Plant foxgloves during fall for gorgeous spring blooms
Camelot Cream foxglove
--Allen Owings photo
HAMMOND — Foxglove is a lesser-known, cool-season flower for Louisiana landscapes. Most home gardeners aren’t familiar with this plant.
Foxgloves (Digitalis species and hybrids) are biennials or short-lived perennials. In Louisiana, we grow them as cool-season annuals from October or November to April or May.
They bloom in spring or early summer and then typically die in the heat of summer. Because Camelot foxgloves bloom their first year from seed, they are excellent for use in our climate.
The Camelot series comes in four colors — Camelot Rose, Camelot Lavender, Camelot Cream and Camelot White. This hybrid series is bred to be especially strong and vigorous growing. These foxgloves are somewhat more heat tolerant than foxgloves of the past, allowing Camelot foxgloves to bloom well into late May or early June. Camelot foxglove is a past recipient of the Louisiana Super Plant designation by the LSU AgCenter.
Especially notable is an improvement in the flower spikes. The flowers are larger and the spikes taller than previously grown varieties. Bell-shaped foxglove flowers are arranged around a strong, tall stem that grows from the center of the plant.
Typically, the flowers tend to hang down so you cannot see into the beautifully spotted throats. The flowers of Camelot foxgloves, however, are held more horizontally, which creates a fuller-looking flower spike and reveals the spotted interior of the flowers.
Louisiana gardeners are accustomed to (and even demand) that bedding plants be in bloom when they are purchased. Some cool-season bedding plants, however, will provide far superior results if they are purchased when young before the colorful display begins.
Good examples are ornamental cabbage and kale, delphiniums and hollyhocks. Young, not-yet-blooming transplants of these plants are best planted in fall or late winter — November to February — for blooming in April, May and early June. Foxgloves also belong to this group.
During winter these plants are perfectly hardy to whatever cold may occur, and they don’t need cover to protect them. During mild winter weather, the plants will grow strong root systems and rosettes of large, slightly fuzzy leaves that are a beautiful addition to the winter flower bed.
For best results, get plants in the ground no later than the end of February to give them time to grow into large, vigorous plants before they bloom. A fall or late-winter planting will produce the most spectacular plants with the tallest and largest number of spikes.
Most cool-season bedding plants prefer full sun, and Camelot foxgloves will grow in sunny locations. But they also do well in beds that receive only four to six hours of sun daily. The foliage is typically darker green and larger in partly-shaded spots.
Plant foxgloves into well-prepared beds that have been generously amended with compost or other decayed organic matter and a light application of general-purpose fertilizer. Good drainage is important.
Place the plants to the back of the beds where the colorful 3- to 4-foot-tall flower spikes will form a dramatic background. These robust-growing plants should be spaced about 12-inches apart.
After the main spike finishes blooming, cut it back, and the plants will send up numerous side shoots, continuing the floral display for additional weeks. Eventually, with the hot weather of early summer, the plants will begin to play out and can be removed, composted and replaced with summer bedding plants.
Camelot foxgloves are in your local nurseries now. It is best to plant them in fall for best results, but garden centers also sell them in late winter and early spring.
You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website at www.lsuagcenter.com/hammond.