Foxglove – info, planting, care and tips

Flower of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Flower of foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxglove is a charming eye-catcher on the sunny or partially shady edge of a wood. This is the right way to plant and care for plant.

Profile of foxglove:

Scientific name: Digitalis purpurea

Plant family: plantain family (Plantaginaceae)

Other names: common foxglove

Sowing time: spring

Planting time: late spring to summer

Flowering period: June to August

Location: no direct sun to partially shady

Soil quality: sandy to loamy, humus rich

These information are for temperate climate!

Use in: flowerbeds, flower bouquets, borders, cottage garden, flower garden, natural garden

Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 5 (-26 °C / -15 °F)

Bee and insect friendly: Yes

Plant characteristics and classification of foxglove

Plant order, origin and occurrence of foxglove

The foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) from the plantain family (Plantaginaceae) is one of the most striking wild plants. You can find it in almost all of Europe, in areas of North Africa (Morocco) and in parts of South America. There it colonizes forest edges and other open spaces near trees and shrubs such as forest paths and clearings up to about 1,000 meters (3,280 ft) above sea level. The botanical generic name “Digitalis” goes back to the Latin word for finger (“digitus”) and describes the shape of the flower, the species name “purpurea” the natural color of the flower. All types of foxglove are highly poisonous – even the consumption of two or three leaves can be fatal – and at the same time important medicinal plants, especially for heart problems. As an ornamental plant, the foxglove, also known as common foxglove, has been used since the 16th century.

Characteristics of foxglove


Foxglove belongs to the biennial plants. In the first year the foxglove forms only a rosette of leaves, in the following season the flower appears on 80 to about 150 centimeters (32 to 60 in) high, upright growing and usually unbranched stems. The plant then dies and new specimens grow from the seeds. Rarely several flower stems sprout from the same leaf rosette.


The foliage of the foxglove has a downy, green upper side and is gray and felt-hairy on the underside. The leaves with the irregularly serrated edge are stalked and grow up to 20 cm (8 in) long.


In its heyday, foxglove is an absolute eye-catcher, especially when it appears in groups. Between June and August it gradually opens, from bottom to top, short stemmed, elongated bells with slightly extended lower lip. The wild species flowers pink, with numerous, irregularly shaped, dark red spots in the throat, which are bordered by a white edge. Each of the individual blossoms reaches a length of about 5 centimeters, 50 to 100 of them are in a cluster. They always turn towards the light and point diagonally downwards. Foxgloves are mainly pollinated by bumblebees, although self-pollination is also possible. Smaller insects are denied access by vertical hairs on the inside of the flower. The flowers are first male, then female, on a raceme there are always both stages due to the delayed opening of the buds.


From August onwards, the flowers develop into egg-shaped capsule fruits with numerous, tiny seeds, which are spread by wind and animals.

Foxglove – cultivation and care


In the wild, the foxglove is often found at light forest edges and clearings. Also in the garden the ornamental plant can be cultivated very well in bright places in partially shady areas. Digitalis purpurea feels uncomfortable in rockeries, but this is due more to the substrate than to the location. The multicolored flowers of the foxglove plants are very well suited for planting under conifers. But the undemanding plants also thrive in sunny ornamental and raised beds without problems.


The plant with the thimble-shaped flowers needs a humus rich, lime poor and permeable soil. Heavy soils should be improved with humus and smaller stones. The latter counteract an undesired compaction of the soil, the roots of the foxglove can develop better.

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Planting / Sowing

If the location and substrate match, the highly poisonous flowering plant likes to seed itself diligently. However, in order to cultivate the foxglove specifically in one place, you should sow or plant the plant yourself there. In the field the fine seeds of the foxglove are scattered over a prepared bed and carefully pressed on. Digitalis purpurea belongs to the light-germinating plants and should not be covered with substrate. From May, when temperatures rise again, the first shoots appear.

Separate plants that are too close together, the minimum distance should be about 25 centimeters. You can increase the chances of germination by sprinkling the seeds of the foxglove into shallow containers in spring or summer. These pots should be kept in a partially shady place in the open air. At warm temperatures the foxglove germinates quickly. Make sure that the cultivation pots are perforated and that the substrate is kept moderately moist.

Plant out or replant in early autumn. Remove old roots, weeds and large stones from the soil in the new location. Pebbles, however, have a loosening effect, as they counteract compaction of the soil. These can and should remain in the substrate. Subsequently, loosen up the soil and enrich it with larger amounts of humus.

  • Carefully insert the plants into the excavated hole.
  • Fill back the substrate and press down gently.
  • Maintain the minimum distance between the individual plants.
  • Water sufficiently with lime-poor water (rain water).

Do not plant the foxglove plants in direct proximity to edible crops or the children’s garden corner. Digitalis purpurea is a highly poisonous plant, even the consumption of small amounts of leaves or flowers can lead to death within a very short time. Do not try to use the plant for medical purposes yourself, but always use the already processed and dosed products from the pharmacy.


