Tagetes patula, or more commonly known as the french marigold, is a flowering plant that is a member of the daisy botanical family (asteraceae). This is an appropriate relation, as members of the daisy family are usually charming to look at and wonderfully easy to care for.
The latin term, patula, translates literally to “with a spreading habit” which is a perfect description for the way that the french marigold grows. They are a perfect ground cover plant.
The french marigold is a beloved annual flower amongst gardeners. Though not everyone is willing to put the work into a plant that will only last for a single year, the french marigold has so many benefits outside of its beauty that it is more than worth the effort.
What do French Marigolds Look Like?
French marigolds are absolutely beautiful flowers with a very charming autumn color theme. These sunny blooms will usually bloom in the early summer around July, and last all the way until late fall and die around October.
A french marigold flower is comprised of fluttering petals which a similar appearance as the double carnation layered petals. Petals have a velvety texture and will be yellow, orange, and brown. A french marigold flower will usually have petals with a differently colored tip from the rest of the petal.
French marigolds have understated leaves that are usually a blueish green color. They have a more herbaceous growing pattern and trend towards the ground.
Each leaf is compound, meaning that it is comprised of many smaller leaflets to make one leaf. The foliage is without a serrated margin and will commonly have an attractive scent.
Compared to other marigold species, the french marigold has more of a short, spreading growth habit. This makes them the perfect ground cover plant or garden border plant. These annual plants will stay close to the ground, only reach heights between 6 and 12 inches.
Once a french marigold flower is fertilized, it will produce long a narrow seeds. Each flower seed is a couple of centimetres long, and will mature into a dark brown color.
A french marigold seed will germinate quite readily, and you can leave the plant to self seed if you don’t mind more of a wildflower look in your garden.
If you would like to have a tidier green space, all a few spent blooms to ripen and dry out, then you can harvest the french marigold seeds and keep them in a dark and dry place until the following spring.
Sow marigold seed indoors about 6 weeks before the last frost of the season is due. This way, seedlings will be ready to planted outdoors as soon as the ground is soft enough.
What are Some Other Marigold Species?
Signet Marigold (Tagetes Tenuifolia)
Also known as the golden marigold or the lemon marigold, the signet marigold is a species of wild marigold that is part of the daisy botanical family (asteraceae).
T tenuifolia is an annual herb that is a widespread wildflower that can be found growing all over Central America, including Mexico, Colombia, and Peru. In these plants this plant was traditionally used as a natural way to help with snakebites!
Tagetes tenuifolia can grow to be about 20 inches in height and produces small yellow flowers with a flay ray of disc floret flower petals. They are one of the easiest plants to grow, and foliage can be eaten like a garnish with a lemon-like flavor.
Aztec Marigold (Tagetes Erecta)
Also known as the American marigold, the African marigold, or the Mexican marigold, the Aztec marigold is native all over Central America and Mexico.
T erecta is an annual plant with more of a bushy growth habit. They produce incredible and massive double flowers (similar to a double carnation). Flowers will be either yellow, orange, white, or a combination of those colors.
This variety is loved for its showy blossoms and easy care. They are a wonderful plant to add to a landscape either as a bedding plant or as a low maintenance container plant. The blossoms will last from the early summer until the first frost of the season.
Common Marigold (Calendula Officinalis)
Though not part of the same family, the common marigold, pot marigold, scotch marigold, or ruddles flower is just as well known as other marigold species. They are also part of the daisy family (asteraceae).
This variety is native to the southern parts of Europe. The exact origins are not exactly known, as there have been so many cultivars in rotation for so long that the original plant is far outside of common knowledge.
This is a rather short lived herbaceous plant. It is a great option if you’re looking for a perennial marigold (but keep in mind that it is still short lived). The pot marigold is a little bit taller, about 31 inches in height, and produces stunning yellow flowers.
Where are French Marigolds a Native Plant?
Due to the common name, “french marigold”, one wouldn’t be foolish to assume that this was a native plant to France. However, the french marigold only became popularized in France when seeds were brought to Europe in the early 1800’s.
This lovely ornamental plant is actually native to both Mexico and Guatemala and can be found growing wild all over the place. Since they are such tough and low maintenance plants, they have become naturalized all over the world. They can exist in USDA growing zones 2 through 11.
What are the Growing Conditions of French Marigolds?
