How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Marigold Flowers

Are you thinking of adding some marigolds to your garden this season? These beautiful flowers are a staple in most flower gardens, as well as many vegetable gardens. In this article, gardening expert Natalie Leiker takes you through all the details of growing marigolds, and their care.

Garden Grown Marigolds

Looking to add a colorful border to your garden or raised bed, or just need a pop of color on your patio? Marigolds might be a good option for you. In this article, we’ll talk about how to plant and maintain marigolds in the garden or patio planter this season.

Marigolds became wildly popular in the 1970s and are still to this day a very common annually planted flower amongst home gardeners. Marigolds thrive best in warm weather, and make a great addition to any landscape, patio pot, or vegetable garden. They provide vibrant colors that are generally orange, yellow, and dark red.

These full sun, heat-loving annuals will bloom all season providing vibrant colors and benefits to you and your landscape. Once established, marigolds are a very low maintenance, easy going plant that require minimal upkeep.

Marigold Plant Overview

Marigold Plant Overview
Plant Type Annual
Hardiness Zone USDA Zones 3-11
Plant Spacing 8 – 12”
Soil Type Well-draining loamy soil
Height 8 inches to 1 foot
Watering requirements Low
Plant With (Companion) Vegetables, Herbs, Full sun flowers
Don’t Plant With Shade plants, Moisture loving plants
Family Asteraceae
Genus Tagetes
Species Erecta, Patula
Maintenance Low
Growth Rate Moderate
Exposure Full sun
Pests Aphids, thrips, slugs and snails

About Marigolds

Orange and red flowers in the garden
Marigolds are drought-tolerant plants that attract pollinators and can repel pests in your garden.

Marigolds are a popular blooming plant amongst gardeners and can be a great addition to the garden or back patio. They are very heat and drought tolerant and have many beneficial qualities.

While marigolds add a pop of color to any landscape or garden, this is not the only reason marigolds can be a great addition to the garden. They are widely useful as interplanting crops due to their qualities that attract pollinators, deter pests, and even attract beneficial insects.

Marigolds, while easy on the eyes, also attract bees, butterflies, and other beneficial insects that can help ward off harmful ones. They contain pyrethrum and limonene, chemicals that deter harmful insects such as: tomato hornworms, thrips, whiteflies, and beetles. Therefore planting marigolds near tomatoes or in between other vegetable crops can be very beneficial.

Marigolds: Annual or Perennial?

yellow flower blooming in the garden
Even though they self seed, marigolds are usually treated as annuals.

Marigolds are annuals that grow in zones 3-11, with longer blooming periods in zone 8 or higher. They generally have a life span of one year or less, however, they are notorious for producing bounties of seeds which can lead them to self-sowing and returning the year following the initial planting.

When to Plant

orange flowers blooming
They are best planted after the last frost in your area.

Most of us can find marigold plants readily available as transplants in early spring at local garden centers. Transplants are a quick way to add already started marigolds to our patios and gardens.

They can be transplanted as early as your last frost date, but they are slightly cold intolerant, so if nightly temperatures dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, they’ll be susceptible to damage.

The best way to combat this is to ensure you are planting after the last frost date in your area. If a night frost is in the forecast, bring your planter inside overnight or cover your marigolds with a frost cloth to protect them from these damaging temperatures.

How to Plant

Gardener planting in the garden
Planting marigolds in your garden is fairly straightforward.

Transplant your marigold plant by removing the nursery container. If the transplant does not come out easily, roll the pot between your hands a few times to loosen it first.

Once the plant is out of the container, loosen up the root ball of the plant by pulling them apart with your hand, or with a garden shovel. This will help the plant establish itself once planted. Place the plant in the fresh soil and fill around the plant. Water the plant in and enjoy your new marigold friend!

These seeds will need to be started indoors 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. Plant seeds one inch deep in a well-draining potting or seed planting mix. Place the newly sown seed tray in a warm, sunny location.

If you want to get a head start on your marigold transplants, you will find a variety of seeds available at garden centers as well.

Note: If your seedlings do not receive enough light, they will begin to stretch and become leggy.

If planting marigold seeds in seed trays or cell trays, make sure they are kept fairly moist until they have sprouted. Once they have sprouted you can let the soil dry out a little in between waterings.

Marigold seeds usually germinate in about 4 – 14 days. Warm soil and evenly moist soil ensure a faster germination time. Note that this might take longer depending on your climate and growing environment.

