Marigolds are easy-to-care-for annuals, that offer a host of uses and benefits, symbolic value, and produce colorful blooms without much effort from their owners. But, that doesn’t mean you should ignore upkeep altogether. Cutting back by pruning or deadheading is a regular spring and summer activity that applies to your Marigolds too. Follow this guide for everything you need to know about when and how to cut back marigolds each year.
When Do You Cut Back Marigolds? – Essential Tips
Marigolds should be trimmed regularly throughout the season to promote flowering and robust growth. Pinching in the early stages will encourage branching, resulting in denser growth and more flowers. In mid-season, pruning and deadheading will keep the plant healthy, directing energy towards flowering. At the end of the season, they can be cut back or pulled completely, ready to replant the following spring.
Is Pruning and Deadheading Marigolds Necessary?
As is the case with most plants, pruning or deadheading is not a do-or-die task. Plants have evolved to grow without gardeners’ intervention over hundreds and thousands of years, utilizing other natural elements like climate and wildlife to survive and thrive.
But that doesn’t mean you should ignore cutting back altogether. For certain plants, it can greatly improve growth and keep your plants looking their best. This is undoubtedly the case for Marigolds. They will branch better and produce more flowers if trimmed at the right time.
Cutting also contributes to the overall garden appearance. This may not be a major concern if you have a wild and rambling cottage garden. But, for those who want to keep their plants in check and within their pre-planned design, cutting is a vital skill.
Most types of marigolds can be pruned or deadheaded at different times for different reasons. Make sure you understand your goal before getting started to ensure you trim at the right time and with the correct technique.
Marigolds can produce sap when cut or handled. This sap can cause skin irritation if it comes into contact with exposed skin, so always wear gloves when handling marigolds.
When to Prune a Marigold
There are three times during the marigold growing season that you can consider pruning – before flowering, during the hottest part of summer, and in fall when temperatures drop.
Marigolds thrive in bright sunlight and can begin flowering as soon as five weeks from planting. In between that time, when the foliage starts to grow rapidly but before buds form, pruning can improve branching, resulting in denser foliage and more flowers.
This process is known as pinching and should be done when the plants are around 5 inches tall. Depending on the type and cultivar, this will be around spring or early summer (for more see our guide to marigold growth expectations).
Now’s also the best time to consider fertilizing your marigolds if needed.
After flowering for long periods and withstanding the hot summer sun, Marigold growth can become sparse and leggy. They begin to lose the dense and lush growth of the early season, flowering less often and appearing diminished.
This is the perfect time for a mid-season prune. Cutting the plant back slightly at this time will improve growth, reinvigorate flowering, and help the plant better handle the heat of summer to finish out the season.
If your Marigolds are still flowering well and the growth is healthy, this midsummer prune is not always needed. However, if temperatures increase for long periods and the plants appear to struggle, this can aid in their revival.
Marigolds are grown as annuals in USDA Zones 2-11. Once they finish flowering in fall, the foliage will stick around until temperatures drop below freezing. As they are not frost-hardy, the foliage will die back to the ground at this time.
Some choose to leave their Marigolds in the ground as long as possible to make the most of their pest repelling capabilities. If this is the case, it’s best to cut them back as soon as the first frost sets in. Dying foliage hanging around the base can attract pests and diseases, so cutting them back stops you from having to tidy them up after they die back naturally.
Again, this cut back is not always a necessity. Once they finish flowering, you can also pull the entire plant out of the ground completely before the frost has a chance to kill it. Be sure to save seeds during the season to plant the following spring again.
When to Deadhead a Marigold
Deadheading – the process of removing spend flower heads – can improve growth and flowering in many ornamental plants, including Marigolds. When done correctly, deadheading will encourage more blooms on the same stem that yield more flowers per season overall.
This maintenance task should be completed throughout the growing season. As soon as the flowers begin to wilt and die back, they can be cut off to encourage more blooms. The exact time will vary by type and cultivar but is done chiefly throughout summer when Marigolds flower most.
How to Trim and Prune a Marigold Plant
Pinching young plants encourages lateral branching at the site of the cut. This makes the plant fuller overall and produces more branches that can ultimately produce flowers, leading to a higher yield.
It’s called pinching after the action, often done with your fingers, but you can also use a sharp pair of scissors or shears. Remove the tip of the shoots right above a set of leaves by pinching it with your nail between your fingers or trimming with scissors.
Make sure you cut in the right place, as new branches will only grow from a point right above a set of leaves. Only remove the very end of the shoot and no more to prevent shock and stunted growth.
Once the growth is strong again, you can pinch the tips one more time to promote further branching. However, it’s important not to do this too many times as it can negatively impact growth. Stick to one or two times at most, and your Marigolds should display healthy and robust growth in the first weeks of the season.
To improve growth in the middle of the season, arm yourself with a sharp pair of shears and head out into the garden. Trimming leggy or underperforming growth can direct the plant’s energy toward producing new and healthy growth, improving leaf density and flowering.
Remove the damaged or tired growth, cutting the plant back by around one quarter and no more than one-third. Make sure to cut back evenly to maintain the right shape and prevent unbalanced growth.
Once trimmed, the plant produces a hormone at the site of the wound that triggers it to create new growth. Again, it’s important to cut right above a set of leaves so that this new growth can take place. If pruned correctly, the plant should come back stronger with more branches and flowers for the latter half of the blooming season.
At the same time and regularly throughout the growing season, be sure to cut away any damaged or diseased branches. This growth can attract pests that spread to the rest of the plant, causing havoc. After trimming, destroy any diseased parts to stop them from spreading to the rest of the garden and never throw them on the compost heap.
Marigolds either need to be cut back or pulled from the garden entirely at the end of the season. You can keep them in the ground to make use of their pungent and pest deterring foliage and nematode repelling roots, trimming them back to prevent pest and disease development until they are pulled completely.
Some Marigold types can also be grown as perennials but need to be cut back to stop the foliage from facing frost damage.
Simply cut the stems back to ground level and throw all healthy growth on your compost heap. Don’t leave them around the soil as debris can attract pests and diseases.
Alternatively, you can pull the plants from the ground – roots and all – just before the first frost date in your region.
Once the flowers have begun to wilt and die back, cut the flowering stems off a few inches below the base of the bloom before they start to produce seeds. Leaving them to seed will draw energy away from the plant that could be spent on producing more flowers.
Cutting above a set of leaves will allow the stem to grow back, potentially producing another round of flowers. This is not guaranteed, but keeping your plant in good health will improve your chances.
Before starting any trimming exercise, ensure you start with sharp and disinfected tools. Shears can carry harmful bacteria that spread to your plants, potentially resulting in disease. Blunt tools can also heavily damage the stem after cutting, preventing any regrowth.
Clean the tools with a 5% bleach solution before you get started. Wash your hands at the same time if you plan on using them to pinch off delicate and vulnerable shoots.
When pruning, never remove more than one-third of the plant at one time. This can result in shock, stunting growth rather than encouraging it. Aim for around one quarter to be safe.
Apply the proper pruning technique at the right time to get the most out of these plants. Heavily pruning at the wrong time or damaging vulnerable growth can potentially ruin the entire blooming season—exercise caution rather than taking it too far, leaving the plant unable to recover.
With some minor maintenance, your Marigolds are bound to bloom to their full potential. Ensure you cut back marigolds at the right time and exercise caution to keep them healthy and happy.
For more, see our in-depth guide to cutting marigolds for vase arrangements and bouquets and everything you need to know about how to grow Marigolds.
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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