The bright yellow and orange flowers of the pot marigold. A stand out plant in any garden decorating flower beds with bright, daisy-like flowers. Different from the similarly named marigold, pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) is also known as Calendula, common marigold or Scotch marigold. Part of the Asteraceae family along with daisies and chrysanthemums it is also an incredibly useful plant.
Growing as an annual, or a short lived perennial in warmer climates, the plant has a profuse blooming habit, decorating beds and containers with bright, daisy-like flowers. However it is not just a decorative plant. In years gone by the marigolds brightly colored petals were used to color butter and cheeses.
Today the flowers are still used to add a spicy flavor to stews and salads. For this reason you can grow pot marigold as part of a herb garden. Away from the kitchen Calendula is used in cosmetics and is said to be able to boost the immune system. It is also a useful companion plant, keeping aphids and pests away from vegetable or ornamental plants.
The colourful flowers of the pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) are a favourite amongst gardeners and pollinators. It is also a useful herbal and culinary plant, making it a valuable addition to any garden.
Even if you are new to gardening, this article will ensure that you will soon be enjoying the benefits of the plant. From sowing the seeds to harvesting and using the plant, we will cover everything you need to know.
Varieties of Pot Marigold
There are a number of different pot marigold (calendula officinalis) varieties available to purchase as seeds or plug plants.
There are many different varieties available, from dwarf to bushiers plants. These plants also vary in colour. This means that gardeners will be sure to find something that suits their planting style and space.
With so much choice on offer you’ll be sure to find something that fits into your garden.
Some of the most attractive are:
Pink Surprise produces attractive, ruffled flowers in yellow and gold shades with dark apricot centres.
Sherbet Fizz is known for its buff flowers with deep red undersides.
Citrus Cocktail, a compact plant, producing bright orange and yellow blooms. Great for containers.
Tangerine Cream’s blooms are bi-coloured, double petals, in shades of orange and cream.
Greenheart Orange is known for its orange flowers with a standout lime green centre.
Growing and Caring for Pot Marigold
Commonly grown as an annual plant in herb, vegetable and floral gardens, the plant can also be grown in containers. If you are growing in a warmer climate you may be able to grow calendula as a short lived perennial.
Growing From Seed
The easiest, and most common, way to grow marigold is from seed. If you don’t have the time to grow from seed you can also buy small or plug plants.
Wait until your last local frost date has passed before sowing the seeds. Your chosen site, if growing in the ground, should be a full sun position. Pot marigolds do best in a well draining soil that is moderate to slightly acidic. If you are growing in a particularly hot climate try to provide the plants with some shade to protect them from the heat of the afternoon sun. Planting near a wall or fence is great. Bright flowers begin can make walls, or containers, look a bit shabby. If you want to give them a makeover this is a great guide to painting.
This is not the tallest plant in the garden. While you will have to provide some shelter from the heat of the afternoon sun, be careful not to block out the light completely.
These are low growing plants, tallest varieties will reach 24 inches. If you are planting at the front of a border or bed, be careful not to block out all the sunlight with taller plants.
To sow marigold seeds first weed and rake over your chosen site. This helps to break up the soil, improving drainage. Work in a shovel or two of well aged manure or rich compost. Home made compost is not only a great way of reducing waste, it also provides a steady stream of free, nutrient rich compost to use on your garden. This will help to enrich the soil and gives the plants a nutritional boost.
Before sowing water the soil. Flower seeds stick to damp soil, meaning that they are less likely to blow away. Scatter the seeds thinly.
The distinctive seeds of the plant. Don’t worry if the seeds germinate in clumps. They can be thinned out as they grow.
Don’t worry if seedlings emerge in clumps, these can be thinned out as they grow. After you have sown the seeds, cover with a thin layer of soil.
Depending on temperatures and growing conditions seeds will germinate in 5 to 15 days.
Following germination, once the seeds have grown a few true leaves space them out. A spacing of 24-36 inches will allow room for plants to grow and produce lots of healthy, bushy growth.
Alternatively, if you want to sow before the last frost date has passed sow marigold seeds in trays or small pots in a greenhouse. Use fresh soil and a clean tray.
Water gently after planting and cover the trays with a clear plastic bag or lid. This will trap heat and warmth, encouraging germination. Seeds can be sown indoors 6-8 weeks before the last local frost date. This will mean that they are ready to be planted out as the springtime temperatures warm.
