Marigolds with their bright yellow orbs of sunshine are synonymous with summer. A garden favourite when it comes to annuals, perhaps rivaled only by the petunia.
It’s cheerful flowers, and ease of growing Marigold make it a garden staple when it comes to annuals in the garden. Here’s a quick grow guide to make those marigolds grow their biggest and best this garden season.
What are Marigolds?
Marigolds (Tagetes spp.) are actually native to Mexico and Guatemala; their sunny flowers were quickly brought to Europe and North America in the late 16th century.
The Aztecs were cultivating and using tagetes as herbal medicine and were already breeding them for larger blooms when the Spanish explorers brought the seeds back to Spain to grow for themselves.
Tagetes now are mostly used for aesthetic appeal in the garden, but they were once grown for medicinal uses and can still be used to treat minor skin irritations and digestive tract issues.
However, Calendula is what is normally used medicinally, and while it is sometimes referred to as a marigold (pot marigold) it is a different species.
This article will be focusing on Tagetes spp. Marigolds are annuals, meaning they only grow for one season, however they can self seed and come back year after year.
The beauty of Tagetes is in their versatility and range, they can be grown from USDA zones 2-11, meaning all Americans can enjoy Tagetes in their gardens.
Marigolds are divided into two main varieties, African marigolds or Tagetes Erecta, and French marigolds or Tagetes Patula. Within those two varieties there are tons of varieties or series of Tagetes.
There are definitely too many to name them all, but here are a few main ones in each category.
African Marigold (Tagetes Erecta)
Jubilee Series - The jubilee series are a stunning variety. They stand about 16 inches high and have big beautiful uniform pom-pom flowers.
Taishan Series - The Taishan series of marigold has the same large pom-pom flowers as the jubilee series, however the plants are slightly shorter, reaching only 10 inches tall. This compact beauty is a heavy flower producer and looks great in containers.
Climax Series- The climax series of marigolds is sure to add drama to the garden, with huge bloom sizes, reaching 5 inches in diameter! They make great cut flowers.
French Marigold (Tagetes Patula)
Bonanza Series - the bonanza series of French Marigolds are an AAS Bedding Plant Winner, and with good reason. It’s a beautiful dwarf variety, with large uniform flowers that produce early blossoms. They come in a variety of colors from yellows, to reds, some with mixes of reds and oranges. They have a tufted inner eye that gives them a beautiful fluffy appearance.
Disco Series - The disco series are a compact, spreading, dwarf variety. They have a single row of petals with a large centre, making it look very daisy-like. Keep an eye out for Disco Marietta, which is yellow with a red centre, they look like a work of art.
Safari Series - The safari series are very traditional looking dwarf variety marigolds, ranging from reds, oranges, and yellows and many mixes of those in between.
The flowers are ruffled and ornate. Safari bolero is especially gorgeous with it’s yellow base, streaked with red.
How to Grow Marigold
Marigolds are extremely easy to grow, they can be grown as seeds, or they can be purchased as plants from nurseries and garden centres when planting season begins.
Start seeds eight weeks before the last frost date for African Marigolds, and ten weeks for French Marigolds. Place Tagetes seeds on a layer of moistened soiless seed start mix and cover lightly, then spray the seeds lightly with water.
Cover the seeds with a dome or lid of some sort to hold the moisture in (purchasing fancy seed starting kits is great, but not necessary, think creatively.
Old take-out containers washed out, egg cartons, milk jugs cut in half, yogurt containers all make great seed starting vessels). Now that the seeds are planted place the container somewhere warm and dark (light is not needed for germination.
Some good spots are on top of the fridge (apparently this is only older models of refrigerators, new ones don’t get warm on top), in the cupboard above the stove, or a heat mat can be purchased to place seeds on.
Check the seeds every few days and make sure they are still moist, but not soaking as they will mold, and spray if necessary. They will germinate between 4-14 days.
Once the first sprouts emerge from the soil, place them under grow lights, or in a sunny window. Seedlings always emerge with two indistinct leaves known as cotyledons and then after their true leaves will start to emerge which will resemble the plant (light and ferny in the case of Tagetes).
