How to Grow Marigolds in Your Garden

With sunny, frilled blooms in a range of warm, inviting colors, marigolds are wonderful and easy-to-grow garden plants. They are grown for their flowers, as well as their pest repelling capabilities in vegetable gardens. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need how to grow marigolds, whether you’re planting, growing, or trimming them for use as cut flowers.

Ultimate Guide to Growing Marigolds for Beginners

Suitable USDA Growing Zones and Native Range

Marigolds are grown as annuals, suitable for growing in USDA Zones 2-11. Those in warmer regions can grow them as short-lived perennials, but they perform much better when flowering once per season, later pulled from the garden. For continuous blooms, it’s best to save the seeds at the end of the season to plant the following year again.

Although common names like African and French Marigold may sound like native areas, these names refer to places where the plants have naturalized or become popular throughout history. Marigolds are native to continents in the western hemisphere, from North America through central regions and down to South America.

Growing Marigolds from Seed vs. Nursery Plants

A person carries a basket filled with young marigold plants ready to be transplanted into the ground

For those on a budget, growing Marigolds from seed is easy and yields vigorous plants relatively quickly. This mostly applies to French and Signet Marigolds, as African Marigolds can be planted from seed but take slightly longer to mature.

To make the most of your blooms over one season, start seeds indoors around six weeks before the last frost date to have them ready for planting as soon as the soil warms.

You can also grow any Marigold species from nursery seedlings or full plants, depending on the time of the season. This is great for quick establishment and ideal for those planting later in spring that still want maximum blooms.

Marigolds are popular garden plants available in most nurseries and online. If you cannot find your preferred type in your region, look for seed packets from online marketplaces to ensure you get precisely what you want.

Planting Marigolds

A person planting young marigold plants in the soil in a garden

Can Marigolds Grow in Pots?

Marigolds are lovely container plants, filling space with lush leaves and topping them all off with fiery blooms. Growing in pots also allows you to move the plant around as needed, which is ideal for those without full sun positions in a small garden.

When growing in containers, look for compact varieties that won’t grow too tall or wide. These are often labeled container species, making spotting them incredibly easy. If you want to grow one of the taller species, ensure the pot size can accommodate the plant’s mature height.

When to Plant

Marigolds are usually planted in early or mid-spring after the last frost. Wait until the soil warms to avoid cold damage to new and vulnerable growth. Planting from nursery seedlings at this stage will yield mature plants quicker, but growing from seed is also easy for these quick-growing plants.

If you live in a cooler region where the soil only warms up toward the end of spring, or if you’re growing African Marigolds, it’s best to sow seeds indoors to be ready for planting later in the season. Plant 4-6 weeks before the last frost date in your region and keep the seeds in a warm environment to promote germination.

Once all signs of cold have disappeared, transplant the seedlings out as you would any other nursery plants.

Light Considerations

Blooming orange marigolds against a bright blue sky on a sunny day

Marigolds must be planted in a full sun position for the best performance. This equates to a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, but closer to 8 hours or more will deliver the best blooms possible.

For prolific flowering in Marigolds, full sun is essential. They will flower very little in partial shade, only tolerating these conditions in the early stages of growth while still becoming established. 

If you can’t find the perfect spot, plant in containers instead and move them around once daily to make the most of the lighting conditions.

Soil Considerations

If there is one thing Marigolds are not fussy about, it’s soil type. These plants can grow almost anywhere and perform well, regardless of soil conditions. The only exception to this is heavy clay soils that hold onto too much water, causing the roots to rot.

To give your plants the best start possible, loamy, fertile soil is ideal. Also, aim for a pH between 6.2 and 7 for the most vigorous growth. However, your Marigolds should still thrive if your soil is outside these parameters.

Staking and Support Requirements

Marigolds generally don’t require support and can hold themselves up well. However, taller varieties around 2 feet or higher may benefit from staking to protect the stalks from high winds and heavy rain.

If you’re growing a taller variety – particularly the Triploid Marigolds – install the stake at the time of or soon after planting to avoid disturbing the roots later on. Plant the stake at the proper depth so the top is the same height as the projected height of the plant. This will hide the stake once the plant is full-size, appearing to stand on its own.

