They are eternally cheerful annuals which is why they are sometimes overlooked, shunned by gardeners simply because they are easy to grow and so readily available. But there’s more in the marigold family than the ubiquitous tall orange orbs. With warm autumn colours ranging from light yellow and gold through to flaming oranges and red-oranges to deep russets and reddish browns, in all forms from tall cutting types to dainty gems for rockeries, marigolds offer brilliant blooms from mid-summer until cold winter.
Nowadays, when people think of marigolds, it’s not calendulas, but varieties of Tagetes that come to mind. And in spring, these are what most of you choose for your gardens, probably because they thrive well. Here are some species of marigold.
Signet marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia) are dainty little plants. Their feathery leaves produce a delightful citrus scent when touched. The single, dime-size flowers range from yellow and gold to deep orange. Their compact growth (six to 12 inches/15 to 30 centimetres), makes them ideal for rockeries or containers.
French marigolds (T patula) are early flowering with a bushy habitat and range in height from eight to 14 inches (20 to 35 centimetres). Cultivars come in yellow, gold, orange and mahogany-red as well as bi-colours. Flower size depends on the variety, but they’re usually an inch or two across and can be single, double or crested, with the outer leaves ruffled. French marigolds are virtually indestructible.
African marigolds (T erecta), sometimes called Aztec or American, have large, coarse leaves and grow 15 to 36 inches (45 to 90 centimetres) tall, producing huge three to five inches (eight to 12 centimetre) double blooms. Colours range from yellow and gold to dark, vibrant orange and are generally later blooming than French marigolds. The tall Gold Coin series are ideal for massing at the back of the garden bed and also make good cut flowers. Some of the smaller hybrids, such as Incas and Jubilees, have the same large blooms on shorter plants, making them ideal for the middle of a border.
Planting from seed
Planting a flat of marigolds from the garden centre is easy, but growing them from seed is almost as simple. As long as they have the warmth (20 degree Celsius) to germinate, most marigolds are pretty much guaranteed. It’s possible to sow marigold seed directly in the garden, although plants won’t bloom until late summer. Wait until after the the final cold and choose a sunny location. Cover the seeds with a thin dusting of soil and keep the bed moist.
For earlier blooming flowers, start seeds indoors about six weeks before the cold season. Marigolds can be transplanted into the garden when they’re quite young, so you may want to start them in pots rather than flats. Press the seeds down into the soil, then lightly dust with soil to barely cover and put them in a warm, bright location. Cover with plastic to keep the seedbed moist (remember to remove as soon as seeds germinate) or mist the soil surface twice a day until seeds germinate, usually five to 10 days. Once the plants are up and running, keep the soil moist but not waterlogged; thin the seedlings to encourage the plants to fill out.
Transplant marigolds when the soil is warm. Marigold seedlings don’t mind being moved when they’re only two or three inches (five to seven centimetres) tall with only four to six leaves. Choose a sunny spot and plant them in well-drained, average garden soil with plenty of organic matter. But don’t over fertilise.