Plant Portrait: Marigold

I have to admit: I didn’t like marigold (Tagetes) until i started growing them myself. I always thought they were boring and dull. I was so wrong! The truth is there is a broad range of marigold varietys available. They come from Mexico and are used there to decorate tombs for the famous “Day of the Dead”. A special variety, Tagetes lucida, is even considered to have psychotropic effects. But I wouldn’t count on it… another variety, Tagetes tenuifolia, is cultivated not only for it’s beautiful looks but also for use in teas and perfume (mainly in Asia). Tagetes minuta is the most potent variety for seasoning, but has only tiny flowers and grows tall and spindly.


Marigold and lizard. Marigold died later, guess the pot was just too small. Lizard is doing well.

When we go to garden centers, what we see are usually cultivars of Tagetes erecta (African marigold) with huge flower “balls” or T. patula (French marigold) with smaller, often bicolored flowers. They grow about 10-100 cm tall and from very pale yellow to deep red-brown almost any blossom color is possible. Besides for gardening , they are cultivated in China, India, Thailand and South America, mostly for the perfume industry or festive and religious purposes, but also for the pharmaceutical industry. Marigolds contain lutein which might help prevent macula degeneration (a certain loss of sight affecting elderly people).

Marigolds are often used for companion planting: They repell white flies, nematodes (creepy worms living in the soil) and aphids. They also seem to have a fungicide effect, at least that was proven in labs. Marigolds companion well with plants from the nightshade family that can be particularily prone to pests.


Flowers just picked

When grown in the ground, marigolds can be a slug’s favourite food – so be careful! Start them indoors (or outside in a pot, far off the ground) and plant them outside when they are strong and big enough. I’d recommend you to plant them on a cloudy day when no rain is forecast and the soil is dry, that will keep the slugs away for some time. When the plants are well established, the can’t be eaten up easily. Marigolds like full sun and a well draining soil, but will grow in other conditions as well. Just try it! They don’t need to be fertilized. Blooming starts in May or June and continues until the last frost. Marigolds are annuals, but you can easily pick seeds: Just let the flowers and seed pods dry completely, then pick and store airtight and cool (a jar in the basement will work just fine). My dad and I have been doing this for years now. I think the last time we bought marigold seeds was in the 1990’s. The colors of the flowers may vary every year.

In containers, marigolds also grow very well. They don’t need a lot of space to become huge, so be careful that they don’t outgrow other plants. They will do well on sunny and part-shade balconys. They can also take some wind. Just be careful not to let them dry out too often, they can take some drought but not regular. Although they may bounce back.

Branch that was ripped off during a storm

As an edible flower, marigolds offer a nice color for salads: Cut off the petals and add them to a fresh salad. The petals can also be used to color oil and vinegar. I personally like to dry them and add them to tea. They give a herbal tea a nice yellow-orangish hue and add a tangy but floral taste. Marigolds kinda taste like they smell, just not so strong. I prepare the petals for drying:

Collect some nice flowers

Cut off the petals

Be careful that nothing "green" is in the petals. And no bugs of course

You'll end up with something like this

Spread evenly on a paper and lay out to dry (bright, but no direct sun)

About a week later, they'll be dry

Well, not the best picture ever taken of my hand, but anyway: put the dried petals in a jar. You're done!

You can also use the leaves, they are supposed to go well with meat. I’ve never tried it myself, but in case you did, let me know how it tastes!

If you want to know how to save marigold seeds, MrBrownThumb has got a great post about it!

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2 Responses

  1. Marigolds remind me of my childhood. They are kinda like carnations in that they are pretty ubiquitous and rather common. But they sure are useful in the kitchen garden as they keep nematodes in check. I can’t imagine my garden without them!

    • You are right! I have the feeling that they are common, but because of that sometimes overlooked 😉

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