Once the true leaves sprout out, place a fan in front of the seedlings for a few minutes a day to mimic wind and provide strength to the plant (think muscle building for plants), or lightly brush the tops of the seedlings to rustle them around.
If the seedlings are becoming gangly, or leggy, it is probably a light issue, bring the grow light closer, or put them closer to the window, or in a sunnier window (South facing is best).
If growing Marigold in a window, turn them as they lean towards the light for more even growth. Keep them watered and in the light until they are big and strong enough to be planted in the garden.
Hardening Off Marigold Seedlings
Make sure to harden the plant off before planting them or they will wither and die. This is the process of gradually introducing them to outdoor living small doses at a time.
Start with placing them in the shade for a few hours and bringing them in, and then a full day in the shade, and then add a couple hours of sunlight, and so on until they are strong enough to handle the elements (this whole process can take up to a week).
Once they are planted in the garden, water them well to get them established, they will need more water at this time, once their roots develop and settle in, they will need less water.
It is also good to note that planting when it's still cooler at nights can result in the leaves turning a purplish color, this is not a problem, when it’s cold the plant cannot take in phosphorus and it results in the discoloration of the leaves.
Once the weather warms up the leaves will turn back to their normal green color. If purchasing starter plants from a garden centre or nursery when planting them, take them out of their container and crack the roots apart before planting them especially if they are root bound in their pots.
This will help the roots grow down into the soil instead of wrapping around itself and choking itself. Water in the new transplants well until established.
For bushier African marigolds, pinch or cut off the first central bloom and it will start branching out laterally. It’s also important to deadhead (pinching off the flower after it blooms) the spent blossoms from the marigold plant to ensure continuous blossoms.
This plant have one purpose, make flowers, produce seed, spread seed, and die. When the flowers are pinched off before they have the opportunity to turn to seed, they will think, oh hey we better keep producing flowers so we can make seed, and viola, more flowers (doesn’t it feel good to outsmart a plant?).
Marigold Care Guide
This are full sun plants, full southern exposures, against buildings that radiate heat, or even in pots on hot balconies are good. They will not tolerate shady areas. Aim for the marigolds to get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.
Tagetes actually refer to poorer soil conditions. Sandy, loose soil is great. But whatever is in the garden is probably fine.
This plant do need water, they are not necessarily drought tolerant. Water daily in extreme heat and drought. Their leaves will droop when they need a drink, don’t let them get crispy, that’s the point of no return.
Luckily, they won’t die immediately without water, this plant will handle short periods without water better than other annuals. If they are in containers, they may need watered daily depending on the pot size (the smaller the pot, the more frequent the watering).
Nope, marigolds do not like fertilizer. It makes them a great low maintenance flower. However, if they are in a mixed container with other flowers that like being fed, using an all purpose 20-20-20 fertilizer on them won’t hurt.
How to Harvest Marigold
While this plant aren’t often thought of as harvestable flowers, all parts of them are edible (also see our article on edible flowers) and can be added to cakes and salads (mostly for decorations, I doubt a big bowl of marigolds would be palatable).
The flowers can be plucked and dried and added to dishes as an herb. Harvesting seeds for the following year’s crop is simple: wait until the bloom turns from flower to seed and then pluck it and store it in a dry dark place until the following year.
Or at the end of the season, quit deadheading and allow the marigolds to set seed and make more in the garden for the next year.
Tagetes Companion Planting
Oh now on to the fun part. Marigolds look great planted in masses for a bright pop of colour in the garden bed, try mixing varieties for some extra pops of colors and patterns.
French marigolds are shorter, and make great border plants, try planting a border of them in the front of a sunny garden bed.
African marigolds are taller and groups of 3 or 5 (odd is always better) planted along a sweeping bed will add a perfect pop of colour to a garden.
Gardeners have long sworn by planting Tagetes in amongst the vegetables, their strong, pungent aroma (love it or hate it) wards of certain pests, and even snakes, from vegetables.
