Popular with gardeners coast to coast, Marigolds (Tagetes erecta) are one of the easiest (and most beautiful) annuals to grow.
These dense, compact flowers can range in color from pale yellow to deep orange to mahogany, making a spectacular addition to pots, baskets, and borders or simply scattered throughout the garden.
This quick germinator has a distinct spicy aroma and makes the perfect companion plant. Marigolds add a splash of color all summer long and even look great as dried floral arrangements in a vase too!
Marigolds are not fussy and tolerate a wide range of soil and climate conditions, but they love the heat most of all. Many varieties are available of this cheerful garden favorite, from miniature to giant. Try growing marigolds in and around your vegetable garden to repel insect pests. Hardy annual, 10-18 inches tall.
Fun Fact: In Macer’s Herbal, a 10th-century manuscript on the healing properties of plants, marigolds were said to draw evil out of the head and strengthen the eyesight.
Botanical Name: Tagetes spp.
Common Name: Marigold
Plant Type: Herbaceous, annual
Hardiness Zones: 2 to 11 (USDA)
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Soil Type: Well-draining, evenly moist
Soil pH: 6.0 to 7.0 (Slightly acidic to neutral)
Maturity: 50-80 days from seed to flower
Height: 6 to 18 inches
Spacing: 8 to 18 inches apart in all directions
Bloom Time: Summer
Flower Color: Yellow, orange, white, red, gold, bicolor
Native Area: Mexico and Central America
Quick Guide: Planting, Growing & Caring for Marigolds
- Bright yellow is the most common petal color, but some varieties are pale yellow to deep orange.
- Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost or plant seedlings outdoors after the last frost.
- Choose a site with full sun and soil amended with compost.
- Water regularly; protect from danger of frost (excess water on leaves can lead to powdery mildew)
- An annual that blooms all season long
- Do not fertilize marigolds during growth. Nitrogen-rich fertilizers stimulate foliage at the expense of flowers.
- Granular fertilizer can be added during planting time if your soil needs nutrients. Alternately, you may water with diluted liquid fertilizer. Note fertilizers can create lush foliage at the expense of blossoms.
- Marigolds will begin to bloom in about 8 weeks.
Marigold Plant Care
Marigolds are a wonderful, popular, low-maintenance annual that attract butterflies, bees, ladybugs, and other beneficial insects to your garden. Watch them bloom from late spring until fall if you provide them with full sun and soil that drains well.
Once they’re established, marigolds require little care and are almost entirely pest-free. Marigolds are capable of producing continuous blooms from the beginning of summer until the first frost.
Maintaining your marigolds with regular deadheading can ensure continuous blooming. Flowering may slow down a little bit in the summer, but it usually starts up again in full force when the weather gets a bit cooler.
All varieties of marigolds repel deer because of their strong, pungent scent. But signet marigolds smell and taste more like citrus and are often used in cooking because of this. And for this reason, some deer may be less repelled by them.
Marigolds will produce the most flowers and be the healthiest when planted in full sun. Marigolds won’t bloom well if planted in the shade; the plants will become leggy and produce fewer flowers in shady conditions.
Marigolds are not particular. As long as the soil is not too acidic, any good garden soil will do, along with a little water when it’s dry. Maintain a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0 in the soil.
They also don’t need soil with a lot of organic matter. In fact, they seem to do better in soil with less organic matter. Incorporate compost or sand into heavy garden soil to improve drainage.
Make sure to water your marigold seeds or plants on a regular basis when you first plant them. They should not be left in dry soil for more than a few days. If it is exceptionally warm and sunny, water new plants daily.
They will be more drought-tolerant after a few weeks of establishing a solid root system, but they will still bloom best if watered weekly.
Temperature and Humidity
Marigolds are heat-loving plants that thrive in the summer from zones 2 to 11 across their entire growth range. In locations with hot summers, these true annuals may become a little less active during the height of summer, but as the weather cools in late summer and fall, the blossoming resumes.
Marigolds tolerate a wide variety of humidity levels, although in wet or humid summers, they may develop powdery mildew. This problem will be less of a problem if you plant in full sun and leave room for air to flow. These Mexican native plants prefer somewhat dry air.
Unless your soil is exceptionally poor, your marigolds won’t require any supplemental fertilizer. Regular deadheading is the best way to prolong their blooming period.
Pruning and Deadheading
A marigold plant will bush out if the early bloom buds are pinched back, which will result in a much more pronounced main season of flowering.
Regular deadheading of spent blossoms helps in the plant’s ability to produce new blooms late into the fall.
When cold conditions ultimately cause marigolds to die, they can be plucked out and discarded because they are true annuals. In the garden, it’s okay to let a few plants self-seed.
Birds don’t usually eat marigold seeds, but they do sometimes break up the flower heads, which helps the plant spread its own seeds.
