Marigolds are a flower which always features in my summer garden. They are very easy to grow and make a great companion plant for many veggies growing in the garden as they are said to repel insects. Marigolds are also known for improving the quality of the soil, especially when they have been planted as a cover crop. Marigolds are commonly used in South Asian culture for worship and rituals.
Traditionally, marigolds can be planted outside in New Zealand by Labour Weekend, which is a long weekend with a public holiday falling on the Monday after the weekend (like a Bank Holiday in England). Labour Weekend usually falls towards the end of October. This year, Labour Weekend starts on 21 October. While it’s natural to want a head start on the season, my advice is to not be in a rush to plant out seedlings. There is often a dramatic difference between day and night time temperatures at this time of the year and the weather can still be quite temperamental. Young seedlings are particularly tender. Once they’ve been hit by a sudden cold snap or exposed to consistently low temperatures, they never really recover. It’s therefore a good idea to wait until the beginning of November to plant marigold seedlings into your garden, when temperatures are warmer. This way, the seedlings you plant out will be a bit more established and strong enough to survive any setbacks along the way. In saying that, it does depend on where you live. New Zealand’s climate varies dramatically from region to region and I do have to remember that not all of my audience lives in Auckland or even New Zealand for that matter. My personal gardening experiences are limited to our urban homestead in the Auckland region, so please take this into account when considering my advice. On the same token, what grows well in my environment may not necessarily thrive in your own microclimate. So please don’t blame me if things go wrong and varieties I’ve recommended don’t grow well in your garden!
Sowing marigolds from seed
It’s much too early to think about planting marigolds outdoors. It’s still way too cold! However, I wanted to write a guide to growing marigolds now because you can start sowing marigolds under cover from seed. It’s really easy to grow marigolds from seed and it allows you to grow unusual varieties which aren’t found in garden centres. It takes about six to eight weeks from the time of the germination of a marigold seed to produce a plant that is large enough to transplant outside.
Marigolds can be started from seed indoors in October or even earlier if you live in a more temperate zone and have a hot house to protect them from the cold. Marigold seeds need warmth in order to germinate. I germinate seeds in punnets or egg cartons filled with seed raising mix from Gardn Gro. I like Gardn Gro’s seed raising mix as it is very fine in texture, enabling seeds to push through the mixture easily as they rise to the surface. I place the punnets and egg cartons inside plastic incubators which you can purchase from garden centres. I then place the incubators on a heat pad indoors and spray plants with water once daily or twice if the seed raising mixture is very dry. If you don’t have a heat pad you can also use your hot water cupboard which will also provide seedlings with a warm environment so they can germinate successfully.
If you’re planning to grow marigolds from seed, you’ll find that they come in an impressive array of colours, sizes and heights. Traditionally, zucchini are red, orange and yellow. There are quite a few different varieties on the market in New Zealand. Two of my favourite varieties from previous seasons are Bonanza Deep Orange and Bonanza Bright Yellow (Egmont Seeds). The Durango series have also performed very well in the garden in past seasons (Durango Red, Outback Mix, Durango Mix and Durango Bolero, all from Egmont Seeds). This year, I’m excited to be growing some different varieties: African Ivory, French Vanilla F1 and Strawberry Blonde (all from Egmont Seeds). African Ivory is a tall bedding variety of marigold growing to a height of 90 cm. French Vanilla F1 is a fabulous white/cream African marigold with double blooms approximately 8cm across. Strawberry Blonde is described as being the “yesterday, today and tomorrow of the marigold world” on Egmont Seeds’ website. Flowers consist of multi-coloured blooms on the same plant, which is unusual for marigold plants. Each shade is beautiful, making for a beautiful display. I will post photos on my blog, in my newsletter and on my social media accounts to report on the progress of these new varieties in Anita’s Garden.
How to care for marigold seedlings
For new gardeners, those who don’t wish to start their marigold seedlings from seed or if you’ve simply left it too late, plants are available for sale in nurseries from September onwards. Palmers stock a great range of marigold seedlings. Awapuni also sell high quality, large grade marigold seedlings delivered direct to your door. Look out for Dwarf Red, Dwarf Mixed and Tall varieties. If you order 7 or more bundles of seedlings, delivery is free.
I plan to sell a variety of different marigold seedlings in my own boutique nursery later in the season. Keep an eye out for details in my newsletter, on Neighbourly and my Facebook page as to when they become available. During October and November, I will also circulate updated lists of available stock in my plant nursery to subscribers of my free weekly gardening newsletter. To be added to my mailing list and receive these notifications, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ll probably be selling seedlings a bit later than stores because I’m merely a home gardener, germinating and caring for seedlings in our patio at home without the help of the horticultural technology that you would expect to find in a commercial operation. Without a hot house, I simply don’t have a head start on the season like large-scale nurseries. To compensate for this, I do try and offer seedling varieties which are unusual and can’t be found in garden centres or online retailers. This is a good thing as it enables me to collaborate with other businesses in the industry and promote their brands. You can achieve a lot by working with other people in the same field (no pun intended), as opposed to simply trying to compete with them. To read my further thoughts on this issue, please click here.
Whoever you decide to buy plants from, take care to keep plants undercover until early October as marigolds are frost sensitive. The weather can be temperamental in spring and the nights are often still quite cool. From then on, start “hardening them off”. This is the process of exposing plants to the outdoors incrementally, for example, for two hours in the middle of the day for the first week, increasing to four hours per day for the next week. Continue to bring the plants indoors at night. By the third week of October, it should be safe to leave plants outdoors overnight.
If you want to grow the bigger headed varieties, try Taishan Mix, Taishan Yellow and Taishan Orange (all from Egmont Seeds).
To order seeds from the very extensive Egmont Seeds range, visit http://www.egmontseeds.co.nz/.
How to care for marigold plants
Marigolds need at least 6 hours of sunshine per day, so be sure to plant seedlings in the sunniest spot in your garden. Before planting marigold seedlings, take the time to prepare the bed properly so plants receive adequate nutrition. Dig the area over that you wish to plant your seedlings in. Mix plenty of compost and some sheep pellets into the ground. I highly recommend Gardn Gro’s Wonder Nuggets, which are 100% organic and function as an excellent fertiliser. Rake the ground so that it is nice and level. Be sure to water plants every day, preferably early in the morning or in the evening. Liquid feed marigolds weekly to encourage the growth of healthy leaves and the formation of flowers. Snails adore marigold plants, especially when they are young, and can completely decapitate your seedlings. Protect young seedlings from snails by placing snail pellets around the plants.
Marigolds are an annual which means that they will grow, set seed and die after one growing season. If you are growing heirloom varieties, you can save seeds from your plants so you will be able to sow those varieties next season.