By Julie Christensen
Marigolds, like lilacs and peonies, are old-fashioned flowers that have been grown for hundreds of years in home gardens. This longevity speaks to their beauty and ease of use. Native to Mexico, marigolds are annual flowers in most parts of the U.S., although they may reseed if left to their own devices.
Marigolds have an upright form and produce multi-petaled flowers from early summer to fall. The flowers typically appear in shades of yellow, orange and red. Although you can find some hybrid forms, the two species most available are African and French marigolds.
African marigolds (Tagetes erecta) grow up to 3 feet tall with blooms up to 5 inches across. These plants are ideal for the back of a flower bed combined with coreopsis, coneflower and other tall perennials and annuals.
French marigolds (Tagetes patula) are smaller plants with a bushy, mounded form. Their flowers are typically 2 to 3 inches across. French marigolds rarely grow more than 12 inches tall and most remain under 8 inches. French marigolds seem to tolerate a wider range of conditions than African marigolds and hold up well to heavy rains.
Planting and Caring for Marigolds
You’ll find trays and trays of marigolds at any nursery in late spring, but you can start the plants at home too. Plant marigold seeds outdoors in late spring after the first frost, covering them with just a sprinkling of soil. Another option is to start the seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the last expected frost. Fill a seed-starting tray with potting mix and sprinkle the marigold seed over the soil. Cover the seeds with a sprinkling of soil and keep the seed tray moist. Place it in a warm location, such as on top of the refrigerator. Once the seedlings emerge, thin them to 2 inches apart. Move the plants to a sunny area and continue to water them.
Plant marigold transplants outdoors after the last expected frost. Choose an area that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily and space the transplants 6 to 8 inches apart. Marigolds aren’t particularly fussy about soil, although the soil does need to drain well.
Fertilize the plants every 3 weeks with a dilute balanced solution. Water marigolds at least once each week during dry weather so the soil stays slightly moist, but not wet. Pinch off faded blossoms to keep the plants looking their best and shear the plants back mid-summer if they begin to look straggly. Stake tall varieties to keep them from toppling in wind and rain.
Potential Pests and Problems
Marigolds are generally pest and disease free, blooming with little maintenance the whole summer. Grasshoppers may cause damage in large numbers, and contrary to popular belief, the plants are not officially deer or rabbit resistant, in spite of their pungent fragrance. See the article below on using marigolds for pest control. Here’s more information on companion planting with marigolds.
Varieties Worth Trying
- ‘Bonanza’ Series: French marigolds with flowers in several colors on each plant.
- ‘Queen’ Series: Tall French marigolds with camellia-like blooms.
- ‘French Vanilla: An African variety that grows 3 feet tall with creamy blooms. Almost no scent.
To learn more about growing marigolds, visit the following links:
Marigolds and Nematode Management from Arizona Cooperative Extension
Marigold from Clemson University Cooperative Extension