If you weren’t already convinced that you should grow marigold (french, or otherwise) in your garden, you are about to be converted. Take notes of these tips so that you are ready to plant french marigolds in your garden come early spring or late spring.
These plants are remarkably tough, low maintenance, and easy to care for. They have almost no specific growing conditions are barely require anything from you. They are the perfect plant for that hands-off style gardener.
T patula can exist in nearly anything. Their growing medium can be either sand derived or clay derived. Just make sure that the soil type is well drained and that it doesn’t stay wet for too long.
They also perform very well when they exist in soil that is high in nutrients. You can achieve this by incorporating organic compost into your potting mix or garden mix.
Marigolds are a sun loving species. This means that they require a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. If they are planted in partial shade, there is a chance that the lovely flowers won’t develop properly.
Additionally, if your marigold plant is subjected to full shade, they are very likely to develop fungal diseases like powdery mildew because moisture on their leaves won’t evaporate quickly enough.
The french marigold has moderate water requirements. The soil shouldn’t be too moist but also shouldn’t be too dry. Natural precipitation should usually suffice unless there is a prolonged period without rain.
A good rule of thumb is to simply ensure that soil doesn’t dry out completely. Measure this by sticking your thumb into the soil. If the top soil is dry but it’s still moist below, they’re you’re good to go! (Meaning there is no need to water).
When it comes to temperature, the french marigold isn’t too picky! Since it is an annual plant it won’t survive the winter anyway, but blossoms can last a surprisingly long time. They will usually stick around until temperatures drop below 33 degrees Fahrenheit.
The french marigold plant will respond very well to fertilizer. Don’t be afraid to add a dose of fertilizer every couple of weeks during the growing season of the plant. This will help encourage many healthy flower blossoms.
The overall growth habit of a french marigold is very neat and not unruly, so the only pruning that really needs to happen is deadheading.
Deadheading spent flowers will encourage the plant to continue producing a new flower bloom. You can also wait until the flower bloom has produced seeds and dried up, that way you can harvest the seeds and plant a new french marigold patch the next spring!
At the end of the day, there really isn’t anything you can throw at the french marigold that it can’t handle. It is drought tolerant, tolerant of all types of soils, the main thing to remember is that it will be happiest if it gets to live in direct sunlight!
How are French Marigold Plants Used?
Many people will use a plant ornamentally without knowing all of the other benefits the specimen has to offer! That being said, the french marigold did become popularized because of its beauty, not only as a garden specimen, but because they make great cut flowers as well.
These marvellous bedding plants are beloved because of their easy care and because of their beautiful flowers. They make a great container plant, they can be grown in pots, as a rock garden border plant, or as a simple ground cover plant.
There are thousands and thousands of different marigold cultivars available, though they are best known for having bright and warmly colored flowers of yellow and orange. These compact plants make for a bright contrast below tall plants.
Another amazing benefit to marigolds are in companion planting. Companion planting (or symbiotic gardening) is a method of gardening that enables plants to support one another either by repelling pests, attracting beneficial insects, or adding important nutrients to soil.
The marigold is helpful because its roots secrete a chemical that kills nematodes that exist in the soil. They repel harmful insects away from other plant life, like deterring whiteflies from infesting tomato plants.
An entire marigold plant can be distilled for its essential oils. Marigold essential oil is often used in perfumery for its strikingly lovely smell. It is also said to have anti fungal properties and has traditionally been used to repel bedbugs! (That’s a hot tip for those of you that live in big cities).
The dried marigold flower is used to obtain natural pigment dye. It creates an absolutely stunning robust golden color that is popularly used to dye animal based textiles like silk or wool.
Interestingly enough, the color is so robust that it doesn’t need an added mordant to keep the color bright. It’s bright enough all on its own.
Another interesting fact is that small scale egg farmers will actually feed their chickens marigold flowers. Why? Because this makes the egg yolks a darker orange color because of the intense pigment in the flowers!
And last but not least, marigolds are completely edible in their entirety. A young plant has leaves that have a sharp lemony flavor to them, and the edible flowers can be eaten fresh as a gorgeous salad or dessert garnish.
Otherwise, marigold petals can be dried and ground up and used as a spice. It is said that this spice has a very complimentary flavor to cinnamon and clove. It is similar in color and pungency to turmeric.