These marigolds aren’t marigolds at all!
Q. What exactly is a pot marigold? I saw some recently, but it looked nothing like our marigolds. It is beautiful. How can I grow it?
Kathy from Poland
A. A pot marigold is really a calendula plant. It isn’t a marigold at all! It’s just a common name for a fantastic flower!
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a cheery, dependable bloomer in the garden. It is an herb – one of the most- versatile herbs, with uses in cosmetic and culinary recipes, medicinal preparations, dyes and long-lasting fresh and dried bouquets. It’s been called “the poor man’s” saffron as dried, ground calendula flowers can be used as a substitute for saffron.
Calendula is a bushy, cool- season annual that grows to 1 to 2 feet tall, though dwarf varieties may be as short as 6 inches. Many times, we see it growing under 1 foot tall. It is erect in form with one flower to a stem. You can encourage branching by pinching back the central stem when the first flower forms. Remove fading blossoms promptly to encourage a longer bloom time. The leaves and stems are covered with fine hairs, and the leaves, when bruised, give off a distinctive, pungent aroma. The daisylike flowers are as small as 1 inch wide, but can be much wider.
The wild species have orange-yellow flowers, but cultivated varieties come in a range of colors from creamy yellow to fiery orange-red. They need water at least once a week in dry periods. The best time to cut flowers is just before the flower has completely opened.
Calendula will flourish in full sun or light shade. They are best grown in average garden soil with good drainage. They are an excellent choice for informal plantings and for color in the herb garden, flower beds and borders and provide brilliant color for deck containers. Make sure you plant them in an open area with good circulation to prevent mildew.
Calendula is very easy to grow. You can sow seeds outside in spring as soon as the soil begins to warm. When plants have reached a height of about 4 inches, thin them to 10 inches apart. If you save seeds from your flowers, allow them to brown and dry completely. The result will be lots of seeds that look like the letter C. They will also re-seed themselves in your bed. They are a cool-season plant, so you can plant in early spring, then again in early August. You can also start seeds indoors in flats. Sow seeds about eight weeks before the last frost date; you can later transplant seedlings into pots. As soon as all danger of frost is past, the containers can go outdoors, although they can tolerate a light frost.
If you plan to harvest for use, spread the harvested petals over a dry paper or screen to prevent them from sticking together. Store the petals in moisture-proof jars. Preserve whole flowers in salad vinegar.
For more information on this versatile flower and herb, go to: go.osu.edu/calendula
Today’s answer is provided by Pam Baytos, OSU Extension master gardener volunteer. Call the office hot line at 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Regular clinic hours are 9 a.m. to noon Mondays and Thursdays.