Do you need a little extra sunshine in your garden? Check out calendula! Most commonly referred to by its genus name, calendula is a classic favorite for ornamental beds, vegetable patch borders, and container gardens. It's also a must-have for the home remedy enthusiast, given its history as a medicinal and cosmetic herb.
Don't mistake pot marigolds (Calendula officinalis) from their cousins, the true marigolds. Both are closely related and look (and perform) much the same in the garden environment, but they're totally separate species.
Calendula is often called English marigold, ruddles, Scotch marigold, and common marigold, and is originated in the region between southern Europe, western Asia, and North Africa. It's believed to be a natural hybridization of other similar members of the Asteraceae family. The name is derived from the Latin word for "first of the month," calendas. According to some botanists, this translates to the plant's ability to bloom every month of the year in its native Mediterranean climate.
Contrary to common lore, none of the marigolds—whether in the Calendula or Tagetes genera—were named after the Virgin Mary; the name is a mash-up of an Old English term for Marsh Marigold. But later, it was associated with Jesus' mom as well as with Queen Mary.
Calendula As An Edible and Medicinal Herb
Calendula makes a great potted plant, but it's long been used to add color and flavor to salads, cheeses, and soups, earning it a second claim to the name "pot" (as in "pot herb"). You've likely heard of calendula oil, whether touted as a shampoo ingredient or as a magical sun-spot lightening, detoxifying lotion herb.
Both the flowers and the leaves are edible; the latter is compared in flavor to dandelion leaves. Since both are in the same family, that shouldn't be a complete shock. Have you heard of dandelion wine? If you grow a pristine lawn, you can substitute calendula for your homemade vintage.
Calendula flowers make a natural dye pigment for fibers and cosmetics, but the plant also has a history in herbal medicine for the following:
- Menstrual cycle regulation
- Relieve sore throat
- Heal mouth sores
- Heal skin sores
- Relieve gastrointestinal ulcerations
- Reduce fever
- Aid in muscle spasms
As with all herbal treatments, we recommend consulting your physician before ingesting any part of the plant in concentrated amounts; some herbs can counteract with your existing medical or herbal treatments...and too much of any good thing can have unpleasant results.
As for toxicity, calendula is considered pet and toddler safe; in any case, even though the somewhat saucy flavor might work well as a salad herb, the leaves and flowers hold little appeal for kids and animals.
Calendula in the Garden
As with other Asteraceae, calendula blooms contain a center "button" of male, tubulose flowers; the longer petals that radiate from the slightly darker centers are female, and referred to as ray florets. Together, the flower components make cheerful, sunny discs that close up shortly before a rainstorm, or when the humidity spikes. Early botanists and poets made much ado over the fact that the flowers also close in the evening, and awaken with the morning sun.
Like true marigolds, calendula is believed to repel certain varieties of nematodes...both beneficial and harmful. If you're a fan of planting true marigolds around your veggie garden, you can try throwing in some calendula plants for visual interest, but we're hesitant to perpetuate the belief that calendulas and marigolds really do have an impact on harmful insect pests when studies have shown that they have little benefit to gardens, other than their beauty and their role as a snack bar for pollinators. Calendula produces copious amounts of nectar, attracting greedy little honeybees and thirsty butterflies to your garden.
Oh, wait...calendula has another benefit to your garden ecosystem; it helps speed up the composting process, so when you deadhead your flowers or clean up your plants in fall, toss them in your composter!
Calendula, as a medium-sized, shrub-like plant, is an excellent edging specimen or can serve as a transition between taller background ornamentals and diminutive groundcovers. Because of its bold and bright color range, they do well as paired with white, purple, yellow, red, and blue-flowered plants. Try alternating them with daisies, or plant them in front of taller aster varieties and coneflowers.
We love contrasting colors, especially for the "p'orange" effect: Check out our catalog for deep purple-flowering varieties, and remember that you can prolong calendula's bloom period through consistent deadheading and regular irrigation so that they can overlap—or outlast—their neighbors' bloom periods.
Don't forget the other reason calendula is called "pot marigold"! In fact, you might be able to bring them inside before your last frost, and enjoy blooms inside through the winter if you place them in a warm, sunny window.
