Rising thimble in your cottage backyard

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is a common addition to a cottage garden because of its three to five foot tall stem that offers flowers in a variety of colors. Perennial foxgloves bring color to the garden every year. This is what makes thimble waxing worthwhile. The image of a foxglove flower is familiar even to marginal members of the gardening world.

Gardeners who grow foxgloves can benefit from attracting pollinators that give adjoining edible gardens a boost! After the second year, keep up with this and watch tall stems develop and cover with blooms that look like bells as they mature. Their interesting shapes, their appearance and their genetics make them beautiful garden companions.

Foxglove plants are poisonous to humans. Gardeners should be careful, wear gloves with direct contact, and wash their hands afterwards. Thimbles contain digitoxin, which can cause heart failure if ingested.

While experts can determine precise amounts of this toxin, which is beneficial for heart health, gardeners should leave that conclusion to doctors and pharmacists.

If you don't have nosy furry friends or kids running around your yard, thimble is a great design choice or companion for edible gardens. Plant several species with flower colors that range from pink to pink, lavender, or white flowers. They won't bloom heavily in the first year, but they will re-sow and return the next year.

Good products on Amazon for growing thimble:

Brief instructions for care

Growing foxgloves can attract many pollinators to your garden. Source: Steve 99

Common names Thimble, fairy gloves, witch fingers
Scientific name Digitalis purpurea
family Plantaginaceae
Height & Spread 3 to 5 feet tall and 24 to 36 inches wide
light Partial sun to full shade
floor Well drained, slightly acidic
water Up to 1 inch per week
Pests & Diseases Aphids, mealybugs, leaf spots, leaf nematodes

Everything about thimble

Light pink thimblePink, red, yellow, and cream colors are just as common as the popular purple. Source: KatieTT

Foxglove has been grown for over a thousand years. It is believed that they came from Anglo-Saxons in AD 1000. Documents on the foxglove first appeared in England in 1400, where varieties of the plant were developed.

Carl Linnaeus named the flowering plant for the first time in 1753 in his Species Plantarum, where the first printed image of Foxglove appeared. Coincidentally, thimbles were introduced to the American cottage garden around this time. Today, foxgloves are grown all over the world. Their beautiful pink, yellow, lavender, rose, or white flowers are often used to plant borders.

The foxglove, Digitalis purpurea, is also known as fairy gloves or witch fingers. This flowering herbaceous plant is biennial or perennial depending on the growing area, but can also be grown as an annual if desired. Leaves and foxglove flowers are arranged in a spiral around a central stem covered with trichomes.

Flower structures are tubular and nod down from the stem. With so many varieties, the flower colors range across a wide spectrum. Many who grow foxgloves grow the most common variety with a purple flower. There are so many varieties to choose from with different flower colors, capacities, heights and growing seasons. Some were bred to produce tons of flowers in late summer, some only bloom in spring, and some bloom in both seasons.

Growing thimbles take up space as they expand up to two feet outward and at least 5 feet to 7 feet high. They are powerful spreaders and need to be divided every fall after the second year to avoid pest and overcrowding. Give them 24 to 36 inches between each seedling.

Keep them healthy and you will attract nectar drinkers like bumblebees, hummingbirds, and butterflies sipping nectar from their tubular flower. Foxglove grows well in prepared garden beds and large containers, provided they are properly cared for. Some require seeding to produce again the following year, but some hybrids will not produce seeds and will only flower once.

Although used in heart medications and remedies in the past, the foxglove plant can also cause heart failure when ingested. This is why gardeners who grow thimble should wear gloves when working with it. Wash your hands after handling this poisonous plant. Also keep children and animal lovers away from your foxglove garden.

Here are a few popular thimble and their specifications:

  • Polkadot Polly: grows 2 to 3 feet with peach colored flowers. Does not plant a seed and therefore only flowers once.
  • Straw thimble: up to 3 meters high with light yellow flowers. Perennial.
  • Mountains mixed: fast germinating seeds. Grows upward-pointing flowers in shades of white, gold, and purple. Can tolerate full sun in zones 4 through 9.
  • Pam's choice: blooms white flowers with burgundy insides on 4 foot high stems.
  • Camelot series: biennial flowers are bright pink and point upwards. The potential for a third bloom exists in plants from which dead blooms have been removed.


