Marigolds are cheerful, brilliantly coloured annuals that are long-standing favourite summer flowers for borders and pots. Colours are mainly yellow and orange with some reds and creamy white. All marigolds are excellent for attracting pollinating insects. The largest group of marigolds are named Tagetes and are half-hardy annuals, meaning they are tender and won’t tolerate frost. They flower for months through summer and into autumn and vary from plain single colours to a range of contrasting markings of red, brown, yellow, or orange. All have finely divided foliage which is strongly aromatic.
The other popular flower also known as marigold (or pot marigold) is Calendula.
How to grow marigolds
Grow Tagetes marigolds from seed, or buy them as seedlings (plug plants) to grow on, or as garden-ready plants. Plant them in beds or pots after all risk of frost has passed, in good soil in a sunny spot. Water during dry spells, remove dead heads to extend flowering, and feed if grown in pots.
Growing marigolds: jump links
- Planting marigolds
- Caring for marigolds
- Propagating marigolds
- Growing marigolds: pests and problem-solving
- Marigold varieties to grow
Where to grow marigolds
Marigolds need full sun and a reasonably fertile, well-drained soil. Smaller marigolds make good edging plants for borders and do well in pots, while taller or larger-flowered marigolds can be grown in large pots or in borders. Marigolds do best in a sheltered site, particularly the large-flowered African marigolds, as the big blooms can be easily damaged by wind.
Tagetes marigolds can be used as what is referred to as ‘companion plants’, because their leaves are strongly aromatic and this scent deters some pests. A popular companion planting technique is to plant tagetes marigolds around tomato and cucumber plants to deter whitefly, particularly in a greenhouse.
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How to plant marigolds
Tagetes marigolds flower within a few weeks of sowing and can either be sown indoors in early spring to flower from early summer or sown outside in late spring, for later blooms. For early sowings indoors, sow seed in a warm place, transplant the seedlings into small pots or modular trays, and grow on in a warm, well-lit place. Plant outside once the frosts have passed, first hardening off (acclimatising plants to the outside) over a couple of weeks.
Alternatively, sow outside in late spring directly where plants are to flower. Sow the seed thinly into moist well-prepared soil and thin the seedlings to 10-20 cm apart, depending on variety size.
In borders, improve poor soil with well-rotted compost or soil conditioner. Use peat-free multi-purpose potting compost for pots. Water in well after planting.
How to care for marigolds
As long as marigolds are planted in reasonably fertile soil, little care is needed apart from an occasional thorough watering during dry spells. Removing the dead heads encourages more flowers to be produced, while pinching out shoots of tall varieties can encourage bushy growth.
Water pot-grown marigolds regularly and apply a liquid fertiliser every 7-14 days from midsummer onwards.
How to propagate marigolds
Tagetes marigolds are tender and will die during the first frosts of autumn. Try saving seed from them beforehand and use it to propagate new plants the following spring.
Growing marigolds: problem solving
African marigolds (Tagetes erecta) have large heads of double flowers which can rot in wet summers. In areas prone to damp weather, grow other varieties of marigold with smaller flowers.
Marigolds need free-draining soil and, if the ground is heavy and poorly drained, they may develop grey mould or root rots.
Marigold varieties to grow
French marigolds, Tagetes patula
These bear double flowers to 5cm across, on short plants to 30cm high. ‘Durango’ series bears extra-large blooms in a range of yellow, orange and red shades. ‘Naughty Marietta’ has single yellow blooms prettily blotched with maroon. 'Crackerjack' has tall double blooms in shades of orange and yellow.
Height x Spread: 30cm x 15cm
African marigolds, Tagetes erecta
These are taller than French marigolds and more substantial, with large double blooms up to 10cm across. Varieties include ‘Vanilla’, which has frilly, fully double, creamy yellow flowers. ‘Marvel Mixed’ is short, with big pompon-like blooms. 'Dune Mixed' is a mix of yellow, gold and orange pompons.
H x S: 45cm x 20cm
Afro-French marigolds, x Tagetes
These bear smaller blooms, 3-5cm across. ‘Zenith Mixed’ is a robust grower that stands up well to wet weather, with brilliant yellow or orange flowers.
H x S: 40cm x 20cm
Signet marigolds, Tagetes tenuifolia
Signet marigolds bear masses of small single blooms, growing up to 45cm high. Varieties include ‘Lemon Gem’, with pale yellow flowers and ‘Golden Gem’ is a rich golden yellow.
H x S: 45cm x 20cm