Starting seeds off in trays or pots allows you to grow undercover, either in your home or a greenhouse. This allows you to begin gardening before the last frost has passed.
Once the seeds have germinated and have grown at least two true leaves start to harden off, or acclimatise to the outdoors. The plants should be ready to plant outside after about two weeks.
Like Basil you can also grow the plant inside, in containers, or on windowsills.
Planting Plug Plants
If you are planting plug plants, weed and turn the soil over before planting. Space the plants to the required distance. This varies between varieties but is usually about 24-36 inches. The exact spacing will be specified on the plant label. After planting water in well.
Plug plants are a great way to enjoy flowers in a garden that has a short spring. It is also a great option if you don’t have the time to grow from seed. Buying healthy young plants means that you can still enjoy flowers in your garden.
Regularly water the pot marigolds until they are established. Once the plants are settled and growing well, reduce watering to only when the soil is dry. If you are unsure stick your finger in the soil, if the top inch feels dry it is time to water. While this is a reliable method you can also use a soil moisture gauge for a more scientific measure.
If you are using tap water on your plants. Be careful, some people believe that softened water in particular can harm young plants.
Collecting rainwater to reuse in your garden is a great way to cut down on the amount of water you use. Any old, large container can be utilised for this purpose, just make sure that it is watertight.
An easy to grow plant, marigolds don’t require fertilizing. However if you are growing in poor soil the plants will benefit from an application of a balanced fertilizer once a month. Marigolds growing in containers may also benefit from this occasional nutritional boost. Applying a water soluble fertilizer is not only easy but can be incorporated into your regular watering routine. Try not to over feed the plants, this can cause them to become leggy.
Overfeeding these plants can cause them to become overly long and droopy. Plants in this condition are often described as being leggy.
As the plants grow pinching out will encourage a compact, bushy growth habit. It will also help to prevent legginess. Pinching out, if you are unsure, is a form of pruning. It requires the removal of small, weaker growth, often at the lead node. This encourages two new stems to emerge from the pinch point. As the name suggests you can pinch this growth away with your fingers or use a small, sharp garden secateurs.
A sharp secateurs will help you to cleanly trim away dead growth. Messy cuts can become infected or diseased. Regularly pruning your plants will encourage new, healthy growth to form.
Regularly deadheading, removing spent flower heads, will encourage the plant to produce more flowers. This will also help to prolong the flowering season of the plant.
Whether you choose to deadhead your marigolds or not you can still cut the stems away at the end of summer or during the fall. This forms part of the transitioning your garden from summer to fall routine. Healthy cuttings can be disposed of your compost heap.
Pests and Diseases
An easy to grow plant, calendula is rarely victim to pests and diseases. This is especially true if the flowers are grown correctly, in a beneficial, sunny position.
Should a powdery mildew appear on the leaves of your marigold it is an indication of poor air circulation around the plant. This can be solved by thinning out the plants.
Snails and slugs will often target young plants, not just pot marigolds, but these can be deterred with chemical applications. Alternatively instead of throwing your coffee grounds into your compost heap scatter the grounds around the plants. This is a great way of naturally deterring slugs and recycling your waste.
Coffee grounds can be reused to deter slugs and snails away from young plants. This is a great way of reusing something that would otherwise be thrown away.
Whiteflies and aphids may also target pot marigolds. Again these infestations can be washed away with a blast from a hose. More stubborn infestations can be removed with an application or organic, insecticidal soap.
To collect the seeds allow spent, or dead, flower heads to remain on the plant. Eventually you will see seed heads forming. When these begin to darken, or ripen, place a paper bag over the seeds and cut away from the plant.
Allow flowers to naturally fade. Eventually seed heads will emerge. Allow these to ripen before removing from the plant.
Secure the bag and allow the seed heads to open naturally. These seeds can then be planted on or stored in an airtight tin until you are ready to use them. Don’t store seeds for too long. The older the seed is the less viable it is.
Alternatively carefully remove the seed heads from the plant. Once dry the seed heads can be lightly crushed and the seeds separated from the chaff.
If you choose not to deadhead or collect the seeds of the plant, the plant will self seed. This means that it will return in the same position next year, and possibly start to spread through your garden.
The Gardeners Best Friend
Calendula flowers is a reliable companion plant. Plant calendula in your vegetable garden as a trap plant. This means that it will draw pests such as whiteflies and aphids away from your vegetable crops, protecting them from damage.
