Due to its striking flower structure, the plant always attracts everyone’s attention. – The foxglove (digitalis), which belongs to the plantain family, has become a very popular plant in domestic gardens in recent years. The plant develops its decorative effect mainly through its large, bell-shaped single flowers, which sit close to the long flower candles. The thimble presents a rich color spectrum; the flower color ranges from purple to red and pink to yellow and white. The green, elongated to egg-shaped leaves of the digitalis create a stylish contrast to the colorful flowers. With a maximum size of 150cm and a width of 60cm, the perennial fits into every garden. In addition, maintenance is not very complex. But be careful: the thimble is poisonous.

Optimal location and ideal soil conditions

In order to be able to cultivate the thimble optimally, a suitable location for the plant should first be selected. The plant thrives particularly well in garden areas that are in the shade or partial shade. A place at tree or bush height is therefore particularly suitable, as the thimble can benefit from the optimal dose of shade here. The plant feels particularly at home in places in front of and between deep-rooted trees. However, sunny areas in the garden are also tolerated. In this case, however, the plant should be protected from direct sunlight. Basically, the foxglove thrives best at temperatures around 18 ° C. The decorative aspect should also be taken into account when choosing a suitable location.

The thimble is particularly suitable for natural gardens or heather gardens. Larkspur, summer carnations and columbines, which should be planted in the immediate vicinity of the digitalis, look very stylish. The foxglove looks particularly decorative within group plantings with ferns, honeysuckle, silver candles and tall bluebells.

In addition to the ideal location, choosing the optimal substrate is also important so that the plant can thrive. Substrates with the following properties are preferred:

  • fumes
  • locker
  • slightly sour
  • frisch
  • rich in nutrients

Basically, the foxglove thrives on almost all conventional garden soils. However, cultivation on very lime-rich substrate is only possible to a limited extent.

Tip: Before using conventional garden soil, the substrate should be topped up with compost.

Watering, fertilizing, overwintering – optimally care for thimble

Caring for the thimble requires careful watering. Freshly planted specimens are heavily watered at the beginning. Ideally, adult plants should be watered several times a week. However, the frequency also depends on the weather. However, the individual watering should always be done in moderation; very large portions can easily lead to waterlogging. Before the next watering, the plant must dry well. A permanently wet soil is not tolerated by the thimble. However, a slightly moist substrate is preferred overall. That is why it has proven to be useful, especially on hot days, to attach a special plant fleece to protect the soil from drying out completely. However, the plant also survives shorter dry periods without any problems.

Mulch can also be used in particularly dry soils. This addition enables the substrate to retain moisture over the long term. Targeted fertilization of the digitalis has also proven its worth for stronger growth. For this purpose, a sufficient amount of complete fertilizer is given out in the spring.

The wintering of the thimble is generally problem-free. The plant is frost hardy; the seeds overwinter in the ground and ripen in the following year. The thimble is even dependent on the cold stimulus in December and January. The plant mainly needs the frost period in late winter to activate the development of flowers. If sufficiently low temperatures are not reached at this time of year and the winter is generally very mild, the bloom may not develop completely as a result. In this case, flowers are not formed until the following year.

Optimal plant pruning

The cut of the plant depends on the flowering time. The flowers usually unfold between June and August. After flowering, the plant itself dies. If it is cut back at this point, the foxglove will bloom again the following year. The digitalis is one of those plants that reproduce by self-sowing. If this is not desired, it must be cut back close to the ground. However, if propagation is to be promoted, the pruning must be carried out after the seed capsules have ripened and the seeds have been sown.

In the autumn months, parts of the plant that have faded should be cut off. The removal of the remains after the summer bloom ensures that the plant can continue to grow rapidly.

Propagate and plant

The multiplication of the thimble is based on the following pillars:

  • Propagation by sowing
  • Cold and light germs
  • Spread by self-sowing

The easiest way to propagate the foxglove is to spread it by self-sowing. For this purpose, the withered inflorescences are left to stand. Then seed pods form, which scatter their seeds. The seeds can also be collected and planted for targeted propagation. The summer months, i.e. June to August, are the best time for reproduction.

