow, low-maintenance biennials that are well-suited to hard-to-reach background spaces. They attract honeybees and bumblebees as much as they draw attention, and if they become too abundant in your landscaping space, you can bring an armful of spikes indoors to enjoy as gorgeous cut flowers.

Background on a Background Plant

Native to England, Digitalis purpurea is known throughout Europe by many names:

  • Foxglove
  • Fairy Thimbles
  • Fairy’s Glove
  • Fairy Caps
  • Virgin’s Glove
  • Witches’ Glove
  • Dead Men’s Bells
  • Bloody Fingers

If you’ve ever wondered about that popular catalog’s weird name, now you know that Fingerhut is German for foxglove and not a reference to a horror movie prop storage facility. And if you want to know what’s up with the association between the plant and fashion accessories, a peek at the tubular flowers will help it make some sense; their shape is similar to that of a slender finger on a dainty glove…which is how the plant earned its genus name, Digitalis.

It was originally Folksglove—the glove of the ‘good folk’ or fairies, whose favourite haunts were supposed to be in the deep hollows and woody dells, where the Foxglove delights to grow. Its Norwegian name, Revbielde (Foxbell), is the only foreign one that alludes to the Fox, though there is a northern legend that bad fairies gave these blossoms to the fox that he might put them on his toes to soften his tread when he prowled among the roosts.

— M. Grieve’s A Modern Herbal

Various other species originate elsewhere in Europe, and for centuries the plant’s leaves have been pressed into service (literally) for a variety of medicinal purposes. Only in the last century has it been cultivated specifically to treat cardiac issues, and only under the watchful eye of a physician.

Sold under various names such as Lanoxin, Digox, Lanoxin Pediatric, and Digitek, digitalis (the generic term for the pharmaceutical) affects a patient’s heart rate.

But you don’t want to mess with foxglove as a home remedy; all parts of the plant are poisonous when eaten, which is why it’s best planted in those tricky spots we mentioned earlier. Many people experience skin irritation after handing foxgloves, so we recommend wearing gardening gloves when you’re gardening the gloves.

Choosing a Garden Spot For Foxglove

Digitalis purpurea thrives as a wildflower in most of western, central and southern UK. It prefers the types of environments one would imagine supernatural creatures to dwell; wooded glades and hollows. It can handle full shade in hotter environments, or full sun in cooler mountainous or maritime climates. In spite of its tough, deep root system, it thrives in craggy, rocky, low-soil areas.

Here in North America, the biennial foxglove adapts far beyond the scope of its native climate with minimal compensation. Plant foxglove anywhere you need a vertical splash of color, and bloom details you can admire even from a distance. It flowers in its second year, dies that fall, and regrows from planted or self-sown seeds. On rare occasions, new shoots emerge from older roots surviving to their third season.

USDA Hardiness Zones: An herbaceous biennial (infrequently called a short-lived perennial) in zones 4-8, favoring coastal climates.

Sunlight Preferences: Full sun to full shade (depending on heat). Varieties grown for pharmaceutical use are typically cultivated in full sun for highest potency, but most D. purpurea varieties are adaptable. We recommend locations with late afternoon or dappled shade as the “sweet spot” for your best shot at success.

Moisture Requirements: Foxgloves must be kept evenly moist. Don’t let them dry out. Even though they grow deep roots, they also depend on their spreading, shallow roots for nutrient uptake.

Soil Preferences: D. purpurea requires well-drained soils. Add a little sand and rich organic matter to sites with poor drainage. While foxgloves do fine in medium soils, you want to encourage them to be spectacular. Several “go-to” garden sites recommend a wide pH latitude (5 to 8) but we recommend soil just a smidge on the acidic side.

Plant Height: As tall as five feet, but usually around four; check your packet as we list different varieties and mixes according to height as well as hue.

Plant Width: One to three feet spread.

Growth Habit: Flowers grow on the exposed sides of tall, tapering spikes. Basal leaves emerge as ground-level rosettes, and in their second year, they form compact mounds.

Bloom Period: May to early July. There’s a potential for extended bloom (or a late summer encore) with the removal of spent spikes.

Flowers: Tubular 2-3″ blooms hang downward from the stalks in a layered fashion. The flowers grow smaller in size the farther up they progress, adding to the plant’s tapered look. Foxglove flowers are varying shades of pink or lavender, many with distinct spots. White varieties are no less spectacular…just ask the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, who show up for the copious nectar rather than the ambiance.

