Also known as: Tagetes

These cheerful yellow flowers with their fragrant leaves that adorn many annual gardens are actually extremely hardy and very beautiful. Part of the aster family, marigolds (the name is derived from "Mary's Gold", and is associated with the Virgin Mary by Christians) can come in several different varieties and many different cultivars, including a few dwarf species. The plant is native to southern North America, Mexico and South America.

Marigolds have a long and varied history as a healing herb. The Romans used a variety of it, "Calendula", in tinctures meant to soothe indigestion, skin irritations and toothaches. Marigolds are the most sacrosanct flower of ancient India, being used to create sacred garlands for holy statues. The marigold flowers follow the sun, much like sunflowers do.

The plant's blossoms can be yellow, red, orange, gold, cream or bicolored. They sit atop a tall, feathery stem with pinnated dark green leaves. Marigolds can grow to 36 inches tall and spread to 18 inches, which makes them a nice plant for the back of a flowerbed. Dwarf varieties can provide a colorful addition to the foreground of a border. Plant marigolds after the soil has warmed up and space them approximately a foot apart.

Growing Marigolds

Marigolds prefer to grow in full sun, and if they don't get enough light, they may not flower as readily. They like average, well-drained soil and don't need much watering, as they are drought-tolerant, like most of the aster family. If you find that the scent of the leaves bother you, you can cut back the lower leaves to reduce it. If you are propagating the plants from seed, start them indoors and then plant the seedlings in the late spring.

Recommended Varieties

Marigolds come in three different main categories, but tagetes has many beautiful varieties that will set your garden on fire. "African Marigold", "Aztec Marigold" and "American Marigold" have large, double flowers in variegated shades of gold, orange and yellow. "French Marigold" is a low-growing plant and can grow lovely red blossoms. "Signet Marigold" includes the popular "Gem" series that are the most common marigolds in gardens across North America. To find these varieties of marigolds check your local garden center.

Landscape Design Tips

Marigolds can be used as contrast to any border or container garden, as they grow well in virtually every setting. If you want your marigolds to stay bushier, you can prune and deadhead them through the season to encourage more flowering. If you have a place in your garden where no other flower will grow, this is probably the best place for marigolds to thrive.

Gardening Zones

Marigolds thrive in all zones.

Pests and Problems

The plants rarely have a problem with disease, but if slugs and snails are allowed to attack the plant, they will eat it to the ground.