How to grow and care for marigolds

Marigolds are an easy to grow annual which bloom in vivid shades of red, yellow and orange.

Marigolds are easy, colorful, summer flowers that are easy to grow. In the genus Tagetes, marigolds come in varieties suited to just about every need and preference. Seeds and plants are widely available at almost every garden center. All varieties need full sun, which means at least eight hours in most areas. In southern climates, marigolds will do well with morning sun and afternoon shade, and tolerate the heat well. They will also tolerate dry conditions, but bloom best with ample water.

Marigolds are annual plants, which means they complete their life cycle in one season. The goal of the plant is to bloom as much as possible to produce seeds for next year. To keep your plant in bloom longer, deadhead often, or remove spent flower heads. The marigold petals actually become the seeds when done blooming. Save the heads, and you will have seeds ready for next year. Marigolds that are not deadheaded will bloom once and die.

Marigolds are also classed as tender annuals, so take care not to sow seeds or set out plants until after the last frost. They also need good drainage, and benefit from a complete fertilizer, usually labeled 12-12-12, when in bloom. Over-fertilizing can cause the plant to die, so read instructions carefully.

Seeds may be started indoors about a month before the last frost. Seeds started indoors need a sterilized soil mixture, sunlight, and warm temperatures. The top of the refrigerator is a favorite spot, providing it's near a window. Seeds need even moisture to germinate. It's best to mist the plant with a spray bottle daily, rather than pouring water on top. Too much water can disturb the seeds or lead to damping off, which causes the seedling to die.

If you plan to sow seeds directly outdoors, wait until the ground has warmed and all danger of frost has passed. Dig the bed to a depth of twelve to fourteen inches. Amend the soil with compost or a good potting mix. Make sure the ground is level, and scatter the seeds on top. Cover with a fine layer of soil, free of lumps. Seeds germinate best in soils with a fine texture. Mist daily with a spray bottle until seedlings are thriving.

When setting marigold plants out, prepare the bed as you would for seeds. Dig the hole as deep as the root system, and twice as wide. Set the plant in, and back fill with potting soil. Tamp the soil down firmly around the plant, making sure you leave all foliage above ground. Water deeply. This ensures all air holes in the soil will be filled. After the water drains, add more soil if needed. Water again, and daily until the plant is established. Adding a layer of mulch will help control weeds, conserve water, and regulate the soil temperature.

If your soil is clay, or does not drain well, you can add gravel or compost to improve the texture, or go the easy route: plant in containers. Marigolds do well in all sorts of containers. Decorative pots, hanging baskets and window boxes are all popular choices. Containers offer more versatility than ground plantings, and the added benefit of being easily movable.

Marigolds grow from twelve to eighteen inches tall, and make great edging plants and vivid borders. If your border marigolds become leggy, you can add more soil to cover the "˜legs', but be sure not to bury the foliage. They bloom in ranges from pale yellow to fiery red, with orange the most common variety. The flowers can be single, double, smooth or ruffled. The foliage has a delicate, lacy texture in a pleasant shade of green. Marigolds are striking when paired with white annuals, such as baby's breath or white petunias.

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