Calendula

Orange flower with a butterfly on it
Single flowers and semi-double ones have exposed centers to feed pollinators like butterflies Credit: Stefan from Pixabay

Calendula officinalis

One of the easiest flowers, grow calendula for early and late season flowers.

In many areas it blooms in the colder extremes. In warmer areas, Zones 7 and up, it blooms in fall to winter and late winter through spring. In colder climates it can bloom spring through fall.

It’s an annual flower that self-sows readily; that means you may only need to plant once and you’ll find new plants every year from the seeds they produce. Or the seeds are big enough to easily collect and replant when and where you want the next batch.

Calendula is often called “pot marigold”  or even just marigold. But that’s a misnomer, it’s not any closer related to the marigold than sunflowers, zinnias, or asters are. Though, they’re all in the Aster family!

The petals are edible and the flowers are often used medicinally (see Special Info below). But most importantly they make nice cut flowers. There are many varieties, but pick the tallest ones for the best cuts.

Flowers

Most calendula flowers are a brilliant orange or yellow. But there are many newer varieties that are in softer shades of orange and yellow, and there are even some in pinks, salmons, and copper tones.

Flowers are typically 2- 3½ inches wide. Some varieties are single, having a single row of petals around the center. And many others are semi-double or fully double, having two rows or many rows of flowers around the center.

Keep in mind that the more the center of a flower is exposed, the more it will attract and feed beneficial insects. These include pollinators and the insects that do pest control in your garden. So choosing single flowers is best for them.

A single orange calendula flower with two rows of petals, making it rather flat
A single type of calendula flower, the best ones for the pollinators and beneficial insects, thier pollen and nectar are readily available. Credit: Manfred Richter from Pixabay
Semi-double yellow calendula flower with 4 to 5 rows of petals, making it a little fluffier then the single
This calendula flower is semi-double, having several rows of petals. Credit: Rolf from Pixabay
Fully double yellow calendula flower, many petals surround the center making it fluffy
A double calendula flower. Credit: Hans from Pixabay

Plants

Plants grow to about a 12-18 in. tall and wide with flowers above. They grow and flower within about 2 months.

The plants have a resin that makes calendula medicinal. Most of the resin is concentrated in the flowers, and they are used the most. But the leaves and stems are often used, too. Here’s one source for more info. There are plenty of other resources for using calendula medicinally to find online.

But I want to give you how to grow calendula flowers for cutting.

Single orange flower with an exposed center has a tiny native bee feeding on the pollen and nectar
This single calendula flower has a tiny native bee feeding on the pollen and nectar Credit: Stefan from Pixabay
Orange flower with a butterfly on it
Single flowers and semi-double ones have exposed centers to feed pollinators like butterflies Credit: Stefan from Pixabay

Growing the Plants

To grow calendula you only need average soil with average watering, but not too dry, it’s not drought tolerant. Plant them in full sun or part shade in hot areas.

If you’re in an area with cool summers or with a short growing season, plant seeds in early in spring, even a little before the last frost date, and you’ll enjoy a long bloom season. Or sow every several weeks for a fresh, steady supply of flowers.

Calendula will likely stop blooming in summer in very hot summer areas, so here’s what to do. If you live in a climate with long, hot summers, plant seed in the fall for them to emerge in late winter to early spring. Then again in August for fall bloom (though you may already have them volunteering).  Or you can deadhead the plants in the summer for a repeat bloom in fall.

Direct sowing is easiest, but they can be started in cells or pots. Space plants at 12 in. apart.

It’s also easy to grow calendula in pots!

Harvesting

Fresh cuts: Harvest the flowers at the lowest point on their stems, keep the side buds on if you want, they can be pretty. Put them in water in the usual way. If you are harvesting during the cool season you won’t need to worry about having warm water to put them in.

Mass of fried orange calendula petals
Dried calendula petals    Credit: Erich Bauer from Pixabay

Dried Flowers: Harvest as above and hang upside down in small bunches. This allows more resin in the stems to collect in the flowers. Dry them in a warmish, darkish spot. OR, for a more attractive dried flower for storage, cut the flower with just a stub of stem and place on a rack to dry in a warm, dark spot. Store when completely dry (make sure they’re brittle) in a jar.

Dried Petals: Remove petals from dried flowers or remove from fresh flowers then dry them on a dust-free surface in a warm, dry, spot. Avoid eating the centers and calyx…they’re bitter.

Favorite Variety:

Simple orange calendula flower, a single
‘Alpha” variety of calendula Credit: Patrick Pahlke on Unsplash

My preference in calendula is always the single flowers and those with the longest stems. So my favorite is Alpha, a 2- 3½ inch wide flower in brilliant orange on a stem that’s 24-30 inches. It looks very similar to Gerber daisies. Coincidentally, Alpha also has a high resin content.

Sources:

Johnny’s Selected Seeds 

Many other seed carriers have this one, too.

Special Info:

  • Brown jar of yellow salve with yellow calendula flower laying next to it
    A healing salve can be made from calendula flowers and flower petals to soothe and heal skin irritations and wounds. Credit: T Caesar from Pixabay
    Use whole flowers for tea fresh or dried. Use the petals in dishes to add color and fun. But don’t eat the centers and calyx fresh…they’re bitter.
  • One caveat to using calendula in large amounts like in teas and in medicinals, is that some people who are allergic to plants like ragweed, marigolds, or pollen in general, can have allergic reactions to calendula products. So proceed cautiously, ask your healthcare provider for advice.
  • As mentioned above, when you grow calendula flowers, you will help pollinators and the many beneficial insects that are silently doing pest control services for you. And since in warm climates they bloom early and late, your flowers help the insects that emerge early and finish their season later than most flowers.
  • Be sure to see my page on edible flowers for having more fun in the garden and in the kitchen!
Yellow and orange calendula flowers in a garden
Yellow and orange calendula flowers...they're so easy to grow and fun to use in the kitchen! Credit: Hans from Pixabay