Marigolds are cheerful, compact yellow, orange and burgundy annuals with flower shapes that can resemble daisies, coreopsis, and even carnations. Although native to Mexico, you can grow marigold plants virtually anywhere. They are widely adaptable and extremely low maintenance.
There are several species and divisions of marigold. The 3 most commonly grown are:
African Marigolds (Tagetes erecta)
With large, pompom flowers on either compact or relatively tall plants, African marigolds are popular for both the border and as cut flowers. They can grow over 2 ft. tall and have flowers that are 5 inches across. Colors include yellow and orange, although I'm sure they'll add red at some point.
French Marigolds (Tagetes patula)
French marigolds are one of the longest, most prolific blooming marigold varieties. These tend to be short, bushy plants, although they can grow from 5 - 18 inches tall. They have purple-tinged stems with double flower heads in yellow, orange, and mahogany that are about 2 inches across.
Signet Marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia)
The edible marigolds are the Signets. They look totally different from bedding marigolds, with lacy leaves and small, single, daisy-like flowers. They come in yellow and orange, with the fitting names of Orange Gem and Lemon Gem. There have been some hybrids on the market recently with an expanded palette of colors, such as shades of cream, burgundy, and bi-colors, but the flavor is not equal to the gems.
Marigolds are one of the few garden flowers that are true annuals. We all have to replant them every year.
Marigolds don't tend to get particularly tall, but there is a good amount of variety among the different types. You can find short bedding marigolds that only grow 4-6 inches tall and taller varieties that can reach 18 inches tall and make nice cutting flowers.
For the most flowers and the healthiest plants, plant your marigolds in full sun.
Marigolds can bloom almost non-stop and will keep going all summer, until frost. To achieve that non-stop flowering, keep your marigolds deadheaded.
Soil: Marigolds are not fussy. Any good garden soil and a little water during dry spells should keep them happy, as long as it is not too acidic. Keep the soil pH above about 6.0.
Marigolds don't need a soil that is particularly rich in organic matter, in fact, they seem to grow better in a leaner soil.
Planting: Marigolds are very easy to start from seed. The large, easy to handle seeds are often used with kids, for school projects. You can start seeds indoors, about 6 - 8 weeks before your last frost date, but it's not really worth it. Marigolds germinate quickly outdoors when direct sown, and since the plants don't really start growing until the weather warms, the direct sown plants have time to catch up to the plants started indoors. Of course, you can find seedlings in just about every nursery, so you don't have to start them from seed at all.
Marigolds are very low maintenance, once they are established. When you first plant them, make sure they get regular water. Don't leave them in dry soil for more than a couple of days. If it is particularly hot and sunny, water them every day.
Once they have had a few weeks to establish a good root system, they will be more drought tolerant, but they will still bloom best if given weekly water.
Unless your soil is extremely poor, your marigolds won't need any supplemental fertilizer. The best thing you can do to keep them in flower is to deadhead regularly.
Pests and Problems
Marigolds make nice border plants, but their hot colors have to be used with discretion. They work best with either other hot colors, like yellow and orange daylilies, or with complementary purples, like salvia and verbena.
Because they are short plants, they are generally used in the front of a border or in containers.
French marigolds are reputed to have some pest-repelling qualities and used to be considered an invaluable flower for the vegetable garden, but not a lot of evidence that they actually repel anything except nematodes. Still, they add a lot of color to the vegetable garden.
You may have some luck planting them around the edges of my vegetable garden, to deter rabbits.
There are dozens of marigolds to choose from. These are a handful that have done well for us.
- Antigua Series are very profuse blooming African marigolds
- Gem Series are single flowered Signets with very fern-like foliage
- ‘Naughty Marietta’ Is a ruffled, deep yellow French marigold with maroon splashes in the center