Originating from South America and Mexico, marigold's scientific name is Tagetes. Marigolds are prized for their bold shades of yellow, orange and burgundy. These easy-to-grow flowers are so brilliant in colour that may be dried and used for food colouring and dyes. Depending on the cultivar, marigolds can grow from 6 inches to about 4 feet tall, and some species of these fast-growing, colourful plants are used in holistic medicine.
There are four basic species of marigolds: African-Aztec, French, single and triploids. African or Aztec varieties can range from about 1 foot to over 3 feet tall with flowers that span 3 to 4 inches across. They are generally yellow or pumpkin orange in colour. French marigolds produce large blooms in striking shades of yellow, gold, orange or a mixture of colours. Triploids are a hybrid of French and African marigolds, and single marigolds resemble daisies.
Marigolds grow well in containers both indoors and outdoors and with the proper care, they will bloom annually. Many growers prefer to plant them in yards rather than indoors because of their strong fragrance. For best results, plant marigold seeds indoors in the early spring as they generally require five to six weeks to flower. Move them outdoors in late May to avoid damage by frost.
Marigolds are not difficult to grow and maintain. They enjoy moist soil and full sun and occasional light pruning of dead flowers. Unless conditions are very dry, marigolds generally require watering about once a week or when the soil appears dry. Be sure to give them enough room to flower when planting outdoors and feed monthly with a general-purpose fertiliser.
Marigolds are insect resistant due to their strong aroma. For this reason, some gardeners use them along borders and in combination with vegetable plantings to protect other plants from insect infestation. They are subject to occasional attack from spider mites, slugs and spittlebug.
Marigolds are the official flower of "Day of the Dead" celebrations in Mexican culture. The pungent aroma and brilliant colours of marigolds were traditionally thought to attract the dead and allow their spirits to celebrate the joy of the life they once had for two days each year in November.