Suitable Companion Plants

Vine tomatoes growing in a garden

Marigolds are great companions in the vegetable garden, suitable for planting a number of popular crops:

  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Melons

Their warm colors are also great pairings for bright ornamental plants. Or, choose a complementary color like purple to intensify the hues of both plants.

Caring for Marigolds

A person watering marigold flowers in a garden with an orange watering can

Watering

Marigolds are not particularly thirsty plants, happy to be watered around once per week along with the rest of the established garden. 

Soon after planting, keep the soil consistently moist to encourage new root growth in the early stages, slowing watering after a couple of weeks. Apply extra moisture during hot days in summer to avoid wilting and keep the flowers blooming as long as possible.

Fertilizing

Marigolds will flower their best when planted in fertile soil. When planting, amend the soil with a generous amount of compost and mix in well. If your soil lacks nutrients, you can also apply a fertilizer designed for blooming plants, such as an NPK 5-10-5. You can apply another light round of fertilizer just before blooming, but these annuals are unlikely to need it.

Pruning and Deadheading

An array of bright orange marigold flowers in bloom

Marigolds don’t need pruning to grow successfully. However, they will grow better with some light maintenance throughout the season.

Before flowering, when the plants are around 5 inches tall, pinch the tops of the stems to encourage branching and improve growth. In the middle of summer, if growth appears leggy, trim the entire plant back slightly to reinvigorate flowering. As these plants are annuals, there is no need to cut them at the end of the season – you can pull them out of the ground and throw them on the compost pile.

Deadheading is another vital task to consider throughout the season. As soon as the flowers fade, trim them off the plant and discard them. This will encourage more buds and will improve overall growth by retaining energy.

Diseases and Pests

While appreciated for repelling some pests, Marigolds are still susceptible to a few other problems you should look for, such as aphids and caterpillars. When you notice these issues, remove the visible bugs and apply targeted natural insecticide. Also, check regularly for powdery mildew, blight, and leaf spot that can affect Marigolds.

Propagating

Young recently propagated marigold plants in the soil

Although Marigolds need to be pulled from the garden at the end of the season, it doesn’t mean you can’t replant them the following year again. Toward the end of the flowering season, leave some of the blooms on the plant to go to seed. Once they have dried out, remove them from the plant and store them in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to plant again next season.

End of Season Care

As Marigolds are annuals, they can be trimmed at the end of the season and pulled out of the garden completely. Wait until the first frost kills all the foliage before removing them from your garden. Throw them on the compost heap if they are free of diseases and pests. Otherwise, cut back and discard them to avoid spreading problems through compost to your other plants. 

If you want to grow Marigolds again the following year, save the seeds from your existing flowers at the end of the season or purchase new starter plants in spring. 

Growing Marigolds As Cut Flowers

A person cutting a single marigold flower at the stalk

The warm blooms of Marigolds look lovely in a vase and can even be dried to enjoy for longer than their short vase life. They are easy to harvest, and trimming frequently will encourage more blooms to develop.

Using a sharp pair of pruning shears, remove the flower stalks early in the morning to extend their life. Choose flowers with petals that have just opened. Closed buds will not open once trimmed, and older blooms will only last a day or two in a vase.

After cutting, remove all the leaves from the stalks before bringing them indoors. They carry a strong smell that will quickly fill a room if not dealt with outside. Place them in a bucket of warm water while trimming until you are ready to display.

Once in the vase, keep them in a cool and dry spot away from direct sunlight. This will preserve their vase life, as well as the color of the flowers. Change the water every 2-3 days and trim the stems slightly to improve water uptake.

Marigold Basics

A collection of colorful marigold plants in a full bloom

What Are Marigolds?

Marigolds are scientifically known as Tagetes, a group of plants in the Aster family, Asteraceae. Asteraceae is the second largest plant family, meaning Marigolds are closely related to several other popular ornamental plants like Sunflowers.

The common name Marigold can be confusing as it is also attributed to other plants, particularly Calendulas known as Pot Marigolds. However, members of the Tagetes genus are known as true Marigolds, containing many exciting species with fiery blooms.

Marigold Benefits

One of the main reasons people choose to grow these plants is that marigolds have many benefits. These plants are easy to grow, but they are prized in vegetable gardens for their ability to repel certain pests – particularly whiteflies and nematodes. They can also act as trap crops for other pests, drawing them away from the plants you want them to avoid.