Foliage: Foxglove leaves are oval-shaped and somewhat crumpled, with noticeable veins. They can grow up to a foot long, and have a velvety silver covering of fuzz on the tops, with slightly longer down on the undersides. Even though the leaves are technically toothed on the edges, the serrations are barely noticeable.

Young foxglove plants, beginning from leaves arranged in a low-growing rosette pattern, resemble borage and comfrey. Be sure not to pick D. purpurea when you’re harvesting leaves for tea.

Pests & Diseases: While foxglove isn’t particularly susceptible to common garden issues, fungal problems can wreak havoc on the dense foliage, spreading to and weakening the flowering spike. Keep an eye out for aphids, avoid getting the leaves wet, and remove any foliage that shows symptoms of rot, mold, or fungus. Don’t use chemical pesticides on your foxglove plants. Pollinators, birds, and pest-eating wasps don’t appreciate it, and healthy plants can withstand minor insect infestations.

Maintenance: Remove the spikes after all the blooms have given up the ghost, and remove the leaves after the first hard frost if you want to keep things looking tidy. If you allow the seeds to drop, you’ll keep the cycle going naturally; some gardeners plant seeds every year for the first 1-3 years to make sure there are always plants at their peak during the summer. Afterward, they let nature take its course.

Harvesting: Unlike the tobacco industry, we at Seed Needs want our customers to be around for a long time…so we’re not going to offer advice on harvesting foxglove leaves for medicinal use. But, when properly cut at the base and immediately placed in water, flowery foxglove spikes make fantastic (and widely-used) specimens for floral displays.

Safety Precautions: Once again, we recommend wearing either gardening or nitrile gloves when handling these plants, as some people experience skin irritation. (There’s no need to go overboard and buy a hazmat suit.) Be sure to pick up any dropped blossoms to keep them out of reach of pets and little kids.

All parts of the foxglove plant—leaves, flowers, stems, seeds, or roots—are poisonous when eaten. In spite of this, foxgloves are among the most popular and recognizable garden plants, and with certain precautions, are safe to grow and use as a cut flower.

Garden Buddies: Our customers love to grow foxglove with Bells of Ireland, and we’re fans of throwing borage plants into the foreground. This trio works best in cool-summer, part-to-full-sun spots where gardeners want to let these easy re-seeders do their own thing in the far corners of their gardens. Peonies, lilies, and roses are traditional foxglove partners, and they get along with alliums.

The fun thing about English cottage gardens is that they’re informal and fun, and these tall background stunners aren’t easily upstaged…no matter what you plant in front of them.

Growing Foxglove from Seed

We usually recommend starting tiny, surface-sown seeds indoors, but many professional nursery growers warn against fungal problems caused by humid indoor environments. If you’re growing foxglove from seed inside, be sure to keep the air moving with a fan and use sterile soil in biodegradable seed trays or individual peat pots. Don’t let your teenagers leave their socks or gym clothes in the vicinity of your foxglove starts…or play this game within fifty feet of your indoor nursery.

Try starting seeds mid-summer to increase your chances of enjoying foxglove blooms the following season.

If you decide to direct-sow your foxglove seeds outside, mix your seeds with fine gardening sand (about a cup per standard packet) and scatter them on the surface of finely-raked, moist soil. Keep the soil consistently moist with fine mist irrigation.

Ready for the stats?

  • Seed Treatment: None required.
  • When to Plant Outdoors: After all chance of spring frost is in the rearview mirror.
  • When to Plant Indoors: Six to eight weeks before last spring frost.
  • Seed Depth: Surface sow no more than 1/16″ deep.
  • Seed Spacing: Plant or thin 18″ to 24″ apart. You can crowd foxglove in more arid regions, but overcrowding in lusher environments—particularly in full shade—may lead to fungus and wilt.
  • Days to Germination: 7-14 days at 65° to 70°F.

Deep-rooted foxglove doesn’t like to be transplanted, so be sure to use peat pots or peat-free, sustainable CowPots™ and soak them well before you plant them (pot and all) outside. They’re usually ready to be transplanted about three weeks after emergence.

Sourcing Your Seeds from Seed Needs

Ready to boost your garden’s heart rate? Contact us to order fresh foxglove seeds harvested from the healthiest, most-productive genetics (non-GMO, of course). We offer different mixes for different effects, and if you’re looking for custom quantities or customized packets, we’ve got you covered!

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