Light pink thimbleEach foxglove plant produces many flowers on a single stem. Source: PMillera4

If you are patient, thimbles waxing can be a joy. Although they bloom less in the first year, keep them erect and they will surprise you for the seasons to come.

Light & temperature

Foxglove plant prefers full sun in mild regions and full shade in regions with intense sun. Partial shade is probably safest for most varieties, or at least afternoon shade. The official zone area for this plant is zones 3 through 10.

In zones 9 and 10, foxgloves are biennial and grow in spring and summer. In zones 4-8 they are perennials. Zones 3 and 4 accommodate them every six months. At 90 degrees and above, thimble wither, but they can withstand cold temperatures.

If thimble gets too much direct sun, use a shade cloth. Since most varieties bloom and self-seed during or after summer, no frost wipe is required. Bring overwintered plants indoors in containers in extreme cold and heat.

Water & moisture

Thimbles appreciate moist, but not soaked, soil. They don't appreciate drought, which can easily kill them. Avoid extra water in the rainy season. Growing foxgloves in the summer heat requires additional watering, since drought is such a risk.

In the winter season they often do not need any additional water. Too much water can increase the risk of root rot from fungus.

Drip irrigation is best for foxgloves as this will keep the soil moist but not soak the roots. The bottom-watering nature of drip irrigation also keeps the water away from tender leaves and flowers, where it can exacerbate leaf spot problems. Even moisture is what your plants prefer, so it's best not to let the soil dry out completely if possible. Mulching can slow down the evaporation of soil moisture.


Grow foxgloves in nutrient-rich soil with good drainage. The soil type should be loamy and slightly acidic, with a pH just below 6.0. If you live anywhere with heavy clay soil, supplement it with well-rotted compost before sowing seeds or transplanting seedlings.


Thimbles are sensitive to too much fertilizer, especially on nutrient-rich soils. Foxglove foliage is delicate and cannot handle foliage feeding, so provide a granulated organic fertilizer with an NPK of 5-10-5 in early spring. Higher concentrations of phosphorus encourage large, healthy flowers that give foxgloves their eye-catching image. Apply these granules at planting time and once per flowering period.


As foxgloves are widespread, they must be divided into containers and repotted to avoid overfilling. Repot them just before they bloom again. Use a spade to loosen the roots around the perimeter of the plant by rocking them back and forth. Then remove the plant and pull it apart slightly at the point where a new plant has emerged.

Find another pot or prepared garden bed and add the correct soil mix as needed. You then implant the split sections into the original container and the new area. Add a little water and wait for the plant to take root. Then repeat the process next spring as needed.


Thimble seed podsAfter the flowers have faded, seed pods for foxgloves are formed.

Thimbles sow themselves, which is why they can multiply so easily. If you want to control the spread, you can sow seeds yourself. Simply cut off the tips of the dead flowers with secateurs and remove the unopened seed pods by hand. Inside these pods are tons of tiny seeds that you can sow over some compost. If you do not remove the flower spikes after the flowers start to fade, this plant will easily sow seeds on its own. So if you don't want them to spread, it's important to keep an eye on these blooms!

Put them in a well-lit area that's around 70 to 80 degrees. Unlike other seeds, they require light to germinate. In about a month, your seeds should sprout into foxglove plants.

Thimbles need your help in propagating by division, using the method outlined in the repotting section of this article. After three to four cycles of perennial thimbles growth, divide them so they don't get out of hand. Plant foxgloves that you have divided into slightly shaded areas, either in containers or in a prepared bed.

One surprising way foxglove propagates comes from the leaves that produce offshoots. Pull the leaves back from the center stem and carefully remove the cuttings, which should have a root that allows them to grow elsewhere. This method is ideal for those who want to share tall plants with friends and family.

