How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Foxglove Beardtongue

Are you looking for a beautiful spring-blooming flower for your pollinator garden? Foxglove beardtongue is a fabulous flowering plant that will attract all sorts of attention. In this article, gardening enthusiast Liessa Bowen will introduce the foxglove beardtongue and why you will want to grow one in your own garden.

A cluster of purple foxglove beardtongue flowers stands out, their trumpet-like shapes catching the eye. In the background, blurred manicured grass and more foxglove beardtongue blooms create a serene, natural setting.

Contents

It’s always a tremendous joy to walk into your garden and see beautiful flowers. It can be a bit of a challenge, however, to find plants that bloom during every season. If you’re a bit short on springtime flowers or just want to enhance your native plant garden, foxglove beardtongue might be just the plant you’re looking for. 

Penstemon digitalis is a perennial wildflower that is widespread throughout the eastern United States. It is a member of the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), which includes snapdragons, digitalis, plantains, speedwells, and many varieties of beardtongues. 

There are about 20 different species of digitalis, including some very showy garden plants. This species has beautiful spring-blooming flowers and is remarkably easy to grow in the home garden. If you live in a moderate or cooler climate, can provide a sunny location, and have moist, well-drained soil, this charming plant will be a welcome addition to your landscape

Looking for a wonderful plant for your prairie garden, native plant garden, or pollinator garden? Keep reading for more details on foxglove beardtongue and how to grow your own.

Overview

A close-up reveals delicate light purple foxglove beardtongue flowers, resembling hints of white. The blurred backdrop highlights the intricate buds and lush greenery, offering a serene botanical scene with an ethereal touch.
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Family Plantaginaceae
Genus Penstemon
Species digitalis
Native Area Eastern United States
USDA Hardiness Zone 3 – 8
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Average, Well-drained
Watering Requirements Dry to medium
Maintenance Low
Suggested Uses Pollinator garden, cottage garden, pocket prairie, native plant garden
Height 2 – 5 feet
Bloom Season Late spring, Early summer
Flower Color White, Pink, Purple
Attracts Butterflies, hummingbirds, bees, pollinators
Problems Root rot, leaf spot
Resistant To Drought, poor soil
Plant Spacing 1 – 2 feet

Natural History

Purple flowers boast deep purple foliage, soaking in the sun's warm embrace. In the background, a lush array of green plants creates a delightful blur, enhancing the vibrant hues of the focal blooms.
This perennial wildflower is native to the eastern United States.

Foxglove beardtongue is an herbaceous perennial wildflower native to the eastern United States, particularly in the southeastern states. In its natural habitat, it grows in a variety of open grassy areas, including prairies, fields, meadows, woodland edges, and along roadways and powerlines. 

These plants are a favorite in native plant gardens and pollinator-friendly landscapes. Because of their popularity, breeders have developed several beautiful cultivars. This is a valuable plant for pollinators and is an important member of its natural grassland plant communities.

Characteristics

White flowers and buds in close-up, showcasing their delicate beauty against deep purple foliage stems. The intricate blooms stand out with their subtle fuzziness, adding a soft texture to the rich hues of the plant's foliage.
The plant features trumpet-shaped flowers in various colors atop elliptical leaves.

Foxglove beardtongue is a medium-sized perennial plant. It grows anywhere from two to five feet tall, depending on the available sunlight, soil characteristics, and specific species or cultivar.

These plants initially develop a basal rosette of rounded, oval-shaped leaves. The leaves higher up the stem, however, grow opposite each other and become elliptical, coming to a point at the tip. The native version has attractive dark green leaves, while the various cultivars often have more colorful leaves.

The long blooming period continues from late spring into early summer. The flowers are white with a few thin, maroon-colored lines inside. Most of the popular cultivars have varied flower colors in attractive shades of pale pink and purple. The flowers are one to two inches long, showy and trumpet-shaped, and arranged in a loosely spaced panicle at the end of their flowering stems.

Propagation

Propagate by seed or by division of larger clumps. If you already have beardtongue growing in your yard, division will be the quickest method to create new plants.

If you don’t yet have it, you can easily start these plants from seed. Cultivars are best grown from division because seeds collected from cultivars won’t grow true to the parental type.

Seed

A white table displays scattered brown seed pods, their intricate shapes casting delicate shadows. Among them, tiny seeds rest, promising the beauty of new blooms and the cycle of nature's renewal.
Cold stratification is necessary for the seeds to germinate.