The foxglove likes a moderately moist soil. Even temporary dryness can cause considerable damage to the plant, the growth and also the development of the flowers can suffer. Water Digitalis purpurea regularly during the main vegetation period – from April to September – and check the moisture content of the substrate daily if possible. However, when it comes to water supply, less is more. The soil can only absorb a limited amount of moisture. Therefore, water more often during the day instead of almost drowning the ornamental plant every two days with larger amounts of water.


Provided that the soil in beds is mulched annually and enriched with compost, manure or horn shavings, many plants can do without the additional application of liquid or slow release fertilizer. Also the foxglove prefers a natural, biological supply of nutrients. Since the plants are biennial, smaller amounts of compost are carefully worked into the soil around it in spring and late summer.


Where the foxglove establishes itself by self-sowing, it feels comfortable even without much care. As a forest plant it basically likes a layer of leaf mulch. If you want to avoid that the plants seed themselves too abundantly, cut off the stems as they wither. This can also extend the life of the plants. The long and very sensitive taproot, which allows Digitalis purpurea to survive even under trees, makes transplanting almost impossible.


Due to the short life of Digitalis purpurea, pruning is normally not necessary for this plant. However, you can use foxglove as a cut flower. Cut the stem to the desired length as soon as at least 2/3 of the flower buds have opened. In order to enjoy the flowering in the vase for a long time, you should shorten the stem by a few centimeters every two days and change the water.

Propagation of foxglove

The plants are normally propagated by self-sowing in the garden. However, if different varieties stand together, the offspring will flower differently. You can also collect the seeds and plant them elsewhere. Please note that Digitalis purpurea is a light germinator, so the seeds should not be covered or only lightly covered. The plants cannot be divided due to the sensitive taproot.

Diseases and pests

Harmful insects are rarely to be found on the foxglove. Now and then, aphids prefer the nutritious cell sap of the ornamental plant. Much more frequently, however, the plant is afflicted by fungal pathogens, which you can resist in advance.

Leaf spot disease

Spot-like formations on the leaves of the foxglove can be caused by leaf spot disease caused by viruses and bacteria. In addition to the leaf spots, which can be red, brown, grey, black or yellow, the symptoms often manifest themselves in the form of a fungal lawn on the plant surface. Pay attention to the correct care of the digitalis. Healthy plants are less affected than already weakened plants. Remove heavily infested leaves immediately to prevent the progression of leaf spot disease. If the signs of the disease repeat themselves yearly, you should consider changing the location or at least replace the old substrate completely with new soil.

Powdery mildew

Warm summer days and garden plants weakened by drought are the ideal conditions for this mildew pathogen. The “fair weather fungus” manifests itself by a dusty, mealy gray layer on the leaf and shoot surfaces. This layer is easily dusted and can be wiped away. Powdery and downy mildew can be easily controlled and effectively prevented.

  • Do not let the substrate dry out.
  • Keep a sufficient minimum distance between the plants.
  • Cut off and dispose of affected plant parts immediately.
  • Spray a brew from a milk and whey mixture.
  • Pour with nettle swill.

Fungicides should only be used in exceptional cases. For example, if powdery mildew cannot be contained despite all precautions and control measures taken. To protect neighboring plants from infestation, you can fall back on effective products from the specialized trade. Otherwise, you should not try to wipe off the coating. The fungal spores are carried on by this, and the pathogen itself cannot be eliminated by this measure.

Root rot

A humus rich and humid soil promotes the growth of the plant. However, foxglove also tends to root rot. Caused by a fungal pathogen, this disease develops above all in waterlogging and compacted soil. A rotting stage occurs at the roots and decomposes them slowly. No effective remedies are available against this disease, but you can counteract an infestation. Reduce the amount of water, but water more often. For potted plants – which do not include foxglove – you can avoid waterlogging by using a drainage system.


Foxglove is robust and will survive the cold season without any protection. However, it does no harm to cover the substrate with wilted leaves or bark mulch. The layer protects the soil from severe frost damage and at the same time the slow decomposition of the material supplies the soil with minerals.

Use in the garden

As a biennial plant you can plan and plant the foxglove at one place in the garden, but it will look for its own favorite places. But it never or only rarely becomes annoying. Wherever Digitalis purpurea appears, it automatically creates a natural design. There is a good chance that it will feel comfortable with perennials that are also close to the woody habitat. These include, for example, giant bellflowers (Campanula latifolia), false goat’s beard (Astilbe), Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis), aconite (Aconitum) and bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Especially the white flowering varieties look especially beautiful against a dark background, such as a yew hedge.


Similar in color to the wild species, but with larger flowers blooms ‘Gloxiniaeflora’, which with a height of up to 150 centimeters (60 in) is also one of the most impressive cultivars. ‘Excelsior’ offers a natural looking mixture of white, pink and red flowering plants (80 to 120 centimeters (32 to 48 in) high). The variety ‘Apricot’ offers a special shade of yellowish pink. It grows to about one meter high, as do ‘Alba’ (white with dots) and ‘Snow Thimble’ (pure white, large flowers). A giant single bell at the tip of the shoot marks the variety ‘Monstrosa’, the flower colors vary from white to cream to pink and salmon. ‘Pam’s Choice’, on the other hand, has creamy-white flowers, which decorate large, dark wine red spots on the inside.

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