How to Grow Mexican Marigolds (Tagetes Erecta)

Field of mexican marigolds with orange flowers

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Taller and more upright than the bushy French marigold, the Mexican marigold (Tagetes erecta) can mature to the grand height of 3 to 4 feet. This plant is also referred to as the African marigold, though it is native to the Americas. The beaming, saffron-hued faces of marigolds have long been compared to the sun. Varieties come in shades of yellow and orange with large, full blooms that are 3 to 6 inches in diameter atop green stems and fern-like foliage. Plant seeds or seedlings in the spring after the danger of frost has passed to enjoy a bounty of blooms in two months.

Botanical Name Tagetes erecta
Common Names Mexican marigold, African marigold, Aztec marigold, American marigold, chrysanthemum-flowered marigold, carnation flowered marigold, gigantea marigold
Plant Type Annual flower
Mature Size  1.5–4 ft. tall, 1–1.5 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full
Soil Type  Sandy, loamy, well-drained
Soil pH  Neutral
Bloom Time  Early summer until frost
Flower Color  Orange and yellow
Hardiness Zones  2–11 (USDA)
Native Area  Central America
Toxicity  Mildly toxic to humans
Mexican marigold with orange flowers closeup

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Mexican marigold with orange flowers and buds

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Row of mexican marigold with yellow flowers

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Mexican marigold bush with orange flowers

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Mexican marigold with orange flowers and buds closeup

The Spruce / Gyscha Rendy

Mexican Marigold Care

Native to Mexico, it's also more tolerant of hot, dry conditions than the French variety. Mexican marigolds are beloved as cut flowers and are favorites grown by many novice gardeners. Mexican marigolds were sacred to the Aztecs who used them for medicine and ceremoniously offered them to the sun gods. Today, marigolds are still called the herb of the sun and Mexican marigolds are often placed on altars on The Day of the Dead.

While bountiful, Mexican marigolds are not aggressive or invasive. These aromatic annual flowers brighten gardens from early summer until frost. They are resistant to deer, rabbits, and insects that could be potentially harmful to vegetable gardens, but attract bees, butterflies, and ladybugs.

To welcome Tagetes erecta to your garden, purchase plants in spring or grow them from seed. Remove any weeds and grass from the site. Till the soil about 6 inches deep. Space plants 12 to 16 inches apart or arrange in containers. Establish plants a little deeper than they were originally growing to stabilize their heavy flower tops and stake taller varieties for extra support.

Light

These annuals will grow in partial shade but thrive in full sun.

Soil

Mexican marigolds are adaptable to many kinds of soil and are even known to perform well in poor soil. For best results, give new plants soil that is well-draining and fertile. While they will tolerate clay or dry soil, moist sand or loam is ideal.

Add compost or other organic, nutrient-rich materials. Maintain a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.5. Sometimes they will grow in acidic soil with a pH as low as 5.8. Anything lower is too acidic.

Water

Water your Mexican marigolds regularly. Keep soil moist but not wet. Do not overwater, as the soil could fail to drain and the flowers could be at risk of drowning.

Temperature and Humidity

Mexican marigolds prefer hot, dry gardens. Most at home in their native Central America, they are heat and drought-tolerant, blooming from summer until frost.

Fertilizer

Mexican marigolds benefit from fertilizer that is regularly applied or a single application of a slow-release fertilizer. Because some fertilizers increase the acidity of the soil, choose wisely. Use one with a 15-5-25 or 15-0-15 solution.

Mexican Marigold Varieties

This flower shouldn't be confused with Tagetes lemmonii. Generally known as Lemmon's Marigold, it is also sometimes referred to by the common name Mexican Marigold.

Marigold breeders often create dense plants with larger blooms. Lutein, a yellow compound in marigolds, is reportedly a helpful chemical for eye health and is also a common component in chicken feed to encourage rich yellow egg yolks. Many popular varieties of marigolds share common color blooms with shade and size variations:

  • 'Jubilee' features bright, bold yellow ball-shaped blooms adding delicate texture to a garden.
  • 'Gold Coin' offers showy, fragrant double blooms in gold, orange, and yellow.
  • 'Safari Tangerine' has large flat-topped blooms in maroon, yellow, and orange.
  • 'Inca Primrose' offers huge rounded blooms adding height to beds and containers.
  • 'Antigua Orange' offers mounds of small blooms in gold, orange, and yellow.
  • 'Crush' brings a summer glow of tidy yellow blooms, perfect for pots.
  • 'Aurora Gold' produces single or double flowers in shades of orange, yellow, brown, and red.
  • 'Double Eagle' has large, fully double orange blooms.
  • 'Sweet Cream' offers bold and creamy white ball-shaped blooms with a hint of buttery yellow.
  • 'Discovery Series' features adorable dwarfed bushy compact blooms that look beautiful in a fresh-cut arrangement.
  • 'Taishan Gold' has bold ball-shaped blooms that are gold with buttery yellow centers.

Pruning

Deadhead plants regularly to encourage a longer period of flower growth. As plants wilt, leave some spent blooms to ripen, dry, and fall into the soil to seed. Because seeds will likely produce plants that are genetically unique from their parents, expect next year's flowers to have a different look and growth habit.

How to Grow Mexican Marigolds From Seed

Marigold seeds can be collected to sow the following spring. Sow indoors four to six weeks before the last frost date. Place them in an area where temperatures remain between 70 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit and watch seedlings emerge four to 14 days later. Or, sow them directly in the garden when the danger of frost has passed.

Common Pests/Diseases

Overwatering, and wetting the foliage in the late day, can lead to fungi infection. While Mexican marigolds are not usually prone to disease or pests, keep an eye out for Japanese beetles, red spider mites, slugs, and snails. Use insecticidal soap as needed.

Marigold roots can actually discourage parasites. Its roots release a substance that is toxic to parasites called root nematodes. This toxin can stay in the soil for years, deterring nematodes from interfering with other plants. Because of this characteristic, Mexican marigolds can serve as steady and helpful companions to vegetable plants every year.