Transplanting From Seed

gardener holding seedlings
If the roots of your seedlings have reached the bottom of the seed cell, then they are ready for transplanting.

A good way to be sure that your marigold is ready to be transplanted is to check the roots. If your marigold roots have extended to the bottom of the seed cell and began to circle the exterior of the tray or pot, they are ready to be transplanted. Transplanting marigolds too soon can result in slow growth rates and even damaged plants.

Seeds can also be directly sown into your garden or patio pots after the danger of frost has passed for the season. Plant your seeds outside in an area that receives full sun (6 – 8 hours daily). Directly sown seeds should be sown at least one inch apart and one inch deep in rich, well-draining soil.

Keep the soil moist until the seeds have begun to sprout. Once they have sprouted, they should be thinned to about 10 – 12 inches between each plant. This will ensure each plant has enough room and sunlight to thrive in your garden.

How to Grow

Growing marigolds can be an easy process as marigolds are very low maintenance plants. They can be grown in patio pots or planters, or even in the ground as a landscape or garden border. Marigolds will need to be planted in an area that receives full sun, and well draining soil.

Sunlight

yellow flowers blooming in full sun
Marigolds require full sun for at least 6-8 hours a day.

Marigold transplants should be planted into well-draining, loamy soil in an area that receives full sun (6 – 8 hours sunlight daily). The proper amount of sunlight is crucial to getting those vivid marigold flowers and a healthy plant.

In warmer climates or high altitudes, marigolds may benefit from a few hours of shade. However, too much shade and not enough sunlight can result in leggy plants.

Location

freshly planted seedlings in garden
Plant marigolds at least 12 inches apart.

If you are planting your marigolds in a planter or pot, they need width and depth of at least six inches. If you are thinking of adding marigolds to your vegetable garden or raised bed, make sure they are at least 12 inches from other plants. This will ensure they have enough room, air flow, and sunlight to grow.

Make sure that the location you choose to plant your marigolds receives 6-8 hours of sunlight daily. If you are planting in a garden that receives shade for part of the day, plant the marigolds in an area that will receive the afternoon sun.

This sunlight is stronger than morning sunlight. South facing areas are generally good spots for marigolds to receive the most sunlight, however make sure to observe your own space and which areas receive sunlight before deciding where to plant.

Water

watering flowers with an orange watering can
Marigolds prefer regular watering, but do not like to be in moist soil for a long time.

While marigolds are hardy drought-tolerant annual flowers, this does not mean you shouldn’t water them regularly. They grow best when kept frequently watered. Consistent watering is the key to almost any successful growing season, but never over water your marigolds.

Marigolds do not like to stay in moist soil for a long period of time. Let the top 2-3 inches of your soil dry out before irrigating your marigolds to ensure plant health and prevent disease. If they are planted around or within your vegetable garden, just water them when you water your veggies.

Soil

gardener planting flowers in the soil
These popular flowers prefer loamy, well-drained soil.

Marigolds are not picky when it comes to soil, but thrive best when planted in well-drained, loamy soils. If planted in a pot, they need to be planted in potting soil that will provide good drainage. Be sure that your pot or container has a hole in the bottom to allow water to drain.

Climate & Temperature

Flowering marigolds are planted in the ground
Marigolds grow well in hot climates and do not tolerate frost.

Marigolds can be planted after the danger of frost has passed. They do best at temperatures above 70 – 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Cooler temperatures can slow their growth and even damage or kill the plant.

They are very heat tolerant, which is another reason they are so popular in full sun landscape beds and vegetable gardens.

Fertilizer

gardener holding fertilizer for flowers
It is necessary to support the nutrition of Marigolds with organic fertilizers.

As low maintenance plants, marigolds do not require much fertilization. An all-purpose slow release fertilizer can be applied upon planting and this will keep them fed for an extended period of time. You can find a slow release fertilizer at your local garden center and the label will list when you need to reapply.

If you prefer a water soluble fertilizer, an all purpose fertilizer would be the best option for marigolds. These fertilizers generally need to be applied about every two weeks, however this can vary depending on your watering frequency and climate. Note that the strength and type of fertilizer you use might affect these rates as well.

Maintenance

Pruning marigolds
Marigolds are easy to care for, but wilted flowers must be cut off.

Marigolds are low maintenance plants, and do not require much extra care once they’ve been planted. They will benefit from deadheading throughout the season. Simply cut spent flowers off a few inches below the flower head, this will keep your plant blooming prolifically throughout the season.

