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.
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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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
- 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!