Many pollinators, particularly butterflies, love Marigold flowers. The flowers can also be used as a natural food coloring or fabric dye, limiting the chemicals leaching into your immediate environment.

The versatile blooms can even be used in the kitchen. Most Marigold flowers are edible and add a touch of color to any dish, whether it be salads or a sandwich. They are believed to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties and are also great for eye health.

Toxicity and Edibility

Marigold flowers are edible in small quantities and have a slightly spicy citrus flavor to them. Look out for T. tenuifolia and T. lucida for the best-tasting blooms. The leaves are also edible but should be harvested early before they become unpalatable.

Although they don’t impact humans when consumed in small amounts, Marigolds are usually considered slightly toxic to pets. Symptoms of ingestion are mild – mainly irritation around the mouth – and aren’t life-threatening.

Types of Marigolds

A close shot of bright orange marigold flowers in bloom

There are many Marigold species to choose from, sporting different flower types and colors. These few are the most common types of marigolds in home gardens:

  • French Marigold: Tagetes patula
  • African Marigold: Tagetes erecta, also known as Aztec or American Marigold
  • Signet Marigold: Tagetes tenuifolia
  • Triploid Marigold: Tagetes patula x erecta, a hybrid cross between French and African types.

Each marigold colors come in a range of hues, focusing on warm and bright tones:

  • Orange
  • Bright Yellow
  • Creamy Yellow
  • Orange-Red
  • Deep Red
  • Red-Yellow Bicolor
  • Orange-Red Bicolor

The Marigold Flowering Season

Marigolds have a long flowering season, mostly spanning across the summer months. Some start flowering in late spring, and others can extend to fall, but almost all species will bloom throughout summer.

As they prefer warm temperatures, Marigolds usually stop blooming when the first frost occurs in fall or just before. Planting time will affect how soon they produce flowers and the climate in your region. But the biggest decider of the length and time of the season is the chosen species and cultivar of Marigold in your garden.

Regular deadheading and fertilizing will improve growth throughout the season, ensuring you get as many blooms from your plants as possible.

How Big Do Marigolds Grow?

Bright orange yellow marigold flowers in bloom

Marigolds vary in size by species and cultivar but are generally compact plants ranging between 6 and 24 inches tall. Dwarf or container Marigolds are bred to remain short, making them perfect for planting in containers. Others are better suited to low beds, growing just over two feet tall with a similar spread.

Growing Marigold FAQs:

Do Marigolds come back every year?

Marigolds are usually considered annuals and don’t come back every year. They can be grown as short-lived perennials in warm climates but flower best when replanted yearly.

What month do you plant Marigolds?

Marigolds should be planted in spring after the last frost of the year. This date will depend on your region – check your local resources for more information.

Where do Marigolds grow best?

Marigolds grow best in full sun positions with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. They can grow in almost any soil condition (except heavy clay) but prefer fertile, loamy soil that drains well.

Do Marigolds bloom the first year you plant them?

Marigolds usually bloom within two months of planting, depending on the species and cultivar. If you want them to bloom as early as possible, purchase established nursery plants or start seeds indoors six weeks before the last frost date in your area.

Can you leave Marigolds in the ground over winter?

As Marigolds grow best as annuals, they shouldn’t be left in the ground over winter as they won’t survive or grow the following season again. It’s best to pull the plants from the garden in the fall after the first frost kills off the foliage.

Do Marigolds do well in pots?

Marigolds are excellent container plants. Look for compact varieties for the best container growth, or use a large pot to accommodate the plant’s mature size.

Do Marigolds like sun or shade?

Marigolds prefer positions with full sun. Aim for around 8 hours a day, but a minimum of 6 hours is suitable if that’s not possible.

The Final Word

Growing marigolds can be incredibly rewarding. These beautiful ornamentals provide a kaleidoscope of color and intrigue to any garden. Moreover, they are rich in meaning and symbolism and make excellent cut flowers for gifting or the home.

Further reading: Discover the meaning and symbolism of margold flowers.

Contributing Editor | madison@petalrepublic.com | Full Bio

Madison is a writer and editor with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science. She writes and photographs for various online and print publications in the gardening sphere and is the author of the book The Next-Generation Gardener.

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