Pruning & Deadheading

Deadheading flowers in garden
Marigolds do not require pruning, but it is best to remove faded flowers for bigger blooms.

As fairly compact plants, they don’t require require much pruning. Marigold blooms typically last for a few weeks. Once they begin to fade and dry out, it is best to remove them. Although not required, deadheading these spent blooms will keep your plant blooming all season.

Deadheading marigolds is very simple and straightforward. Simply remove the spent bloom by cutting the stem a few inches below the flower head. This can be done with hand pruners or even by hand.

Propagation

Propagating marigolds at home can be a fun and easy way to reap the benefits of your marigold plants for many seasons. You can harvest seeds right from your own garden off of the spent blooms your marigold produces.

This is the most popular way to propagate marigolds as it is a simple and relatively fast process. Marigolds can also be propagated via cuttings with a few more resources. Let’s talk about how you can propagate more marigolds in your own home/backyard.

Seed

seeds spread out before planting
After the marigolds have dried out, cut and open the flower head to remove the seeds.

Because marigolds produce seeds so prolifically, it is a simple process to collect and store their seeds to have plenty for the next season. At the end of the season, wait for the blooms to fade and dry out on the plant.

When the flower head is mostly brown, cut it off just a few inches below the flower to prevent damaging the seeds. Break open the head of the flower gently and you’ll start to see thin, black seeds attached to the base of the flower head.

After you have collected your seeds, lay them out to dry on a paper towel for about a week. Place your seeds in an envelope or glass container to ensure they stay dry and protected over the winter. Seeds should be kept in a cool, dark place to ensure germination next season.

Note: Some marigold varieties are hybrids, this means that if you collect seeds from these plants, the seeds may not produce an identical bloom or color as the plant you previously had.

Cuttings

Flower cutting planted in pot
The marigold cutting should be placed in potting soil or a peat-based mix.

It is possible to start marigolds from cuttings; however, this option can be more time-consuming and challenging depending on your resources.

To grow marigolds from cuttings you will need a healthy, well-established plant. Identify a few healthy stems on your marigold plant that will provide about a 4-inch cutting of soft growth. Soft growth is usually the top ⅓ of the stem.

Depending on the size of your marigold plant, you should be able to harvest a few cuttings at a time. Do not remove more than ⅓ of the marigold plant at once, or you will risk damaging your marigold plant. Once you have taken a few cuttings with clean pruners, remove the lower half of the leaves from the cutting.

To promote and speed up the rooting process you can dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone before placing them in the growing media. Simply place these cuttings in a growing media such as potting soil or a peat based mix.

Lightly pack the top of the soil to ensure the cutting stays in place. Keep the media moist and in a warm, well lit area. In just a few short weeks you should begin to see roots on your cutting!

Marigold cuttings can also be rooted in water as an alternative to a growing media. Note that the cuttings might take longer to root with this method, and successful rooting will be aided by replacing the water frequently to keep it clean and prevent disease.

Hardening Off

Seedlings hardening off in the garden
Before planting marigolds from seeds, they must be acclimatized to the outdoor environment.

If starting marigolds from seed or cutting, make sure to acclimate the plants to the outdoor environment before planting. This process usually takes about a week.

Start by placing them outside in a shady location for a short period of time. Each day, increase their light exposure and time outside. By the end of the week they should be well adjusted to the outdoors and ready to plant! Hardening off your newly propagated marigold plants is a key step! This will prevent the plants from shock upon transplanting.

Types of Marigolds

French, African, Signet, and Pot Marigold: what’s the difference?

The most common marigolds we see are French and African marigolds, which range in shades of yellow, orange, and red. Let’s take a look at each.

French Marigolds

Tagetes patula
Resistant to deer and rabbits, French Marigolds are quite popular.

French marigolds are the most common marigold you’ll find at your local garden center. Otherwise known as Tagetes patula, French Marigolds have fern-like leaves, semi-double to double crested flowers that range from yellow to orange to red. They are well known for being deer and rabbit resistant, which is a sought-after characteristic in some regions.

African Marigolds

Tagetes erecta
The African marigold produces spherical yellow and orange flowers.

African marigolds, otherwise known as Tagetes erecta are another common marigold we see. They have larger leaves, and spherical flowers that are either yellow or orange, and grow slightly taller than the French marigold.

These ruffled blooms tend to be larger than those of the French marigold but tend to have a shorter bloom period than that of the French marigold.