Foxglove beardtongue seeds require cold stratification before they will germinate. The simplest way to do this is to direct sow your seeds in the fall and gently press them into the soil (don’t cover them because they need light to germinate). Try to make sure the soil stays moist during the winter months, and your seeds will germinate naturally in the spring when the weather starts to warm again.

If you want a little more control over the process, you can also start your seeds indoors. In mid-winter, place the seeds in moist sand and place them in your refrigerator for about two months to cold-stratify them. After the two months, sow the seeds in fresh potting soil or seed-starting soil. Place them on the soil surface and water them well. Keep the soil moist and warm, and within a few weeks, your seeds should start to sprout! 

Continue to keep the seedlings moist until they have grown a bit larger and developed several true leaves. By this time, they should start developing a healthy root system and will become more tolerant of dry conditions. If you have problems with squirrels digging in your fresh soil, cover the seeds and seedlings with a critter cage to protect them from digging mammals and birds. 

Division

A plant stands tall, boasting light purple flowers that contrast beautifully against its deep purple stems and leaves. Behind it, a verdant expanse of grass provides a lush backdrop.
Divide mature plants by carefully separating the larger cluster into smaller ones.

Mature clusters can be easily divided. In the spring or fall, dig out a clump of beardtongue, taking care to remove as much of the root material as possible. Using your hands, carefully separate the one larger cluster into two or more smaller clusters. Make sure each cluster has a few healthy stems and associated roots. 

When you have separated your plants into multiple clusters, simply transplant each new cluster to the desired location. Try to work through this process quickly so the roots don’t spend too much time drying out. Pat fresh soil around each new transplant, and immediately after transplanting, water them all well to reduce transplant shock.

Transplanting

A plant adorned with striking purple flowers and green leaves, thrives resiliently in the nutrient-deprived, arid soil. Its elegant blooms create a captivating contrast against the aridity, showcasing nature's ability to flourish in challenging environments.
Transplant beardtongue on a cool, overcast day in spring or fall.

When you’re ready to transplant a potted beardtongue, plan for a cool, overcast day in the spring or fall, if possible. Identify the location where you’d like your plant to grow. Give them a place with plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil. You should also expect your plants to grow and spread over time, so allow at least one or two feet between each plant

Dig a hole slightly larger than the pot in which the plant is currently growing. Carefully remove the plant from the pot and place it in the hole. Then, backfill around the roots with fresh soil and tamp down the soil around the plant.

Always water your newly transplanted plants well to help them settle into their new home. This is an excellent time to add a layer of mulch around your plants as well to help regulate soil moisture.

How to Grow

This is a low-maintenance, easy-to-grow perennial wildflower. It will adapt well to a variety of growing conditions, but the following conditions will allow your plants to thrive. The most important things that these plants need are plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil.

Sunlight

Slender stems adorned with delicate white flowers, stands gracefully amidst verdant foliage. Its blooms exude a fragile elegance, contrasting against the greenery that envelops it in a tranquil garden setting.
Ideal growing conditions include full sun to light shade.

This wildflower will perform best in full sun to light shade, ideally with at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Your plants will display their most abundant blooming and well-developed overall form when grown in full sun. You can also grow beardtongue plants in light shade and they will better appreciate a bit of afternoon shade in warmer summer climates.

Water

A close-up reveals the soft, fuzzy texture of a white flower, highlighting its delicate petals and intricate details. In the blurred background, rich greenery provides a serene backdrop.
Avoid overwatering to prevent damage in continually wet conditions.

Foxglove beardtongue is highly adaptable, and once your plants are established, they shouldn’t need any supplemental watering. They will do well in dry to medium-moisture soil conditions. Avoid overwatering, as they are not tolerant of continually wet conditions.

Soil

Rich, brown soil, finely textured and teeming with nutrients, awaits the eager hands of gardeners. Its earthy hue hints at the abundance of organic matter, promising a fertile bed for seeds to take root and flourish into verdant life.
Optimize plant growth by using well-drained, nutrient-rich soil with organic compost amendments.

The soil should be average quality and well drained. Soils rich in organic matter will allow your plants to become hearty and robust. Use some nutrient-rich soil amendments to particularly poor and sandy soils. Organic compost is a great choice to help boost nutrient-poor soils. 

Climate and Temperature

In the golden light of the sun, clusters of purple foxglove beardtongue flowers sway gently amidst their deep purple foliage. Their delicate petals unfold gracefully, offering a breathtaking display of vibrant color and natural elegance to behold.
This pollinator-favorite flower prefers cool climates.

