Reasons to Grow Marigolds in Your Garden
This beautiful and easy-to-grow herb provides bright splashes of color to your garden for months, attracts beneficial insects to your yard, and even helps protect surrounding plants by repelling pests, both large and small.
That's right! The roots of marigold plants release a toxic chemical that prevents nematodes from reproducing and feeding on your prized lettuce plants. The smell of marigolds also repels deer and rabbits.
The frilly petals of the flowers, which are 100 percent edible, come in lemony yellow, tangerine orange, gold and even fire engine red and lend a cottage-garden-feel to your outdoor space. They smell heavenly and make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers.
There are so many reasons to grow these annuals in your kitchen garden.
The 4 Main Types of Marigolds to Grow
Here are the four main marigold types. Within each one, you'll find lots of color and petal shape variations.
Note: Calendula is often called pot marigold, but they are technically two different types of plants in the daisy family. I love growing them both!
These plants are the biggest of the annual marigold varieties, capable of reaching 3 to 4 feet in height. They produce large double flowers on tall, slender stalks (pictured above).
These plants tend to be more medium in size and produce a lot of blooms. They come in double and single flower varieties, with blooms sometimes as large as 2 inches wide.
Mexican Mint Marigolds
Also called French tarragon for their tarragon-like yellow flowers, these plants are compact perennials native to Mexico and the Southwest. They're drought- and heat-tolerant.
These plants are the smallest, typically just 6 inches tall, which makes them perfect for borders. They grow more in mounds instead of upright. They often produce clusters of small single flowers (pictured below).
Marigold Growing Guide
When to Plant Marigolds
Marigolds thrive in cool and warm weather. They can handle a light frost if they're well established. They can also handle heat if their roots are nice and deep before high temps hit, though they may take a break from blooming until the weather cools off a bit.
I prefer to sow my marigold seeds directly in the ground and save my seed starting trays for larger and lengthier plants. However, if you're anxious to get a head start on enjoying marigolds in the garden the moment the weather warms or if you have a really short warm growing season, you can certainly start them indoors under artificial light. Start your seeds about six to eight weeks before your final anticipated frost date. Transplant seedlings once the danger of frost has passed.
If you're direct sowing marigold seeds outdoors, wait until about 1 to 2 weeks after your last frost date. Seeds germinate best in warmer soil (about 70°F to 80°F).
Are Marigolds Annuals or Perennials?
Most marigolds are annual plants. (Mexican marigolds are the exception, but only in zones 8 and up.) They can live through winter in warmer climates, but they won't survive a hard frost. Each marigold plant drops so many seeds that new plants often pop up every spring, so you might feel like you're getting years and years of marigolds from one plant or packet of seeds.
Where to Grow Marigolds
Marigolds grow really well in containers, raised beds, and even in-ground pollinator gardens. They're forgiving of poor soil conditions but grow best in soil rich in organic matter. They're also not too picky with their light, but if you want lots of flowers, make sure to give them full sun (at least 6 hours of direct sun a day).
Because marigolds are more compact than other flowers, I love to grow them in the corners and along the edges of my raised beds. They add a nice pop of color and help to deter pests. I just add a fresh layer of compost to the top of the soil before planting.
If you're planting marigolds in a container, make sure it's at least 6 inches deep and has a good drainage hole. Marigolds like water to drain from the soil quickly. Mix some compost into an organic potting soil.
And if you're planting marigolds in the ground, amend the top 6 inches of soil first with compost and coarse sand to improve drainage.
How to Grow Marigolds from Seed
Marigolds are super easy to grow from seed. They have good germination rates, and the seeds are long, which makes them easier to handle. Since they're sensitive to cold and will be damaged or killed by frost, wait until all threat of frost has passed before you sow your marigold seeds outdoors.
To sow marigold seeds, you can sprinkle them throughout your garden or place them about every 6 inches or so. (While French and Signet marigolds can be spaced pretty close together, African varieties will need about 12 inches of room.)
Marigold seed planting depth
Sow your marigold seeds directly in the ground about 1/8 inch deep and then lightly cover them with soil. Give your seeds a good watering in and then keep your soil moist but not soaked while you wait to see those beautiful little green shoots appear.
Marigold seed germination
Marigold seeds germinate within just a few days, which is extremely satisfying.
The time to wait before you see your first bloom in the garden will depend on the variety you're growing. In general, marigolds require 50 to 80 days from seed to flower, with French marigolds taking about 50 to 60 days and Mexican marigolds taking about 70 to 100 days.
It might seem counterintuitive, but pinch off your first little blossoms before they open to encourage your plant to grow bushier.
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Marigold Growing Tips
I do very little to care for my marigold plants. Besides watering them and maybe fertilizing them, all you really need to do is pinch back old flowers to encourage your plants to keep blooming. If you expect some light frost, you can protect the plants with a frost cloth or blanket overnight and then uncover them the next morning. You might need to stake taller varieties (like African marigolds) to support them when they're producing large blossoms and prevent them from falling over in a storm.
How to Water Marigolds
This flowering herb doesn't require any special attention when it comes to watering. Give marigolds about 1 inch of water per week, the same as most of the herbs and veggies you might be growing in your garden. Marigolds don't like their roots sitting in water for too long, so make sure you have good drainage first.
How to Fertilize Marigolds
I rarely add new nutrients to my marigold herbs, except for a quarterly installment of fresh compost or a little addition of earthworm castings. Flowering herbs like marigolds and echinacea do really well when set up in a rich soil that's full of nutrients from the beginning. If you feel like your flowers could use more nutrition, you can feed them a phosphorus-rich fertilizer once they begin to form flower buds. This fertilizer can be applied to the soil or spritzed on the frilled marigold leaves.
How to Harvest Marigold Flowers
The best time to harvest marigolds is in the morning, once the dew has dried. I like to harvest blooms a couple days after they've opened, once all the petals are fully revealed but before they start to dry up.
Use a clean pair of scissors or pruners to cut at the base of the flower stem, just above where it branches off from another stem. You can bring these flowers inside as cut flowers, or you can harvest the flower head itself if you're interested in tossing marigolds into salads (they have a citrusy but slightly bitter flavor).
Leave the rest of the plant to form more flowers for you.
How to Get Seeds from a Marigold Plant
In the late summer or early fall, instead of pinching off faded marigold flowers, leave some on your favorite plants to dry fully. Once the petals are shriveled up and the base of the flower has turned brown, you can easily save your own marigold seeds to plant the following spring. (You can also save seeds from a friend's garden, with their permission, of course—it's a great way to get new varieties of marigolds that are used to growing in your climate. For free!) Once you save seeds from the varieties you enjoy growing, you'll have enough seeds to be set for life. I call it marigold magic.
Learn the step by step to harvest your own marigold seeds. Store saved seeds in a cool, dry place for next season.
Even if you don't go through these simple steps to save your seeds, you'll probably still end up with more marigold plants next year; you just won't have any control over where they come up in your garden.
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Time to Plant Some Marigolds!
I hope you enjoy growing this cheerful, easygoing little flower in your garden.
Thanks for bringing back the kitchen garden with me!