Signet Marigolds

Variety of Marigold
These popular flowers have beautiful orange and red coloring.

Otherwise known as Tagetes tenuifolia, signet marigolds are a more subtle marigold that can add a different texture to the garden than that of the French and African. Its fine, lacey foliage hosts small simple flowers that gracefully present warm colors: red, orange, and yellow.

Plant Uses

cabbage and marigolds growing in the garden
Marigolds are great companion plants in your vegetable garden.

Marigolds are a great option for many gardeners because of their ability to tolerate heat, drought, and provide vivid colors to landscapes and gardens. However, marigolds provide many more uses and can even provide benefits to you and your garden.

They are one of the best companion plants for your vegetable garden for many reasons. There are chemical compounds in marigolds that help to deter harmful insects and pests. These compounds can keep certain insects from harming your vegetable plants. They also are known for preventing nematodes which are harmful pests found in soil.

They are most commonly seen as a vegetable companion plant, but they can also be a beautiful addition to a cut flower garden. Marigolds look great near zinnias, and other annuals.

Pests

Marigolds can deter certain insects and pests from your garden and other plants, but this does not mean they are invincible. Marigolds aren’t prone to many pests in the garden but there are a few that can attack marigolds from time to time.

Aphids

Aphids on yellow flower
You can get rid of aphids by using an insecticidal soap or spray.

Aphids are small green insects that feed on plant stems and foliage. They can cause leaf curling, yellowing, and even plant fatality if left untreated. Insecticidal soap or spray application can kill these pests on contact.

Slugs and snails

Snail on yellow flower
Snails and slugs must be removed by hand and placed in a bucket of soapy water.

Common garden pests include slugs and snails and are usually more prominent in the spring months when frequent precipitation occurs. Slugs and snails can be removed and placed in a bucket of soapy water. You will need to do this early morning or at night time as this is when they generally feed on plants.

Thrips

Thrips on green leaf
Neem oil spray will help you fight thrips in your garden.

Thrips usually attack young, immature foliage and stems. Thrips are very small cigar-shaped insects that are usually yellow to brownish black in color. The adults are more noticeable as they are larger, white-bodied, and winged. If you notice thrips on your marigold plants apply a neem oil spray and this should eliminate them almost instantly.

Diseases

There are a few diseases we might see in marigold plants. They generally occur when planted near already infected plants, or in warm and wet conditions.

Powdery mildew

powdery mildew on green leaf
To remove powdery mildew from a plant, use a solution of water and Epsom salts.

powdery mildew is a whitish, gray powdery substance that forms on the top of leaves. It is generally found in warm, humid locations where leaves remain wet and are unable to dry out. It can be treated by applying a simple solution to the leaves. Simply mix 2 tablespoons of epsom salt in water and pour this solution over the leaves thoroughly.

Damping off

Marigolds in garden
To prevent wilting, plant marigolds in healthy, well-drained soil.

Damping off is generally seen when plants are in the seedling stage. Dead tissue and spots can be seen on young plants that were started from seed. Unhealthy soil and inconsistent watering can cause damping off. Prevent damping off by ensuring the plants are planted in healthy, well-draining soil, and provide adequate air flow.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why aren’t my marigold seeds sprouting?

Marigold seeds generally take 4 – 14 days to sprout, however if it is past fourteen days and you still haven’t seen any sprouts, the soil could be too cool or not moist enough. Keep the growing medium warm, around 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Tip: Placing seeds on the top of your fridge is a great way to keep them warm.

Were your seeds viable?

If not properly stored, seeds can lose their chance of germination.

Be sure to check the packed date on your seed packet, as this can affect germination as well.

Are marigolds deer resistant?

Yes! Some years it seems as though deer are so hungry, they’ll eat just about any plant. However, marigolds are quite well known for not being deer snacks.

Why are my marigolds leggy?

Marigolds do best in full sun (6 – 8 hours of direct sunlight). Leggy marigold plants are a sign that they are not receiving enough sunlight.

Do I need to deadhead my marigolds?

While deadheading your marigolds is not pertinent to the plant’s survival, deadheading will keep your marigold blooming prolifically throughout the season.

Final Thoughts

Marigolds have been a popular flower amongst home gardeners for decades, and there are many reasons they are still so popular today. These easy-going, low maintenance plants will bloom all season even in the warmest climates. Marigold seeds and transplants are readily available during the growing season and can be a great addition to any full sun patio or garden area.

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