USDA Hardiness Zones: Calendula is a hardy annual in zones 2 to 10; in the warmest regions it can, with a little luck, be grown as a perennial.
Sunlight Requirements: Full sun to partial shade; too much shade will cause legginess.
Moisture Requirements: Calendula prefers consistent moisture at soil level. Avoid getting the leaves wet.
Soil Quality: Calendula requires well-draining soil of average quality, though it appreciates plenty of well-rotted compost and a pH of 5.5 to 7.
Plant Height: 12" to 24" tall.
Plant Width: 12" to 24" wide.
Growth Habit: Upright and bushy, with an overall rounded shape, particularly if pinched back during the growing season.
Foliage: Spear-shaped or tapered oval vibrant green leaves grow up to 6" long in an alternating, spiraling pattern along the plant's stem. The leaves are hairy.
Flowers: Attractive, disc-shaped, multi-layered blooms 2" to 3" across bloom late spring through June; with deadheading after the first round of flowering, calendula might bloom through early fall. Calendula flowers, true to the "gold" in its common name, come in all shades of yellow and orange; some are shades of salmon and pink.
Aroma: The flowers lack aroma, but the leaves can have a slightly pungent odor.
Pests and Diseases: Calendula can fall victim to powdery mildew, and might attract aphids, snails, and slugs. Otherwise, it's resistant to most garden critters and cooties.
Maintenance: Aside from deadheading, keep a layer of mulch around the base of your plants to help the soil retain moisture, and to discourage snails and slugs from attacking young plants. Pinching the tops of the plant's stems will keep them looking trim, robust, and bushy.
Fertilization: An all-purpose fertilizer applied mid-summer will keep those blooms bursting.
Harvesting Cut Flowers: The more you pick, the more you'll get! Cut flowers early in the morning, as soon as they fully open. For dried flowers, lay them flat on a screen in a dry, warm, well-ventilated spot. Once dried, store them in an airtight container for herbal use.
Growing Calendula from Seed
Calendula is a fantastic grow-from-seed plant for the novice horticulturist, or if you're trying to introduce your kids to gardening. We always love a plant that's easy to sow, is fun to maintain, resists pests and disease, and keeps blooming throughout the summer. Calendula matures in 45-60 days, so it offers a relatively quick payoff for the impatient gardener.
Calendula grows best when it's sown directly outside, and since it's a quick grower and heavy producer, there isn't much benefit to getting a jump start through indoor starts. You can grow them in pots for gifts or your own container garden (they're great window box plants) or in flat packs to sell at your local farmer's market, but we love pressing them just under the surface of our garden soil, in the gaps in our rock gardens, or...well, just about anywhere. And by "we," we mean "our kids"; these plants are all but bomb-proof. Here's the dirt:
- Start Indoors: 6 to 8 weeks prior to the last frost; harden off your seedlings prior to transplanting.
- Start Outdoors: Immediately after the last frost; plant up until mid-summer for fall blooms.
- Seed Depth: 1/4".
- Plant Spacing: 8"-24".
- Germination Time: 7 to 14 days at 65°F to 70°F.
Pot marigolds require consistent moisture, and that's especially true for germinating seeds and seedlings. We recommend ground-level mist or drip irrigation whenever possible, or when you aren't watering by hand. For indoor starts, water from below, allowing your substrate to soak up the moisture. Give the soil surface a spray or two until the seedlings emerge.
Seed Needs: Your Dealer for Pot (Marigold) Seeds
Hey, with the way things are going in the cannabis industry, we might as well capitalize on their keywords, right? Just kidding. We have our hands full as it is with our wide and growing selection of herb (not that kind), ornamental, and vegetable seeds.
Do you know what we always have time for? Customer care. Contact us if you have any questions about our products, including special orders and custom packaging. We wouldn't be where we are now without our wonderful, loyal customers, and as a small family business, we understand that integrity is just as important as product quality. As for the former, check out our customer testimonials. The latter we ensure with non-GMO, ethically-sourced seeds obtained from the highest-quality suppliers, and kept in climate-controlled facilities until we're ready to hand-pack and ship them directly to you.
Because even the easiest-to-grow plants deserve the best odds.