Plants & Growing

How To Grow & Care For Foxgloves In The UK

wild purple foxglove flowers with dark background
Written by Chris Lee

Elegant, stately, and just a little a whimsical, foxgloves have been beloved by gardeners for centuries.

With their tubular, trumpet-like flowers, the taller of the species bring structure and texture to your garden, whilst the shade-loving woodland natives bring much-needed bursts of colour to even the darkest corners.

With lofty clusters of bell-shaped blooms that come in an array of shades – pinks and reds, lavenders and yellows, creams and white – it’s no wonder these versatile plants have remained popular for so long.

And if that wasn’t enough to send you head over heels in love with these plants, they are also surprisingly easy to grow, making them ideal for even the most inexperienced gardeners.

towering wild purple Foxgloves in a field
Fall in love with these fancy, flowering, towering beauties!

So, if you are falling for foxgloves and are keen to include them in your garden, this article will tell you everything you need to know about these fancy, flowering, towering beauties.

What are foxgloves?

Foxgloves are part of the “Digitalis” genus, and most varieties are biennials meaning they are flowering plants that have a two-year biological cycle.

During their first cycle, foxgloves grow from seeds, producing roots, stems and leaves. The second cycle is the foxgloves time to shine; this is when they complete their growth with the formation of flowers and seeds.

If flower heads are not removed foxgloves will reseed abundantly, but either way, this is the end of their cycle, and they will then die. So, if you want foxgloves brightening up your garden every year, simply plant them two years in a row.

There also some perennial species, meaning there are options out there with lifespans lasting between three and five years.

Foxgloves are also tremendously valuable to bees; their brightly coloured flowers attract many species providing an excellent source of pollen.

Types of foxgloves

There are over one hundred types of foxgloves out there so it can be hard to know where to start when choosing the right ones for your garden. But, fear not: we’ve trawled through the options and picked out our favourite foxgloves to help get you started.

Camelot lavender

Kicking off our foxglove list is the Camelot lavender variety. These biennials – or short-lived perennials – grow to up to 1.2 metres in height and sports stems of pale, lavender-coloured flowers, punctuated with deep maroon spots which are outlined in white.

A white-ish lavender foxglove plant
Help your garden come to life with Camelot lavender foxgloves

Camelot lavender foxgloves actually flower in the first year rather than the second, and bloom for an extended period over summer. The flowers grow around the spikes as opposed to just up one side, and they face horizontally outwards instead of hanging down.

Bees absolutely adore this type of foxglove, which are best grown in moist, well-drained sun, and in partial shade.

Sunset foxglove

This dwarf variety of foxglove produces thimble-shaped flowers that provide gorgeous ambience to your garden with their deep, earthy shades of burnt orange, red, amber and soft brown.

Growing between 0.5 and 1 metre in height and with a spread of up to 0.5 metres, the sunset foxglove will thrive in most soil types, except very wet or very dry, and will do it’s best in a warm, sheltered spot in partial shade.

This splendid specimen is perfect for borders and beds and is a charming addition to informal cottage gardens.

Large yellow foxglove

As the name might suggest, this foxglove is large and yellow. It grows to a metre in height and up to 0.5 metres in spread.

The large yellow foxglove his is a tough, sturdy plant, with bell-shaped, butter-yellow blooms which grow in an elegantly slender, erect fashion. The flowers are complemented beautifully by their simple, dark green foliage which, being evergreen, will add interest to your garden year-round.

This variety prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial shade. You can cut back the main flower spike as it fades to coax out the growth of flowering side shoots.

The Shirley

This fabulous foxglove variety grows to the dizzying heights of up to 2.5 metres, making it one of the tallest types going.

This stiffly erect biennial makes its presence known with it’s large, hairy leaves and lofty spires that flaunt pink, horizontal, open bell-shaped which are accented with deep purple speckles.

purple cones of shirley foxgloves
“Surely, you can’t be serious?!”, “I am serious, and you may call me Shirley.”

As with most foxgloves, the Shirley prefers moist, well-drained soil and will thrive in partial shade. She also reseeds prolifically, so we recommend deadheading after flowering to avoid problems with the growth of multiple seedlings.

Growing foxgloves

Now that we’ve introduced you to some of our favourite foxgloves, it’s time to get down to business and get to grips with how to grow and care for these popular plants.

You can either plant foxgloves from seeds or buy young plants from a garden centre. Planting foxgloves from seeds can be a little more challenging, so for novice gardeners, we do recommend starting off with young plants.

How to grow from seed

Foxglove seeds should be sown when ripe and will usually be ready by August. Alternatively, you can hold onto them and sow them in early March.

When growing foxgloves from seeds, you will want to use a good quality seed compost.

Press the seeds lightly into the compost, but make sure you do not cover them. Foxgloves require sunlight for germination.

As mentioned, foxgloves do not enjoy wet conditions so, after sowing, water and then allow the pots to drain.

When the seeds have germinated, you can then prick them out and transfer them into larger, 9cm pots.

How to plant young foxgloves

Young foxgloves are best planted in autumn, or you can plant them the following spring if they aren’t large enough.

Be sure to allow plenty of space between plants to allow for their spread; foxgloves that are overcrowded will struggle to reach their full height.

When planting your young foxgloves, make sure you don’t cover their crowns with soil as this can lead to disease and root rot which will kill off the plants.

Light requirements

Light requirements for foxgloves entirely depends on the variety, with some preferring full sun, others partial shade, as well as a few which flourish in full shade. Most types, however, prefer a spot where they can enjoy the morning sun.

How to water foxgloves

Foxgloves are thirsty customers in the summertime, especially when they start producing flowers. Be aware however that foxgloves do no cope well in waterlogged soil and this is why they must be planted in soil with good drainage.

We recommend watering twice or three times a week, but you can always check the soil beforehand to check how damp or dry it is.

Pests and diseases

Sadly foxgloves are quite prone to problems with aphids, funguses and bacteria. Thankfully, as long as you address the issue as soon as it arises, you have a strong chance of nipping it in the bud before it takes hold. Early detection is your best weapon.

Treat aphids immediately with insecticides to prevent these hungry little blighters from spreading to the healthy parts of the plant. You may also need to prune and cut back your foxgloves to prevent the aphids from spreading to other plants.

Likewise, fungus should also be treated immediately; use a fungicide or similar organic treatments and prune the plants as you would with the aphid problem.

Bacteria will find it’s way into the plant through the soil, so, for this reason, it’s prudent to maintain a proper pH balance to stop the growth of bacterial spores. Be sure to remove all infected parts of the plant.

Are foxgloves toxic?

Foxgloves are undeniably beautiful, but it is imperative to be aware that they are also extremely toxic and are poisonous to both humans and animals. For this reason, we strongly recommend that, if you have young children or pets,  you ensure they are supervised when they are in close proximity to these plants.

Hey foxy lady (or lad!)

We hope this article has filled you with inspiration and knowledge about the flamboyantly foxy foxglove. These plants are so reliably spectacular and can be truly transformative in any garden.

colourful orange, white and purple foxgloves with green leaves
Hey foxy lady (or lad!), fill your garden with fashionable foxgloves

Foxgloves have never gone out of fashion, and we are confident that these fancy fellows will remain a top choice for gardeners for years and years to come.

So roll up your sleeves, get outside, and fill your borders and beds with flawless foxgloves!

About the author

Chris Lee

Chris is interested in nature and the good things that happen when people are in it. He is a freelance writer, with writing published about cycling, green living, and ways to make a difference without fundamentally restructuring your lifestyle.

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