Different Varieties of Marigold Flowers
There are many cultivars of each species and division of marigold. The majority are of average height, but there is considerable variation among the many species. Let’s look at some of the most popular ones:
African Marigolds (Tagetes erecta), also known as American Marigolds or Mexican Marigolds, grow stunning full flowers upwards of 4 feet tall.
Since they can grow so tall, light staking for support is often seen in the event of strong winds. This variety should also be planted in early spring and will usually have bright orange or yellow petals with double flowers.
African marigolds were not actually native to Africa but rather got their name because they were initially brought to Europe via a trade route that went through northwest Africa.
African marigolds are susceptible to rot in wet conditions due to their dense double flowerheads.
When plants are young, add a layer of mulch between them to prevent weed growth and maintain moist soil.
French Marigolds (Tagetes patula) are smaller yet bushier than African Marigolds. This variety grows from 6 inches to 2 feet tall. They are treasured for their long, abundant blooms.
French marigolds are better suited for rainy weather and are considered more tolerant to wet conditions. ‘Durango’ varieties have a range of yellow, red, or orange hues. ‘Naughty Marietta’ has single yellow petals adorned with patches of mahogany.
Signet Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) are smaller marigolds that do well in dry and hot climates. Unlike the African marigolds, the signet marigolds rarely reach 12 inches in height.
Signets are edible marigolds. They look nothing like bedding marigolds. They have lacy leaves and small, single flowers that look like daisies.
They are yellow and orange and have cultivar names like ‘Orange Gem,’ ‘Tangerine Gem,’ ‘Red Gem,’ and ‘Lemon Gem’ that fit their colors. The ‘Gem’ Series are signets with single flowers and leaves that look a lot like ferns.
Some hybrids with new colors, like cream, burgundy, and two-tone, have been on the market recently. However, their taste isn’t always the same as that of the ‘Gem’ varieties.
Pot Marigolds (Calendula officinalis) aka English marigolds are natives of southern Europe. This variety is actually not even a true marigold but is in the same Asteraceae family.
Pot marigolds are herbs often grown for medicinal reasons. You’ll recognize these plants because they adore bright edible blooms that are tangy and mildly spicy.
How to Plant and Grow Marigolds
Marigolds are not finicky and will tolerate most conditions. Marigolds likely won’t need supplemental fertilizer and will usually thrive with rich, well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine.
Generous amounts of organic compost or well-aged manure mixed into the garden before planting will greatly improve the health of flowers (see Springtime Garden Soil Preparation). Keep the soil moist, but not wet.
Young French and signet marigolds can be planted from spring to midsummer, but tall African marigolds should be planted as soon as the danger of frost has passed in the spring. This is because they take longer to mature and bloom.
How to Plant Marigolds
French marigolds are easy to grow from seeds, but you should buy African marigolds as young plants since when started from seed, they can take a long time to flower.
Sow seeds directly in the ground and cover them with a thin layer of soil (about 1/8 inch deep). Water thoroughly. Thin to 8-18 inches apart after seedlings have sprouted.
The marigold plant can also be started early indoors under grow lights for transplanting outdoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost date. Read our article Starting Annual Flowers Indoors to learn more.
Once established and healthy, marigolds will continue growing easily, even if left unattended.
Water to keep the soil moist.
Do not water Marigolds from overhead. It is best to water at the base of the plant.
Provide nutrients monthly with a bud and bloom booster once plants have started flowering. Pinch off the spent blossoms to extend the flowering season. Mulch to prevent weeds, conserve moisture and improve aesthetics. Marigolds will not survive a hard frost or freeze.
Seed Saving Instructions for Marigolds
Marigolds will produce lots of seeds in a similar fashion to zinnia or calendula. When the blooms dry out, cut them off and hang them upside down in bundles. The seeds are contained in the heads and, once dry and crisp, can be hand-crushed and winnowed from the seed chaff.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Marigold
Marigolds have few problems with insect pests. In fact, the flowers can be planted around cabbage and broccoli plants to help deter and repel cabbage moths. Read our Companion Planting Guide to learn how some plants perform better when grown together.
Spray soft-bodied pests, like aphids and spider mites, with a strong stream of water to reduce pest numbers or spot-treat heavily infested areas with Safer’s® Soap for immediate control.
If conditions are excessively damp, marigolds may be affected by fungal diseases such as powdery mildew. Avoid getting water on the marigolds’ leaves, keep weeds at bay, and plant in well-drained soil to avoid fungal concerns.
Eric Vinje founded Planet Natural with his father Wayne in 1991, originally running it as a grasshopper bait mail-order business out of a garage.
Eric is now retired, but is still a renowned gardener known for his expertise in composting, organic gardening and pest control, utilizing pesticide-free options, such as beneficial insects.
Eric believes when you do something good for the environment, the effects will benefit generations to come.
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