Additionally the plants attract pollinators and beneficial garden visitors such as ladybirds, hoverflies, and lacewing. These insects eat more harmful garden visitors such as aphids. You can plant calendula as part of a butterfly garden.
A firm favourite of many different insects. As well as ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies they will attract scores of pollinators and butterflies to your garden.
Calendula can also help to improve the soil. In Spain and Columbia it has been grown as a cover crop, suppressing root-knot nematodes.
Calendula, like the common marigold is a reliable companion plant. It can be a great addition to backyard herb spiral.
Harvesting Pot Marigolds
If you want to harvest the flowers the optimum time is in the late morning or early afternoon. The morning dew should have dried from the plants. Try to pick only fully open flowers. Use a sharp scissors or secateurs to cut the flower away from the plant.
Pick fresh, open flowers. These can then be used in a number of useful and beneficial ways.
After harvesting dry the flowers on a paper towel in a dry, shaded spot. Turn them occasionally, so that all parts of the flower dry evenly. Once they are fully dry you can store the flower heads in airtight canning jars until you are ready to use them.
Alternatively cut some of the stem away with the flower head. You can then tie a bunch of flowers together, place in a paper bag and hang them up to dry. This is a common method for drying mediterranean herbs. The paper bag will catch any flowerheads that fall.
The Many Uses for Pot Marigold
As we have already noted the plant has many different uses. Here are some of the most common and accessible, meaning you can get the most out of your plant.
The flowers can also be used in cooking. For many years the petals have been used as a food coloring. Adding color to cakes, biscuits, poultry, cheese, ice cream and butter. The petals can also be used as a cocktail garnish.
Calendula is often unfairly called poor man’s saffron. The leaves of the plant have a peppery, aromatic flavor which complements a number of dishes.
Young pot marigold leaves can be added to stir fries, salads and seafood dishes. They can also be used as a fresh garnish on salads. The peppery flavor of these aromatic leaves is sometimes, unfairly, called “poor man’s saffron”. You can also use calendula to garnish cream soups, stuffed eggs and fruit breads. For the best flavors harvest alongside other freshly grown herbs.
As a Herbal Remedy
The plant has been used as a herbal remedy, in teas and ointments, for well over a 1000 years. Initially published in Pharmacognosy Review, one report found that over 200 different medical and commercial formulae contained concentrated extract.
The flower is believed to have anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-spasmodic properties. Fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, are also treated with calendula solutions. As are ingrown hairs, bites and burns. The plant can also reduce dandruff and the appearance of varicose veins and scars. This makes it a great option if you are looking for scar removal cream.
This is a versatile plant. It can be turned into an essential oil, cream or soap. You can also use it in culinary dishes or brew it up for a healthy tea.
The flowers of the plant can be brewed into a herbal tea. This has beneficial digestive properties, easing symptoms related to gastritis, acid reflux, ulcers and inflammatory bowel disease. It is also used to soothe menstrual and stomach cramps.
The plant is thought able to soothe irritated skin caused by eczema and sunburn as well as rashes. It is also used to ease swelling caused by sprains or muscle injuries. Finally marigold flower is thought able to sooth the inflammation and itchiness that are often symptoms of conjunctivitis.
The majority of people will suffer no ill effects from applying or consuming pot marigold solutions.
However if you are pregnant it is advised that you should not consume any calendula products. While there is no established link, there have been suggestions that in a few cases it can cause a miscarriage.
Similarly if you are breastfeeding it is best to stay away from pot marigold products. While there are no established links, little research into the effects of calendula products on breast feeding mothers and their babies has been carried out.
You should also avoid pot marigold solutions and treatments if you are sensitive or allergic to plants in the Asteraceae or Compositae plant family. These plants include marigolds as well as daisies, chamomile, chrysanthemums, echinacea, and ragweed amongst many others.
If you have an allergy or sensitivity to these plants avoid.
The plant can cause drowsiness, this can be enhanced if taken alongside prescribed sleep or anti-anxiety medications. It can also increase drowsiness when taken alongside medicines used during and post surgery. If you are due to undergo surgery cease taking these products at least two weeks before your scheduled appointment.
Consult your doctor before using such products if you take any of these medications:
Don’t apply products to open wounds unless a medical practitioner has told you to do so.
If you have never used a pot marigold based product before it is best to start with only a small amount. If you don’t suffer any ill effects you can then slowly increase your dosage. Never exceed the recommended amount. As always, consult your medical practitioner before use. It may seem overly cautious but they will be able to allay your fears and ensure that you are safe.
