October 31, 2008

Marigolds – Asteraceae/Compositae

Filed under: annuals, flower gardens, flowers, marigolds — Tags: , , , , — patoconnor @ 1:12 pm

                            Marigolds – Asteraceae/Compositae

Hundreds of varieties of marigold have been developed for the garden over the last few hundred years. These plants were brought from the new world to Europe in the 16th century and plant hybridizers have been busy with them ever since.

Marigolds are categorized into three groups: French, African and triploid marigolds. The French marigolds (Tagetes patula) are small bushy plants that are about 6-12 in (15-30 cm) in height. The flowers are up to 2 in (5 cm) across and are composed of a dense arrangement of “rays” that come in yellow, orange and a unique bronze color. The French marigolds bloom continuously until cut down by frost. The African marigolds (Tagetes erecta), also called American marigolds, are tall stout plants that grow to 3 ft (0.9 m) in height. They have larger blossoms and a shorter flowering period than their French cousins – remove faded flowers to encourage a second flush of bloom. The triploid marigolds are sterile hybrids obtained by crossing the French with the African species. These triploids are non-stop bloomers with impressive 3 in (7.6 cm) flower heads in clear warm colors of gold, yellow, red and russet. The leaves of all marigolds are dark green, deeply divided and have a somewhat unpleasant, aromatic fragrance.

Despite its common name, the African marigold (T. erecta) is native to Mexico and Central America. The French marigold (T. patula), is also from this region. Marigolds have naturalized in many other warm climate areas all over the world.

Marigolds are not fussy, they will adapt to most garden soils.
Light: Full sun.
Moisture: Water during periods of drought.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 9 – 11. Marigolds are tender tropical plants and are killed by frost. But as garden annuals they are grown, well, everywhere!
Propagation: The black needle-like seeds can be easily sown directly where they are to be grown – even by young kids. When seedlings are 1-2 in (2.5-5 cm) high thin to 12 in (30 cm) apart. They can also be sown indoors and transplanted outdoors when danger of frost has passed.

There is no finer plant for use in beds and borders than the marigold. Common but colorful, inexpensive and easy to germinate and grow, there are varieties available in a wide range of heights, hues and flower forms. The marigold is a workhorse of the garden where they bloom non-stop for virtually the entire summer. The rugged marigolds are perfect for containers where they combine well with other plants (I like them with
blue sage and blue ageratum). Plant marigolds in the vegetable garden where they are said to discourage certain insect pests.

Fast growth, nonstop color, and resistance to disease and pests make marigolds superstars in the garden. These tough annuals are perfect “learner plants” for demonstrating plant care and the miracle of seed germination to young kids. Marigolds have the stamina and endurance to survive an entire life cycle under the care of a 5 year old! Marigold flower petals are fed to chickens which imparts a yellow hue to the meat and fat – this provides no nutritional benefits but is said to be preferred by consumers.
Another Tagetes species is commonly called Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida). It is used in the kitchen as a substitute for the more familiar French tarragon.  




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