Gardening Column: Plan Ahead and Plant Foxgloves in SC in the Fall | Chroniclers
Now is the time to plant Foxgloves, one of my favorite flowers. A row of foxgloves in full bloom makes a spectacular and eye-catching spring display. The non-flowering seedlings can be purchased at garden centers and displayed through Nov. 15 in the lower half of South Carolina and through Nov. 1 in the upper half.
The basics of digital
Foxgloves are best grown as cool-season annuals in the lower half of the state. Don’t be tempted to buy Foxglove plants in bloom in the spring. They will not be able to establish themselves in hot spring temperatures and will simply wilt after transplanting.
Foxgloves are one of the commonly cited examples of biennial flowers, that is, plants that flower the year after seed germination. Fortunately for us gardeners, nurseries grow plants for most of the first year. As long as the young plants are exposed to cold temperatures during their first winter, they will flower the following spring.
Foxgloves start out as rosettes, a dense group of low, spreading leaves radiating from a common center. After exposure to cold, a single tall stem rises from the center of the rosette and grows rapidly upward.
Flowers emerge in early April in the Lowcountry, starting from the bottom to the top of the stem for two weeks or more. After the main flowers wilt, the plants will send out much smaller side shoots.
Cultivars and colors
The three commonly available digitalis cultivars are named “Dalmatian”, “Camelot” and “Foxy”. All three have flourished in my garden, where I have planted Foxgloves almost every fall for the past 20 years.
During the last two years, a few Dalmatian foxgloves have bloomed from the end of January 2020 and the end of February 2021. The “Dalmatian peach” plants in 2020 bloomed again as usual in April.
It doesn’t take a Latin scholar to recognize the significance of the botanical name for Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea. You may recognize digitalis as a medicine for the heart. Purpurea gives the common color of the flower. In X11 color names, “purple” is the exact color of a foxglove. Many seed catalogs call this color lavender.
Of course, plant breeders have developed other colors of flowers. All three cultivars are also available in white, cream and pink. Dalmatian foxgloves are also available in a pretty peach (or light apricot) color.
Almost carefree culture
Foxgloves need a location in partial or full shade, ideally in the middle or back of a border or flower bed. If they are planted partly in the sun, the morning sun is best. Plants and flower stems fall off on sunny spring afternoons, shortening the lifespan of flowers.
They also need moist soil to reach their full size. Plants should be spaced at least 12 inches apart. Most years, the rosettes on my plants grow to 16 inches in diameter with flower stems 40 inches high. The soil should be fertilized and amended with poultry manure compost before transplanting.
Digitals have few problems. Plants that flower before April 1 may lose some buds due to cold damage if there is a frost after the flower stems have elongated and formed buds. The leaves may discolour a bit after a hard frost, but my plants survived the January 2018 snowfall very well.
White mold can affect Foxglove, snapdragon, and livestock in late winter or early spring. Diseased stems and flowers turn tan and dry. The leaves are not affected.
White mold spores spread through the air, so there isn’t much you can do to prevent them. Plants can be sprayed with Thiomyl fungicide (active ingredient thiophanate-methyl).
White mold will produce hard, black nuggets called sclerotia inside or on diseased stems. Sclerotia are survival structures that allow the fungus to survive in the soil for several years. Parts of diseased plants should be removed from the garden and thrown in the trash.
Note that digitalis are toxic to dogs, cats, horses and humans. However, they are not eaten by deer or rabbits.
The only tricky thing about growing foxgloves is that it’s almost impossible to get all the plants to flower at once, as you typically see in glossy garden photos.
Anthony keinath is professor of plant pathology at the Clemson Coastal Research & Education Center in Charleston. His expertise is in vegetable diseases. He is also an avid gardener. Contact him at [email protected]