Cultivating Cottage Charm: A Guide to Growing Foxgloves

Welcome to May at Old Castle Cottage, where the foxgloves are starting to put on their magical show. In my opinion, foxgloves are the quintessential addition to any cottage garden, with their tall spires of colorful flowers adding a touch of whimsy and charm.

Foxgloves are biennial plants, meaning they have a two-year lifespan. In the first year, foxgloves produce a rosette of leaves close to the ground. By the end of the season, you might see a small blossom. In the second year, tall flower spikes emerge. This year, some of mine are quite tall; they can grow up to almost 5 feet. The flowers are bell-shaped, and the pollinators just love them.

I receive so many questions about how to successfully grow foxgloves, so I thought I would try to answer them here.

Choose the right location in your garden. Foxgloves prefer partial shade to full sun, so select a spot that receives a few hours of sunlight. I plant mine in my sun gardens near a tree or bush that will cast some shade. They also thrive in moist, well-draining soil. It is important when planting to amend the soil with compost.

Planting. Foxgloves can be grown by seed or transplanted as young plants. Sow the seeds directly in the ground in late summer or early fall for blooms the following year, or plant young plants in the spring for the same year’s blooms. That is what I prefer to do, but my foxgloves also self-seed. I do buy small starts every spring and plant them next to the second-year foxglove, so I have continuous foxgloves every year.

Care. Foxgloves like moist conditions, so it is important to water regularly, especially during hot spells or windy conditions which can dry out the soil. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage continuous blooming and to prevent self-seeding. If you want them to self-seed, you can leave the stalks. In the fall, cut back just the flower spike and tidy up the plant.

Support. Foxgloves can grow quite tall and may require staking to prevent them from flopping over. I only stake when necessary.

Companion planting. You know I talk about this topic often; foxgloves look amazing when planted alongside other cottage garden favorites such as roses, delphiniums, nepeta, or lavender.

One very important fact about foxgloves is their toxicity. All parts of the plant contain digitalis, which can be poisonous if ingested. So if you have little ones or animals that you think might eat the plant, this might not be the right choice for your garden. I have had them for years with grandchildren and a dog with no issues, but I did want to point this important fact out.

In summary, foxgloves are a beautiful addition to your cottage garden, or any garden for that matter, adding height to the back borders and color to the garden. Follow these tips for growing foxgloves in your cottage garden and enjoy the beauty and whimsy they bring.

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  1. I’m really determined to add foxglove to my garden. Thank you for your article. Could you explain why you said “I do buy small starts every spring and plant them next to the second-year foxglove, so I have continuous foxgloves every year”. If they self seed why do you place starts next to older foxglove? Thank you so much.

    1. Hi Patience! I don’t have great luck with self seeding, I only had two self seed last year. So I go to my local nursery where they have starts from seed and plant them. Sometimes when you buy foxgloves at some nurseries they are already in there second year and do not come back. If you want to self seed, do not dead head and wait for the foxglove seeds to drop and fall. I hope this helps!

  2. Thank you for these tips! Do you purchase your foxglove seedlings locally or online? Do you have any recommendations on where to purchase them?

  3. Foxgloves are my favourite. If they only flower for one year can you tell me why I wouldn’t dig them out race end of summer please instead of just cutting them down? Thank you

    1. Hi Liz!
      They only have a life expectancy of 2 years, so if you dig and throw them out out, they would not come back just like your annual flowers. They do self seed so if you don’t dead head and let them go to seed, you should have more plants. I prefer the dead head and buy new starts every year. The ones you see blooming in the video are starts I planted last year.

  4. Thank you for the article on Fox gloves. I live in northern Florida and planted them a few years ago and they didn’t do well. But I didn’t really understand the plant and the biannual aspect. I think I will give it a try again. They are so beautiful thank you for your newsletter, I enjoy it.

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