In the 1940s and 50s, annual marigolds were America's favorite bedding plants, prized for their extended show of yellow, orange, or maroon flowers. Marigolds are the traditional flowers used in Day of the Dead celebrations. Their popularity in the South has since declined, as many newer annuals that offer more colors and better performance have come on the scene. French and African marigolds, however, are still appreciated for their mass displays in late summer and fall, when other annuals are finished blooming. And the perennial species listed here remain excellent garden plants.
Native to Mexico, Central America, marigolds are free-branching plants ranging from 6 in. to 6 ft. tall. Leaves are finely divided and are usually strongly scented. Easy to grow in well-drained soil. Annuals will bloom from early summer to frost if old flowers are picked off. Handsome, long-lasting cut flowers; strong aroma from leaves, stems, and blossoms permeates a room.
T. erecta. AFRICAN MARIGOLD. Annual. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Original strains were single-flowered plants to 34 ft. tall, 2 ft. wide. Modern strains are more varied; most have fully double flowers. They range from dwarf Antigua (1012 in.); Guys and Dolls, Inca, and Inca II series (1214 in.) through Galore, Lady, and Perfection (1620 in.); and Climax (2123 ft.). 'Moonsong Deep Orange', 1215 in. tall, has deep orange, fully double blooms. 'Flagstaff' grows quickly to 4 ft. tall and is loaded with fiery orange, fully double flowers to 3 in. across. Novelty tall strains include Odorless (212 ft.). Sweet Cream has creamy white flowers on 16-in. stems. Hybrid 'Snowball' has large (3-in.) white flowers on stems to 2 ft. tall. Triploid hybrids, crosses between T. erecta and T. patula, have exceptional vigor and bear profuse 2-in. flowers over a long bloom season; they are generally shorter than other T. erecta strains. Examples are Zenith series (1215 in. high) and Nugget series (1012 in. high).
Avoid overhead sprinkling on taller kinds; stems will sag and even break under weight of water. To make tall types stand as firmly as possible (perhaps stoutly enough to do without staking), dig planting hole extra deep, strip any leaves off lower 13 in. of stem, and plant with stripped portion below soil line.
T. filifolia. IRISH LACE. Annual. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Forms a mound of bright green, finely divided foliage to 6 in. high and wide; resembles an unusually fluffy, rounded fern. Used primarily as an edging plant for its foliage effect, but tiny white flowers are attractive.
T. lemmonii. COPPER CANYON DAISY. Shrubby perennial. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. Grows 36 ft. tall and wide. Finely divided, 2- to 4-in.-long leaves are strongly fragrant when brushed against or rubbedthey smell like a blend of marigold, mint, and lemon. Golden yellow flowers with orange cones are carried at branch ends late summer through fall; may bloom sporadically at other times. Cut back before new spring growth begins. Damaged by frost in open situations; cut back to remove damaged growth or to correct shape. Tends to be short lived. Moderate to regular water. 'Gold Medal' grows just 12 ft. tall and wide.
T. lucida. MEXICAN MINT MARIGOLD, MEXICAN TARRAGON. Perennial in Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11; often grown as an annual in all zones. To 3 ft. high and wide, typically with unbranched stems. Narrow, uncut, smooth, dark green leaves have strong scent and flavor of tarragon or licorice (stems and roots are similarly fragrant). Yellow flowers, produced in fall and spring, are a nice surprise. Moderate to regular water.
T. patula. FRENCH MARIGOLD. Annual. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Most selections grow 6 in. to 112 ft. high and wide, in flower colors from yellow to rich maroon-brown. Blossoms may be fully double or single; many are strongly bicolored. Excellent for edging are dwarf, very double strains such as Little Hero (68 in.), Janie (8 in.), Bonanza (10 in.), and Hero (1012 in.), all with 2-in. flowers in a range of colors from yellow through orange to red and brownish red. Aurora and Sophia strains have flowers that are larger (to 212 in. wide) but not as double. 'Harlequin', to 23 ft. tall and wide, has 3-in.-wide flowers boldly striped in red and yellow.
T. tenuifolia (T. signata). SIGNET MARIGOLD. Annual. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. Infrequently grown species. Flowers are small (just 1 in. wide) and single, but bloom is incredibly profuse. Finely cut foliage. Gem strain offers golden yellow, lemon-yellow, and tangerine- orange blossoms on 10- to 12-in.-tall plants.
Annual marigolds are among the easiest flowers to grow from seed. Large, easy-to-handle seeds sprout in a few days in warm soil. For earlier bloom, buy nursery plants. Watch out for snails and slugs, which often devour young plants. Spider mites often attack during hot, dry weather.