Apply pot marigold solutions with caution. It can cause allergic reactions or undesirable side effects. If you are at all unsure, always consult your doctor or a medical professional before applying.
Harnessing the Benefits of Pot Marigold
Pot marigolds can be turned into oil, teas, sprays and lotions. These products can then be used in a number of different ways for a range of purposes.
Marigold products should be kept out of direct sunlight and moisture. This will help to prolong their life span.
Pot Marigold Flower Oil
You can make your own oil. This can be used to treat skin conditions. Simply add a small amount to your regular moisturiser or shampoo.
To make calendula oil put the flower petals into a clean and dry glass jar. Add olive oil. You are aiming to cover the petals by about an inch. The petals will expand as they absorb the liquid so make sure you’ve added enough oil for them to remain covered. Place the lid on the jar and shake it well.
If you don’t want to use olive oil you can try avocado or almond oil. Both are just as effective as are essential oils such as jojoba oil. However this is not edible.
This oil is easy to make and incredibly versatile. Make sure that it is stored in a cool, dark location away from the sun’s direct rays. This will increase its life expectancy.
When well mixed place the jar in a paper bag and place on a sunny windowsill. Placing the jar in a bag is thought to help prevent the pot marigolds beneficial constituents from breaking down in the sunlight.
Shake the jar well once a day.
After 4 to 6 weeks of infusion strain the herbs and pour the oil into a clean, sealable, glass jar. Store the oil in a cool, dark cupboard until you need it.
You can use the oil as a treatment for skin irritations, a salad dressing, or add a drop or two to your regular shampoo or moisturiser. You can also use it to make your own scented candles or turn it into a natural salve.
This oil can be used to make a salve by placing it in a stainless steel bowl over a pot of water. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, slowly heating the oil. When the oil has warmed add beeswax (a ratio of roughly one ounce of beeswax to one cup of oil) and stir until it has dissolved. If you want to add essential oils, stir in 10-20 drops per cup of infused oil.
Once the oils have combined and the beeswax has melted carefully pour the mixture into clean tins or jars. Allow the salve to cool before using. If you find yourself with an excess of beeswax don’t discard it. Beeswax is very useful for a number of things, such as getting scuffs out of furniture.
This salve can now be used to soothe skin irritations such as cuts, bites and burns.
Pot Marigold Flower Tea
Harvest and dry the marigold flowers. Allowing the flowers to dry in a cool location, out of the sun’s direct rays means that more of the benefits will be retained. Once dry, boil water and add a tablespoon of flowers to the pot and allow the mixture to steep. If you are not using a pot a ratio of 1 teaspoon of flowers to 1 cup of hot water is ideal.
The flowers can be brewed to make a popular herbal tea. This has a range of benefits.
If your symptoms are severe you may need to drink more than one cup throughout the day.
Pot Marigold Flower Cream
To make enough cream to fill 5 jam jars you will need 250 grams of fat, such as pork fat. A natural alternative is to use coconut oil.
Turning oil into a cream means that it is easy to transport and apply. This allows you to easily harness the benefits of calendula.
In a nonstick pan, warm most of the oil in a saucepan, you should save about 3 tablespoons of the fat for use later on. Place 20-30 marigold flowers into the fat and fry them. Allow the marigolds to fry for at least 2-3 hours. Strain the mixture.
Warm the remaining fat and add beeswax. The more beeswax you use the stiffer the mixture will be. Once the beeswax has melted pour it onto the marigold flower mix.
Stir the beeswax in and allow to cool. Once the mixture has cooled it can be poured into jars.
If kept in a dry, cool location the cream will keep for at least a year.
Calendula is a useful, attractive plant. It’s presence in your garden will only ever be beneficial, however you choose to use it.
Throughout the ages people have grown pot marigolds for their ornamental appearance. However they have numerous other benefits. A reliable companion plant, it also has a range of medicinal uses and can be used as a flavorsome culinary ingredient. A final use is that it can also predict the weather. The flowers of the plant don’t open when air pressure drops. This means that if your plants fail to open, rain is likely.
Elizabeth learnt to love gardening as a child in her grandparents backyard. Today, she is a trained horticulturist and has maintained a productive allotment for over 10 years. When not growing her own, Elizabeth enjoys helping other people with the plant problems. An experienced writer and editor, away from gardening Elizabeth is also a keen bird watcher, local historian and genealogist, meaning that she can often be found with her dogs exploring an overgrown graveyard.