By: Justin Butts
Marigolds were the favorite flower of the Aztecs. They used marigolds as food, as medicine, to make oil, and to adorn their bodies. They lined parade routes with thousands of marigolds so Montezuma could be carried to the pyramids on streets paved with fragrant flowers of orange, red, and gold.
Marigolds are native to Central America. The conquistadors introduced marigolds to their international trade routes, and they soon became enormously popular in India. Today, marigolds in the millions are offered at temples to Ganesh across India.
Marigolds are one of the easiest flowers to grow in The Bend. Plant these heat-loving, drought-tolerant annuals in full sun by seed any time after mid-February, and they will grow lush and colorful into November or later. Marigolds are easy to find as transplants at local nurseries and even big box stores.
How to Plant:
Begin with a well-tilled bed (can plant in moderate or even poor soil). Hand broadcast seeds across the bed and gently rake into the soil. Water well for several weeks. Thin seedlings to the correct spacing by variety (see spacing below). Once seedlings reach 4” to 6”, mulch generously between flowers with native leaf mulch to prevent weeds, conserve water, and promote growth in high heat.
In the oppressive heat of August, marigolds may lose their blooms or fail to bloom at all. Providing extra native leaf mulch and more frequent waterings will promote robust blooms.
African Marigolds: (Spacing, 12”; height, 2’ to 3’)
Tall and leggy – long stems make these best for cut flowers. The puffy blooms are large, colorful, and fragrant. Excellent companion for tomatoes, since they compete better for sunlight. Repels many garden pests.
French Marigolds: (Spacing, 10”; height, 12” to 1.5’)
Dense and compact with many blooms. Vibrant colors, very fragrant. French are the only variety proven to repel root-knot nematodes. For severe infestations, plant entire bed densely with French marigolds, then plow plants underneath when at full flower. Not edible (bitter and pungent).
Signet Marigolds: (Spacing, 8”; height, 8” to 12”)
Smaller, paler flowers than French. Edible – in fact, a delicacy. Signet are not as robust as French or African: fewer blooms, a little harder to grow. Will lose blooms sooner in high heat and regain blooms later in fall. Grows best in pots.
Mexican Mint Marigolds: (Spacing, 12”- 15”; height, 2’ – 3’)
Edible, tastes of tarragon, and also called “Texas tarragon.” The tallest, bushiest variety. Repels many garden pests. Excellent for a low hedge at far rows of garden – making an edible pest barrier.