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Remove any image you have in your mind of boring, gaudy flowers in simple yellows and reds. Marigolds are beautiful flowers – if you know the right varieties to grow. And if their beauty isn’t enough to win you over, their potential in a diversified garden surely will.
There’s hardly an easier annual flower to grow than marigolds. Intercrop marigolds with vegetables or plant them in a border row all their own – as long as marigolds receive partial to full sun they will grow in even the poorest soils. A versatile plant, marigolds thrive in containers or in the garden.
Intercropping marigolds with edible and ornamental plants benefits the health of the whole garden. Read on to learn more about marigolds and how these easy-to-grow annual flowers can benefit your vegetable garden.
Marigolds are a miracle plant
Many of us are drawn to marigolds for their bold and vibrant blooms, but marigolds are so much more than beautiful flowers. These easy-to-grow annuals are native to North and Central America, and the plants thrive in temperate climates. Marigolds come in three varieties, ranging in size from the miniature signet marigolds to the midsize French marigolds and the giant African marigolds. Flowers on any species range in color from the palest yellow to brazen red-orange.
Did you know that marigold flowers are edible? The colorful petals make an excellent garnish for salads, candies, and drinks. Marigold buds and blooms have a slightly citrusy, slightly peppery taste; to prepare the flowers for cooking, pull the petals away from the flower heads and cut away the white tips to remove any bitter flavor. Some home cooks will use dry, powdered marigold petals as a substitute for saffron, in a pinch.
Not only are marigold flowers edible, but they have benefits for our bodies, too. Marigold flowers can be dried and brewed into a tea to treat digestive issues and respiratory problems. Marigold extract or oil can also be used topically in a cream or a salve to ease joint pain. The naturally-occurring anti-inflammatory properties in marigold flowers may reduce inflammation.
Dry marigold flowers to preserve their beauty–harvest young blooms after they have begun to show color but before the flowers become pollinated. Bundle several stems together and hang the flowers upside down in a dry, dark place. In a week or so, the marigold flowers will have dried, retaining their original color, ready to be used in dried flower arrangements and bouquets!
Marigolds are used to memorialize loved ones in their native Mexico. Fresh and dried marigolds are popular in Dia de Los Muertos celebrations, a traditional Latin American holiday where departed loved ones are commemorated with flowers, food, and fiestas.
Where to plant marigolds in the garden
Since marigolds are such easy, versatile plants, they will thrive nearly anywhere in the garden! Planting marigolds randomly will certainly bring results, but intentionally placing the plants is sure to enhance the overall beauty of the garden while simultaneously minimizing pest damage.
For pest control
Marigolds are most effective at controlling pests when intercropped with other vegetables in the garden. Consider planting rows of marigolds in the same bed as other crops, or plant a line of marigolds in between different vegetables.
Tuck marigold starts into any empty spaces in your garden, and or at the beginning and ends of beds. Reserve some marigold seeds for any vegetable seedlings that may die–since marigolds are so quick to grow from seeds, they are an excellent choice to fill any holes that arise in the garden.
As you well know, empty garden space is wasted space. Suppress weeds and maximize your resources by tucking marigolds into the empty spaces in your garden. Check out this article for more information on using marigolds as a biological pest control agent in the garden.
As border plants and ornamentals
Marigolds are beautiful flowers that fit a variety of garden aesthetics. Do double duty in your landscaped garden by planting marigolds–protect your other ornamentals from pests and draw beneficial insects with the humble marigold.
Plant a marigold border and build a protective “fence” around any plants that are especially susceptible to pest pressure. Leave at least two feet between marigolds and other vegetables, but you can space marigolds about nine inches apart from each other.
As the marigolds grow to fill in the space, they will slow and deter pest travel between in-row crops and dissimilar plants in the garden.
Marigolds are perfect companion plants for most vegetables
Most vegetables benefit from having marigolds as companions in the garden. If you’re not sure if a particular plant will enjoy a marigold companion, try planting marigolds anyway and see how your garden reacts! At the very worst, marigolds might just be a neutral companion to your other vegetables, causing neither harm nor benefit.
Marigolds are known to have a positive impact on cucurbits like cucumbers, melons, and squash, as well as nightshades like peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. Marigolds might also hold benefits for plants like basil and even some brassicas like broccoli and kale.
Planting marigolds with tomatoes
Marigolds are an excellent companion plant for tomatoes. It’s an old-time gardening practice to pair tomatoes with marigolds, as each crop benefits the others’ growth and survival. The strong-smelling marigold flowers actually mask tomatoes’ scent from detrimental pests, including tomato hornworms.
It’s worth noting, however, that marigolds do attract at least one pest that is also drawn to tomatoes. Slugs love marigolds, and any marigolds planted next to the tomato row might provide an opportunity for slugs to find your precious tomato plants.
Bad companions for marigolds
Marigolds benefit most vegetable crops, but since marigolds do attract Japanese beetles and slugs, you might think twice before placing marigolds too close to your bush beans and cabbages.
Some gardeners still advocate for intentionally planting marigolds to attract certain pests. These growers argue that enough marigolds will work as a kind of sacrificial planting – slugs and Japanese beetles are drawn to the marigolds, paying less attention to your more important crops.
How to plant marigolds in the garden
Growing marigolds is so easy – marigolds are the perfect plants for beginning gardeners and children or even the master gardener without a lot of time. These unassuming annuals are low-maintenance plants that are dependable workhorses in the garden. Other than the occasional weeding and watering, marigolds need no extra care.
Planting in pots or containers
Marigold seeds can be started indoors about a month before the last average spring frost date. Start marigold seeds in seedling trays or plant them directly in pots. French and signet types are best for smaller pots, but African varieties are perfect for large containers!
Place marigold containers where the plants will receive at least six hours of direct sunlight. Marigolds prefer full sun but will tolerate some shade, especially midday shade that provides some protection from the scorching afternoon sun.
Marigolds are fairly drought-tolerant, so take care to not overwater your plants. Water marigolds weekly, and water the plants deeply, until water runs out of the bottom of the pots. Let the top few inches of soil dry out before watering again.
Planting in the field
Marigolds are half-hardy annuals that grow nearly anywhere, even in average and poor native soils. Direct sow marigold seeds in the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Sow several seeds close together, about an inch deep, and water the seeds to jumpstart germination.
Expect marigold seeds to sprout within a week, with most varieties blooming in as little as two months! Thin direct-sown marigold seedlings at nine-inch intervals to allow ample space for mature plants to grow. Don’t worry about fertilizing marigolds regularly, the plants don’t like overly fertile soil.
Marigolds will bloom from midsummer right up until the first fall frost with very little maintenance. Deadhead spent blooms to prolong flowering and keep your garden looking nice.
Whether you call yourself a flower farmer or not, it’s worth planting more than a few marigolds into your vegetable garden. Garden space is valuable real estate, so make the most of your rows by incorporating marigolds in holes and as border plants that will deter pests and bring pollinators to the garden.
Give marigolds a change in your garden and you might even find a variety that you fall in love with! Marigolds are beautiful plants, naturally pest-free and particularly well-suited to temperate climates. Plant a few marigolds in your garden and allow yourself to feel a little lighter, knowing that your beautiful flower patch is keeping even the worst garden pests at bay.