Growing the seeds is best done in a small box or bowl with potting soil. The seeds are scattered on the substrate; then the soil is placed on top of the seeds in a thin layer. The substrate layer should only be a few millimeters. Alternatively, it can be sown directly in the field, especially if the cultivation is to be carried out over a large area. Then a row spacing of 25cm must be maintained. The germination time of the seeds is usually two weeks; however, germination can take up to four weeks. The seeds thrive best when the temperature is moderate, between 18 and 22 ° C.

Since the foxglove is a biennial plant, flowering can only be expected in the year after next after sowing. In the first year, however, the leaf rosettes are formed.

Growing foxglove plants is best planted or left out in spring. The individual specimens should have a distance of about 60cm. If the soil is kept slightly moist, especially in the beginning, growth is optimally promoted.

Diseases and pests

The foxglove is particularly sensitive to root rot. Because of this, watering should be done very carefully; Too much moisture in one serving or too many individual doses can cause damp soil and waterlogging, which lead to root rot. Then moving to a drier location can help.

Powdery mildew is particularly common in foxgloves. The disease caused by fungal infections manifests itself on the basis of a characteristic damage pattern:

  • from spring white or gray spots on and under the leaves
  • later moldy-floury coating on leaves, shoots, buds and flowers
  • Curling up the leaves
  • Flowers do not open
  • Taking care of the plant
  • brown or gray discolouration of the surface

As a preventive measure, you should ensure that there is sufficient space between the individual specimens when planting; In addition, it has proven useful to add various plant strengtheners or garlic broth in the event of temperature fluctuations or high-pressure weather. Infected parts as well as fallen leaves and plant debris should be removed at an early stage. In the case of particularly severe infestation, it is also worth using fungicides, which should preferably be based on lecithin. Sulfur agents, which are characterized by their good environmental compatibility, can also be used.

If, on the other hand, the foxglove is affected by leaf spot disease, which is caused by bacteria or viruses depending on the species, typical symptoms are leaf spots with a dark edge. The spots can have different colors, for example yellow, gray, brown, black or red. Initially, the spot-shaped structures can only be seen individually scattered on the leaves; however, over time the spots will continue to spread. At the same time, fungal lawns and spore beds form on the underside of the leaf. Often, particularly weakened plants are affected by leaf spots, which is why healthy seeds should be used as a preventive measure. In addition, the choice of a suitable location is important in order to optimally protect the thimble. Infested leaves should be removed early;

Toxicity of the thimble

Due to the glycosides (e.g. digitoxin) that are active in the heart and are contained in the foxglove, all parts of the plant must be classified as very toxic. The plant is particularly dangerous because only very small amounts are sufficient to cause poisoning. As a rule, consuming just two to three leaves of the plant is already fatal. Typical symptoms of poisoning are various gastrointestinal complaints such as vomiting and nausea. In addition, dizziness and ringing in the ears can occur. Later, the heart rate drops to below 50 beats per minute.

However, poisoning through consumption of the thimble is unlikely because all parts of the plant taste very bitter. Nevertheless, one should refrain from cultivating digitalis if children live in the house or pets have access to the garden at home. Even touching the plant can lead to certain reactions, for example skin irritation. For this reason, gloves should always be worn when working with the plant.

Use of digitalis in folk medicine and medicine

The ingredients of the thimble have gained great importance in folk medicine as well as in conventional medicine. Still used in the 17th century in connection with superstitious customs for consumption and bronchitis, the English doctor William Withering discovered the effect of the thimble on heart function in the 18th century. The cardiac glycosides contained in the plant stimulate the weakened heart muscle so that it is subsequently able to contract more strongly again. In addition to strengthening the cardiac output, the plant is now also used to lower the heart rate. However, when treating with the active ingredients of the thimble, one must take into account the narrow therapeutic range: overdosing can easily occur.

The thimble looks particularly decorative in natural gardens; Thanks to its easy-care posture, cultivation is also successful for every beginner. However, you should always use gloves when caring for the plant, as hypersensitivity reactions can occur if the plant comes into contact with it. Families with children or peddlers should refrain from cultivating foxgloves, as the plant has a high poisonous potential.

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