The effectiveness of this is widely debated, but at the end of the day, adding pops of beautiful yellow, orange, or red flowers into a veggie garden adds beauty, and beneficial pollinators at the very least.
So, it definitely can’t hurt to add them. In pots, Tagetes do well on their own, perhaps a terracotta pot filled with Disco Marietta marigolds on a sunny balcony.
They also do well in pots with other mixed annuals, think bright yellow African marigolds with purple wave petunias spilling out the sides with a sharp dracaena spike in the centre as the focal point.
With any container plantings with marigolds, make sure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom so they don’t get soggy.
Common Tagetes Pests and Diseases
The great thing about this plant is that they actually are fairly pest and disease free, however, like anything that is living, there is always a chance they can get infested or infected.
Common pests that can occur on Marigolds are aphids (See our guide on how to identy and control aphids), spider mites, slugs/snails, and caterpillars. The best course of action for any of these pests is prevention.
Keep the marigolds in their optimal growing conditions (full sun, drying out between watering, loose soil) to keep them healthy enough to fight off any pests trying to disturb them.
Of course hindsight is 20/20, once the marigolds are already infested, there are a few things that can be done. When it comes to aphids and spider mites, try giving them a good hard spray with the hose to knock them off.
If this doesn’t work, spray with an insecticidal soap, this will have to be done weekly to break the cycle (aphids are born pregnant, yikes!). Of course, if the aphids or spider mites aren’t killing the plants, just leaving is fine, marigolds only live for a season.
Or, just pulling them out and composting them is a good solution depending on how many marigolds and how many aphids or spider mites there are (a mass planting, I would try and save a few pops of them here and there I would cut my losses and pull).
Slugs and snails are usually a sign that the marigolds are not in their ideal location. They are probably too wet and shady. Slug baits work great, scattered in the garden.
Going out early in the morning or in the evening and hand picking them off is another option (a terrible option, but it works). Or, some gardeners have success with placing small dishes of beer out to attract the slugs and then throwing them out once a day.
As for diseases, the most common problem this plant will face is powdery mildew. Avoiding overhead watering is a great way to stop this, using soaker hoses to only wet the earth and not the leaves.
Also, making sure that the marigolds are grown in a sunny location will help with all kinds of rot, mildews, and blights. If marigolds do have powdery mildew, spray them with a fungicide to clear it.
Marigold Tagetes FAQs
What does a marigold need to survive?
Marigolds require full sun, and adequate watering to survive. They do well in warm areas of the garden where perhaps there is a wall or building absorbing and reflecting heat and light. They prefer to grow in poorer soil.
How many hours of sunlight do marigolds require?
at least 6 hours direct sunlight a day, but more is better, less is no good.
How do I keep my marigolds blooming?
Deadheading (removing the blossom before it goes to seed) is key, the more you pick the flowers off, the more flowers the marigold plant will produce.
Don’t be shy when doing this, even ones that are looking like they are starting to fade can be plucked off. Doing this once a week will boost the amount of blooms the plant will produce and keep them blooming from early spring until late into the fall.
How tall do marigolds get?
A: They can range anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet tall. If taller flowers are what you’re aiming for, choose African Marigolds (Tagetes Erecta). For shorter blooms, choose French Marigolds (Tagetes Patula).
Do Marigolds need watered every day?
When they are first planted, they will need quite a bit more water than once they are established. Newly planted marigolds should be watered, or at least checked every day.
Established marigolds will need less water, it’s hard to determine how much or how often they will need watered, it really depends on the weather (how much rain, how hot and dry it is).
Marigolds in containers often need watered every day, again this will depend on the weather, and pot size (smaller pots need watered more often). If the leaves of the marigold plant are drooping it is a good sign that they need watered.
Wrapping Up Our Marigold Growing Guide
Marigolds are a classic garden annual that have remained a classic in gardeners’ hearts for a reason, they have beautiful fire-colored blooms, they bloom all season long, and they rarely have any problems.
Marigolds are a flower that every gardener should put on their must have list.