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July 6th, 2012

Growing Foxgloves From Seeds

How do I grow foxgloves from seed? I admired my neighbor’s foxgloves this spring and she offered me seeds.

blog-dougI’m a fan of foxgloves of all types but especially Digitalis purpurea, the common biennial foxglove. They’re easy to grow from seed; one packet yields a generous drift of plants, which is fortunate, because the tall, tapering spires tend to look best when there are lots of them.

Gather seeds from your neighbor’s foxgloves a few weeks after they finish blooming. Stalks that were not deadheaded after flowering will have turned brown, bearing a gazillion seeds each. The seeds shower out of the seed capsules in abundance as you clip the stalks. It doesn’t take long to fill an envelope with seeds, even though they’re tiny.

The only trick to growing foxgloves is the timing. They’re biennials, which means they produce a rosette of leaves in their first year and a vertical spike of flowers the following spring. Sow seeds now, in early July. Some gardeners grow the seedlings in a flat and transplant, but I’ve always found it easiest to sow them in the garden where I want them to bloom next year or in a partly shaded “nursery” bed. Dig the soil to loosen the surface, mix in some compost, and then sprinkle the seeds over the ground. Keep the bed moist while the seeds are germinating.

Eventually—sometime in September or when the seedlings are about 4 inches tall—you’ll need to thin the seedlings so they’re spaced about a foot apart in all directions. It’s tempting to leave more, but crowded seedlings tend to produce wimpy flower stalks. Fortunately, they are easy to transplant at this stage, so you can share the extras with your neighbors. The plants will go dormant when winter arrives, only to return for their grand show next May.  —Doug Hall

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