Tall, long-stemmed, big & bold flowers for bouquets
Tagetes erecta (African, American, Crackerjack)
African marigolds are tall, dramatic, intensely colored marigolds. Great for cutting with long thick stems, they last well in the vase and bring some fall color to bouquets.
These flowers are used in bouquets, can be made into festive garlands, and are often used in India for ceremonies.
The petals are edible, too! Take the petals in one hand, twist to tear them from the base of the flower, and sprinkle over salads or to use as a pretty garnish. The petals can be dried to use as a festive garnish for winter use, or to add prettiness to homemade teas.
Marigolds are one of the most popular annual flowers in the world. They have a distinctive resiny, citrusy smell in the foliage. Some don’t like this, but I love it. It reminds me of being in my grandmother’s summer flower garden and discovering that some plants have foliage with quite a fragrance.
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Marigold flowers and plants
They grow to 3-3 ½ ft. tall. . The big, fully double ball-shaped blossoms are about 3” wide and come in bright lemon yellow, brilliant orange, gold, and cream. They’re sold as either African, American, or Crackerjack Marigolds.
The stems on these plants are long, thick, and sturdy, making them perfect to go with the other summer flowers like sunflowers, amaranth, crested celosias, and golden glow.
How to grow African marigolds
Full sun. Good garden soil. This means a prepared bed with some compost worked in. Work in a little organic flower fertilizer in the planting hole. But they do tolerate drought and poorer soils. And they’re heat tolerant.
I start marigold plants from seeds in my Speedling trays. You can plant seeds directly into the soil, but you have more control on spacing and a good head start if you start in trays earlier.
I’ve had the best harvests when I’ve given my marigolds an 18” x 18” spacing. But I often squeeze them in more tightly when I’m sort on space, I just get fewer flowers.
Water regularly, but let them dry out between waterings once the pants are established. I typically water once per week. No pinching or pruning is needed for marigolds.
How to harvest marigolds
When the flowers have fully opened but are still firm and tight, cut the stems as low as you can to a node with little leaf buds. If that means your stems are too long, just cut the excess off after harvesting. This way new stems can grow and be long and strong enough for another set of quality cut flowers.
Put your cuts into a clean bucket with lukewarm water. Then bring them into a cool, darkish place to sit for 8 hrs. or so. This conditions them and gives them a longer vase life.
Harvest the edible petals
if you want to harvest petals for adding a festive flair to your summer dishes, just take an open flower, grab the petals all together, and give them a twist and pull and you have a handful of colorful petals to adorn you salads or even your table.
To dry them, put them on a screen in a hot room for several hours, during dry weather. Or use a food dehydrator, or a low oven.
I grow the marigolds that go by the name of African, American, or Crackerjack Marigold. They’re all the exact same. They also may be called Giant Marigold.
I like the yellow and the orange. I like the orange because I tend to have plenty of other yellow flowers in the summer. But the yellow is a pretty, bright lemon-yellow color.
The gold, where still available, tends to be semi-double, not fully double. It’s not as pretty as the others. I haven’t grown the cream.
I buy the seeds in packets of single colors so I can be sure to get enough of the orange ones.
Sources for seeds
Johnny’s Seeds: they have them as giant marigolds
Eden Brothers: for their mixed African seeds, and look around, they have yellow, cream and a few others.
Botanical Interests: they have a Crackerjack mix
Flowers to go with African marigolds
Many statice colors, some cool, some warm and bright, make it a great bouquet filler.
The long-stemmed varieties work perfectly with marigolds, with a good assortment of colors.
The cool colors are a nice foil to the hot colors of summer flowers…and with long stems!