PREFERRED SOIL pH: Adaptable
PREFERRED SOIL TYPE: Moderately fertile
PREFERRED LIGHT: Sun
ATTRIBUTES: Quick and easy to grow; for beds, edging, pots, and window boxes
SEASON OF INTEREST: Early summer to fall
FAVORITES: 'Inco', 'Snowdrift', 'First Lady' American marigolds; 'Janie', 'Sophia' French marigolds; 'Lemon Gem', 'Golden Gem' signet marigold
QUIRKS: Temporarily slops flowering during hot spells
GOOD NEIGHBORS : Campanula, lobelia, euphorbia, flowering tobacco
WHERE IT GROWS BEST: Sunny locations with ample rainfall
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS: Grasshoppers (occasionally), spidermites
CRITTER RESISTANCE: Good
DIMENSIONS: 1-3 ft (0.3-1 m) tall, 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) wide
Marigold in the Landscape
Marigolds have been treasured in gardens for centuries; even the Aztecs grew these golden bloomers. Famous for their profuse floral performance, marigolds begin blooming a few weeks after sowing and continue to produce fiery-colored blossoms throughout the summer, no matter what the weather happens to hand out. Few flowers are as easy to cultivate as marigolds, which explains why they are often a child's first experiment in gardening.
Marigolds fill several positions in the garden. Because the lacy-leaved stems remain both compact and dense, shorter varieties of marigolds are often used as a colorful edging, forming a ribbon of gold, yellow, or mahogany at the front of a sunny border. When used as bedding plants, marigolds of different colors can be arranged in blocks side by side to form a patchwork. They're equally useful planted in a container or window box to add a splash of color, or scattered through the vegetable garden, where their pungent scent is used traditionally to repel insect pests both above and below ground.
A Marigold for Every Garden
If your garden lacks pizzazz, just plant a grouping of several hybrid American marigolds (Tagetes erecta) to liven up the scene. Sometimes called African marigolds, American hybrids stand 3 ft (1 m) tall and produce a bumper crop of rounded, ruffled, powder-puff shaped yellow to orange blossoms up to 4 in (10.2 cm) wide.The Inca series make good cutting flowers. If you want the unusual, try a white-flowered one, such as 'Snowdrift'.
Stately American marigolds like mil sun and rich, fertile soil, and should be watered to prevent wilting when rain doesn't furnish adequate water weekly. Because of their height, American marigolds sometimes need staking to support their tall stems when they are heavily laden with their large flowers.
French marigolds (T.patula), which are native to Mexico, are more dainty, shorter, 10-18 in (25.4-45.7 cm) tall plants with a broader range of colors including yellow, orange, and brick red in single, double, and semidouble forms. Good varieties include 'Janie' and 'Sophia'. French marigolds thrive in full sun and lean soil, and are used to repel rootknot nematodes, a serious soil-borne pest that attacks many species of ornamental and edible plants in warm-winter climates.
For a window box combination or a garden edging, you might prefer the subtler flowers of old-fashioned signet marigolds. Signet types, such as 'Lemon Gem' and 'Golden Gem', stand only 12-15 in (30.5-38 cm) tall and have lacy foliage and a profusion of button-sized, five-petaled blossoms. As a bonus, the flowers of signet marigolds are edible.
Increasing the Bounty
You can buy marigolds as bedding plants or easily grow them from seed. Scatter seeds on garden soil 6-8 in (15.2—20.3 cm) apart after the danger of frost has passed, cover them with 1/4 in (1 mm) of soil, and water gently with a watering can fitted with a sprinkling head. The seeds will sprout within a week. Two or 3 weeks later, you'll see plants produce the first of many marigold flowers to come. Occasionally spidermites or grasshoppers may munch plants in late summer. Dispatch mites with a strong stream of water. Tolerate damage from grasshoppers, which are usually too numerous to control.