Marigolds are an annual staple flower in many flower beds and vegetable gardens. Their vibrant, happy blooms of bright yellow, orange, and red bring a bright burst of color that lasts all summer long. While some people consider them pungent, their strong and slightly peppery smell can be put to good use. They can repel a large variety of unwanted garden pests, making them great companion plants. So whether you want to repel pests in a flower garden or attract pollinators to a vegetable garden, marigolds have a role to play. While you can buy them from any greenhouse, it is very easy to harvest the flower seeds so that you can grow them yourself at little to no cost. Here's how!
Different Types of Marigolds
There are three main types of marigolds found in the United States and one native to southern Europe.
Mexican marigold (Tagetes erecta)
Mexican marigolds, also called African marigolds, are taller and more upright than the other cultivars. They come in orange or yellow, with large, full blooms that can reach up to 5 inches in diameter. Used to hot climate conditions, they take 70-100 days to reach maturity.
French marigold (Tagetes patula)
French marigolds grow smaller and bushier. This is the variety that will get you the bicolored marigold flowers with a mahogany-red hue. They have a longer bloom season and can have either single or double rows of petals. French marigolds reach maturity in 50-60 days, a great option for a shorter growing season.
Signet marigold (Tagetes tenuifolia)
Signet marigolds are notably different from the others. They have a bushy growth pattern, with fine, lacy leaves. The yellow or orange flowers come in a single layer of petals. The blooms are smaller, but they are more numerous, practically covering the plant. While all marigolds are medicinal and edible flowers, Signet marigolds are favored for their flavor. The flowers have a spicy tarragon flavor, and the foliage smells like lemon. These also take 60 days to bloom.
Pot marigolds or English marigolds (Calendula officinalis)
This "marigold" is not a true marigold, but it is an attractive companion plant regardless. A native plant of southern Europe, this plant offers bright edible flowers with a tangy and peppery taste.
How To Harvest Marigold Seeds
Regardless of the cultivar, or whether you decide to direct sow or start indoors later, the process for harvesting marigold seeds is the same.
- Wait For The Marigolds To Dry. One of the most crucial parts of harvesting your own marigold seeds is to wait for the right time. Keep an eye on your blooms, and plan to harvest seeds when the petals are dry and the base of each bloom (or, rather, seed pod) is turning brown. There can still be a little green left at the base - a completely brown base might have started to rot or mold. Then, simply snap each marigold flower head from its stem. They snap off very easily!
- Remove The Seeds. Place a paper towel on a flat surface. Then, holding on to the base, pull the dried blooms straight off. Depending on how dry your blooms were before harvesting, they should separate easily from the seeds, leaving the seeds still attached to the base. If the seeds come off with the blooms, that's fine - they just have more moisture in them. Marigold seeds are long, white on one end, and dark brown or black on the other. Separate the seeds from the dried petals, and spread them out on your paper towel.
- Let The Seeds Dry. Leave the marigold seeds to dry uncovered on the paper towel for about a week or so. If you store them without fully drying them, they will be liable to mold or rot when stored.
- Store The Seeds. To keep your marigold seeds over the winter, place them in a paper envelope. Don't store them in a plastic bag! That will trap any residual moisture, leading to mold or rot. Be sure to label the envelope, so you'll remember what's in it next year. Keep your envelopes in a cool, dry place.
Sowing Marigold Seeds Outdoors
Marigolds are summer flowers and do not tolerate frost. If you intend to sow your harvested seeds directly into your soil, make sure you have a long growing season or choose a fast-maturing cultivar. You'll have to wait longer for blooms, so make sure your growing season gives you ample time to enjoy them.
To sow directly into your soil, choose a full sun location and wait until one to two weeks after your last frost date. Wet the soil slightly with a hose a few hours before sowing so that the soil is moist but not soggy. Scrape some soil off to the side to use to cover the seeds and level out the soil you intend to plant in. Plant groups of 3 to 4 seeds 6-12 inches apart, depending on your variety. Press them lightly into the soil, and then cover with the soil that was set aside. They should be planted 1/2 inch deep. Water lightly, and make sure to water daily until seedlings emerge.
Starting Marigold Seeds Indoors
If you have a shorter growing season, are growing a slowly maturing marigold like the Mexican marigold, or simply want blooms earlier in the summer, starting your marigolds indoors is the route for you.
Sow your seeds 6 to 8 weeks before your last average frost date. Spread sterilized potting soil into a starter tray and plant 2 to 3 seeds in each cell of the tray. Place the trays either under grow lights or by a south-facing window. When the seedlings reach 2 inches tall, thin out all but the strongest plant from each cell. Water daily, but with a spray bottle to prevent oversaturating the soil.
A week before you intend to transplant your seedlings, start to harden them off by gradually setting the trays outside for increasing amounts of time, adding more sun and wind exposure each time. Then, preferably on a cloudy day, plant your seedlings in the desired location. Water daily for the first week to get them established.