Marigolds: Growing and Proper Care

Marigold Basics

Marigolds are loved by many home gardeners for their bright, sunny colors, pretty flowers, and the fact that they are incredibly easy to care for. They do well as bedding plants, bordering planters, or lining vegetable gardens.

Marigolds are available in several types, from the taller African marigolds that do well in drought, to the shorter, bushier French marigolds that tolerate moisture and humidity better. There are also hybrids that provide a combination of characteristics, but are sterile. These are still popular for their continual blooming all season long.

Marigolds are available mainly in shades of yellow, gold and orange, and also range in scent from strongly-scented Mexican varieties to small lemon-scented signet marigolds. Once planted, most marigolds will reseed themselves thoroughly the following year, unless they are a sterile hybrid.

Planting Marigolds

There are a few options for marigold planting. They can, of course, be bought as mature plants from nurseries and garden centers, and be planted full-grown. You also can start marigolds from seed.

Whether you start it indoors or outdoors will depend largely on the length of your growing season; in climates with short summers, marigolds should be started indoors six weeks before the last frost date. Alternately, you can sow marigold seeds outdoors after the last frost, allowing a few weeks for germination.

Marigolds should be planted in full sun locations, in well-drained soil. When you plant, follow spacing guidelines for the type of marigold you have. Smaller plants can be placed 6 to 9 inches apart, while the larger ones should be up to 18 inches apart.

Care for Marigolds

Marigolds don’t require much regular care throughout the growing season. Water marigolds only when the soil is dry or in droughts. They prefer too-dry conditions to too-wet soil. However, you can’t rely on obvious wilt signs to tell when marigolds need watering, as their stalks and leaves are so hardy.

Instead, use the rule of thumb that you should water them when the soil is dry to the touch. Water until the soil is moist, but not soggy. To maintain blooming and appearance, and prevent disease, pinch off flower heads that have wilted or faded throughout the summer.

You don’t need to fertilize, except for once at planting time in the spring, and then only if you are working with poor soil. Use a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer, either liquid or granular.

The only other care tip to keep in mind is that if you have the taller African marigolds, they may need to be staked in mid or late summer as they get tall and leggy, to keep them from breaking, drooping or falling over.

Marigold Pests & Diseases

Marigolds are free from most insect pests, as they have a bitter scent and taste, so they are often used as a sort of natural bug repellent surrounding prized fruits or vegetables. One insect that doesn’t mind the taste of marigolds, however, is the grasshopper, which can damage marigolds pretty severely if they invade.

Under the right conditions, such as high heat and low humidity, spider mites also can do some damage to marigolds. Prevent them by keeping an eye out for any eggs or larvae, and washing them off of the plants immediately with a mild soap mixture.

As far as disease, marigolds sometimes can suffer from aster yellows, a virus which can be spotted when the leaves begin to yellow and soften. This will lead to stunting and death, and the disease is almost impossible to combat, so infected plants should be pulled and disposed of by burning or another destructive method that won’t spread the disease.

Want to learn more about growing marigolds?

Check out these Web sites chosen by us for more information on the subject:

The Iowa State University Extension has plenty of great marigold information.

The University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s horticulture extension explains history and care of marigolds.

Colorado State University’s Plant Talk Column discusses marigolds.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cajisha September 17, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Thank you for this helpful information. I’m conducting a project about this so this is going in my bibliography. Thank you!!

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