Notice! These are poisonous plants, and ingesting the sap or part of the plants can be poisonous. Wash your hands and garden tools with a thimble after working. Wearing gloves is recommended.


Once about 75 percent of the flowers have been used, remove the flower tip to encourage more growth. Although thimbles don't have to be dead, you can use dead heads to prevent self-seeding.

Unlike many plants with flowers, foxgloves do not need winter preparation to survive. Too much pruning can prevent flowering the following spring.

For the first year, grow foxgloves the way they would grow themselves. Let them bloom, bloom, self-seed (or cut off the flower spikes) and die. Your roots survive and they will return to your cottage garden next spring. After the flowers bloom and are given out the following year, prune your plants by cutting off the flower stalks at the crown.

A biennial plant appreciates the pruning after the first flowering, while perennial varieties should be cut back in autumn for wintering.


Thimble and seed podsAt the bottom left you can see seed pods from faded thimbles. Source: jondon

When you grow foxgloves you will find that they don't have a lot of problems. However, there are some pests and diseases to watch out for.


Aphids of the Aulacorthum solani species enjoy sucking the sap from the leaves and flowers that grow on your foxglove. Wipe the leaves with a damp cloth or spray the leaves with a hard jet of water to knock off the aphids. Alternatively, apply insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. A certain species of predatory mosquito, Aphidoletes aphidimyza, feeds on aphids as well as ladybirds and lacewings.

Thimble sometimes attracts Mealybug, another sap-sucking, leaf-loving insect. Like aphids, search your garden daily and remove them early by hand or with a hard jet of water. A cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol can force reluctant swabs to peel off. If manual removal is very unsuccessful, or if you have a particularly severe infestation, use commercially available garlic sprays or horticultural oil. Insecticidal soaps are also useful against mealworm eggs.

Leaf nematodes are small plant parasites that feed on foxgloves from seedlings to mature plants. They cause cell damage in plant tissues that take on a mosaic-like appearance with many different colors. Parts of the plant can be dark brown and some light yellow.

The only reliable controls for leaf nematodes are preventive by avoiding humid and warm conditions that allow them to thrive. Since we haven't yet mastered the weather, this is an almost impossible task!

Because leaf nematodes are microscopic, you can't see them, but you can see their damage. Remove infested foliage from the plant as it looks as the nematodes will burrow through it, but don't compost as the nematodes are still in the leaves. Some useful nematodes can eliminate parasitic nematode species. Alternatively, remove infested plants from the location and place black plastic over the area; these nematodes cannot survive for more than 3 months without a host to eat and eventually die out.


In wet, rainy conditions, foxglove pulls together leaf spots that may be from, but are the most common for, several fungal pathogens anthracnose. The spots are about ¼ inch in diameter and are maroon to brown. They form when gardeners plant thimbles too close together, especially in hot, humid weather.

To avoid leaf spots, plant thimbles at least 60 cm apart to allow good air circulation. It is recommended to plant varieties that are resistant to leaf spot diseases. Copper fungicides can be sprayed on diseased foliage, but remove the most damaged leaves and discard them before spraying to ensure you have a lower chance of fungal spores spreading.

frequently asked Questions

Purple thimble close-upThe deep, cylindrical flower attracts hummingbirds and many species of bees. Source: tuchodi

Q: Do foxgloves come back every year?

A: Foxgloves return for at least three growing seasons, and some varieties bloom more heavily after the first year. You can self-seed and return for either a second flowering period in late summer or spring.

Q: What is the best place to plant foxgloves?

A: It is best to grow foxgloves in partial to full shade. If you are unsure about the right conditions for a permanent flower bed to create, put them in containers so you can move them if the environment is not ideal. Keep them out of the reach of children or pets.

Q: Is thimble spreading?

A: After foxgloves bloom, they will form seed pods and self-sow unless you intervene. So they can easily take over an area. If you want to prevent self-seeding, remove the flower stalks when the flowers start to fade so they don't produce viable seed pods.

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