Foxglove beardtongue is tolerant of most growing conditions throughout the eastern United States. It is a perennial in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 8 and performs best in cooler to mild climates rather than persistently hot, excessively humid, or prolonged arid climates. 

Fertilizing

A pair of gentle hands tenderly hold a mound of rich brown compost, fingers gently embracing its earthy texture. In the backdrop, a blurred compost pit reveals a mosaic of organic waste, promising renewal and nourishment for the soil.
Consider adding organic compost or mulch if you have nutrient-poor soil.

Most native plants growing in their native regions typically don’t require extra fertilization. If you are growing in average-quality or organically rich soil, you shouldn’t need to add any extra fertilizers.

If your area has sandy or gravelly soil, you’ll want to boost the soil quality before planting these wildflowers. The best thing you can do to energize your native plants is to offer them a top layer of organic compost or biodegradable mulch that will slowly break down and release nutrients into the soil.

Maintenance

 Tall and graceful, deep purple tems gently sway, their foliage a rich hue of deep purple, while delicate lavender blossoms adorn them. In the blurred background, verdant green grass provides a serene backdrop.
Prune dead vegetation in winter.

Foxglove beardtongue is a very low-maintenance plant. When the plants go dormant for the winter, prune off the dead, dry, standing vegetation anytime during the winter to make room for fresh spring growth. Mulch around your plants to help preserve soil moisture, reduce weed competition, and boost soil nutrients. 

If your plants spread beyond where you want them, do some periodic thinning to remove any unwanted extra growth. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage a prolonged blooming season or allow some seedheads to mature and collect your own seeds.

Garden Design

A plant rises gracefully, boasting green leaves and delicate light purple blooms. In the background, a blur reveals a lush tapestry of these enchanting flowers, adding depth and allure to the botanical scene.
Fill the flower bed with other native perennials for a beautiful, wildlife-friendly garden.

There are so many ways you can incorporate foxglove beardtongue into your landscape! Do you want to grow a native plant garden or pocket prairie? This is an ideal candidate. Do you want to attract pollinators or support native bees? Foxglove beardtongue is a great choice. 

It will be happiest when surrounded by other native perennial plants. It will spread slowly by self-seeding and rhizomes, but it isn’t an aggressive competitor. Give it a space somewhere towards the middle of your garden plot with lower-growing plants in front and some taller plants behind. 

Since it blooms between late spring and early summer, you can use it as part of a year-round flower garden. Include some early spring blooming plants to be the first to bloom each year, and also include several later-blooming wildflowers to fill in with color as the summer progresses into fall. The beautiful, long-standing, white flowers will compliment a wide array of vibrantly colored flowering companions.  

Varieties

‘Huskers Red’

A close-up of 'Huskers Red' penstemon buds, their deep purple hue adorned with delicate fuzziness, capturing the warmth of the sun's embrace. In the background, a lush green blur sets the stage, accentuating the vibrant energy of nature's unfolding spectacle.
This variety features dark purple-green stems and maroon-tinged white flowers.

‘Huskers Red’ is a cultivar with rich green leaves and dark purple-green stems. The base of its white flowers is also maroon-tinged. The basal leaves of this cultivar are especially striking, however, ranging from deep green to purple to vibrant maroon red, especially when grown in full sun conditions.

‘Dark Towers’

'Dark Towers' penstemon flowers bloom in regal purple hues, standing tall on deep purple stems. The deep purple leaves complement the vivid blossoms, creating a striking contrast in the landscape.
The ‘Dark Towers’ penstemon is a striking cultivar with pale pink flowers.

‘Dark Towers’ is a striking penstemon cultivar that grows up to three feet tall. It features spectacular dark burgundy foliage, particularly when grown in full sun. The pale pink flowers top maroon-red stems. Grow this penstemon variety along a sunny border where you’re sure to notice its lovely foliage. 

‘Midnight Masquerade’

'Midnight Masquerade' penstemon flowers, vibrant purple petals contrast with the deep purple foliage. The delicate blooms appear fuzzy, adding a soft texture to the scene, while the blurred background showcases lush, deep purple leaves.
The ‘Midnight Masquerade’ penstemon boasts striking maroon and green foliage.

A lovely ‘Midnight Masquerade’ penstemon is truly hard to miss! The maroon and green foliage lines deep purple-red stems. At peak blooming, each stem is topped with an extremely showy display of pale burgundy blossoms. This penstemon will stand out in any garden setting.

‘Onyx and Pearls’

White 'Onyx and Pearls' penstemon flowers, abundant in number, gracefully decorate the deep purple stems, adding an ethereal touch to the botanical scene. Below, a dense carpet of green leaves provides a lush backdrop.
This thrives best in full sun at heights of three to four feet.

