How to Grow Mexican Marigolds (Tagetes Erecta)

Taller and Fuller Than the Bushy French Marigold

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 three to four feet. Native to Mexico, they are also more tolerant of hot, dry conditions than French variety.

It is worth noting that this species is also commonly referred to as the African marigold.

Varieties come in shades of yellow and orange. Large, full blooms are three to six inches in diameter atop green stems and fern-like foliage. Growing on such tall stalks, they are beloved as cut flowers and can even be grown by most novice gardeners.

While bountiful, the Mexican marigold is not aggressive or invasive. These aromatic annual flowers brighten gardens from early summer until frost. They are resistant to deer and attract bees, butterflies, and ladybugs.

The beaming, saffron-hued faces of marigolds have long been compared to the sun. Mexican marigolds were sacred to the Aztecs who used them for medicine and ceremoniously offered them to the sun gods. The Aztec people believed it to be the favorite flower of the goddess Mictēcacihuātl, the guardian of the underworld and protector of dead spirits. They called the flower "cempasúchitl" and trusted that its pungent scent could lead their spirits back to the physical world for fleeting visits. Today, marigolds are still called the herb of the sun and Mexican marigolds are often placed on altars on The Day of the Dead.

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.

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 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 1.5 ft. wide
Sun Exposure  Full sun
Soil Type  Any well-drained soil, preferably fertile sand or loam
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 poisonous to humans

Mexican Marigold (Tagetes Erecta) Care

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 six 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Are Mexican Marigolds Toxic?

Tagetes hybrids can be grown as edible flowers for humans. Marigolds are listed as non-toxic to both dogs and cats by the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center. Some gardeners, however, have experienced skin irritation from the plant's oils. Be careful when handling marigolds.

The flowers and roots can contain phototoxic thiophene derivatives which are mildly poisonous to humans. These can cause skin redness, burning pain, contact dermatitis, and eye and nose irritation. Blisters may be an issue if sap contacts broken skin.

Mexican Marigold Varieties

Marigold breeders are often creating denser 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. To meet the curiosity for aesthetic and these needs for health, there are many varieties of marigolds.

Popular African/Mexican marigold varieties include:

  • Jubilee
  • Gold Coin
  • Safari Tangerine
  • Galore
  • Inca Primrose
  • Antigua Orange
  • Crush
  • Aurora
  • Double Eagle
  • Indian Yellow
  • Sweet Cream
  • Mesa Gold
  • Discovery Orange
  • Discovery Yellow
  • Taishan Gold

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

Avoid overwatering your plants as this can lead to fungi infection. Also refrain from wetting the foliage, especially later in the day. 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.

Both Mexican marigolds and French marigolds repel insects, rabbits and deer that could be potentially harmful to vegetable gardens. Their scent, more potent in French marigold varieties, is said to deter such pests.

Marigold roots also release a substance that is toxic to root nematodes. This toxin can stay in the soil for years, deterring nematodes from interfering with other plants. These annual blooms can serve as steady companions to vegetable plants every year.