Tiny yellow flowers and a penchant for attracting beneficial insects to the garden make huacatay an ideal addition to the landscape. Mexican marigold, Peruvian black mint and tagetes minuta -- these are all names for huacatay, an annual herb that is native to South America. Huacatay plants deter garden pests such as nematodes. Dried leaves are used for cooking and teas. Dried flowers and leaves contain thiophenes and are used in traditional medicine in Mexico for their antiviral effects.
Wait until the danger of frost is well passed before planting huacatay. Soil temperatures should be 18.3 degrees Celsius or warmer to encourage seeds to germinate. In most areas of the country, you will be able to plant seeds in mid- to late May.
Select a location in the garden that receives full sun -- huacatay prefers abundant sunshine. Also keep the plant's potential size upon maturity in mind while choosing your planting site -- plants will reach heights of 6 inches to 10 feet, with a spread of 6 inches to 3 feet. Space seeds approximately 18 inches apart to allow ample room while plants are growing.
Loosen the soil in the area in which you will plant the seeds and sow them directly into the garden. Seeds should be sowed approximately 1/4-inch deep and covered lightly with garden soil.
Water the area thoroughly and then water on a regular basis throughout the growing season. Most garden plants, huacatay included, require one-half to 1 inch of water per week.
Watch for flowers and enjoy the delicate colour they lend to your landscaping. When growing huacatay from seed, plants reach maturity within 120 days of planting. Collect seeds from dying plants to use next year, or allow the plant to self-seed (which may or may not yield plants next year).
- Gardeners in colder climates may consider starting seeds indoors in late March or early April. To do so, sow seeds in furrows in seed beds or peat pots. Cover the seeds with approximately 1/4-inch or vermiculite. Place in a warm location (soil must be 65 to 80 degrees for germination) and keep the soil moist. Seeds will begin to germinate within several days; flowers should emerge within approximately 45 days, at which time plants can be transplanted into the garden.
- Harvest plants by cutting the plant's main stem. Cut it to ground level and dry the stem, flowers and leaves. Bundle plant materials together and hang in a location that does not receive direct sunlight.
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