The ‘Onyx and Pearls’ variety is a study of contrasts. The dark green and maroon foliage contrasts sharply with its abundance of white flowers. ‘Onyx and Pearls’ will grow three to four feet tall at peak flowering and will display the most vibrant colors when grown in full sun.

‘Blackbeard’

A close-up of the 'Blackbeard' penstemon plant reveals green buds emerging from deep purple stems and leaves. In the blurred background, additional 'Blackbeard' plants extend, showcasing a lush botanical scene rich in color and texture.
The ‘Blackbeard’ is a compact perennial with lavender-purple flowers.

Looking for some purple accents for your perennial garden? ‘Blackbeard’ is sure to catch your attention with its lavender-purple flowers and dark red and green-hued foliage.

This bushy and compact plant will grow two to three feet tall, with colorful foliage and flowers. It displays some fabulous colors throughout the entire growing season.

Wildlife Value

A striking display of lush flowers rises tall, boasting elegant white flowers that captivate the eye. Nestled amidst verdant foliage, the plant creates a serene oasis, harmonizing effortlessly with the surrounding greenery in the landscape.
Use this native perennial to benefit local fauna.

Foxglove beardtongue plants have excellent wildlife value. While they are not generally bothered by deer or rabbits, they are very attractive to pollinators. Bees especially love to crawl into the flowers to gather the nectar.

You will see a variety of other pollinators and even hummingbirds visiting the tubular flowers. This is a beautiful plant to add to your pollinator-friendly landscape, and it’s sure to bring in plenty of pollinator activity.

Common Problems

Foxglove beardtongue is quite hardy and generally trouble-free. Poorly drained soil, however, can lead to root rot, and in humid growing conditions, you may encounter leaf spots.

Root rot 

A close-up reveals fingers gently gripping delicate roots emerging from rich, dark soil. Sadly, the roots are visibly decaying, symbolizing the inevitable cycle of life and death within the ecosystem's delicate balance.
Avoid root rot by making sure the soil is well-drained.

Root rot is a potential problem, but only if your plants are growing in wet soil with poor drainage. It’s easy to prevent root rot by growing your plants in dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. But if your plant starts to develop root rot, it’s very difficult to save it.

Watch for wilting leaves, followed by soft, mushy leaves and stems. If you dig down, you will find the roots are also soft and mushy. The entire plant will die from an advanced case of root rot.

Leaf spot 

A close-up reveals a yellowing leaf with brown spots, indicating a fungal infection. The intricate trail left by a leafminer is evident, showcasing the intricate damage caused by the pest, gradually weakening the leaf's structure.
This can be managed by pruning and removing affected leaves to prevent further spread.

Leaf spot is generally caused by a bacterial or fungal infection of the plant leaves. Watch for brown, dead-looking spots on the leaves. A mild case of leaf spot will generally not kill your plants, but if you see several diseased-looking leaves, go ahead and prune these off to improve your plant’s appearance and prevent further spread. Don’t compost diseased or infected plant material because bacteria and fungus can overwinter in your compost and continue to spread.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find foxglove beardtongue plants for my garden?

You may be able to find young potted plants at nurseries and garden centers, particularly at nurseries that specialize in native plants. If you have a local botanical garden, arboretum, garden club, or native plant club, you can often find excellent plant source lists from these resources. Don’t dig native plants from the wild, because this disturbs the natural ecosystem and can harm native plant populations.

How long will it take for my foxglove beardtongue to bloom when growing from seed?

When grown from seed, these perennial wildflowers will typically spend their first year developing a strong root system. They will produce plenty of ornamental foliage in their first year, but they won’t start flowering until their second year. After this, you can expect to have plenty of flowers each year.

Can I grow penstemon beardtongue in a raised bed or container?

Yes, absolutely! These plants are excellent candidates for raised bed gardens and container gardens. Use a well-drained soil mix formulated for raised bed gardening, and make sure your container has functional drainage holes on the bottom. Give your containers a bit of extra watering during dry spells.

Final Thoughts

Anyone looking for a beautiful, hardy, and easy-to-grow native wildflower should consider foxglove beardtongue. These plants are very versatile and can be used in so many different garden styles. All they need is bright sunlight, well-drained soil, and some regular watering.

They will provide you with many years of showy, pollinator-approved flowers for your late spring and early summer enjoyment. Whether you grow the native species of one of its fine cultivars, this long-blooming flower is a sure winner!

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