African Marigolds

Tall, long-stemmed, big & bold flowers for bouquets

Tall Orange Marigolds
Tall orange African marigolds

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.

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.

Yellow marigold with honeybee
Tall yellow African marigold with honeybee

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.

Favorite varieties

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.

Close-up of orange marigold flower with convoluted petals
Orange African marigold

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

Yellow sunflower with a dark disk, close-up


Tall-stemmed sunflowers bloom along with African marigolds in hot summer colors.

Bright pink amaranth flower clusters hanging from the plant


Add dramatic texture and form to your summer bouquets. They come in several colors.

Crested rose-colored celosia flower heads


The big heads, long stems, and brilliant colors of crested celosia go great with marigolds.

Purple statice flowers with a butterfly on them


Many statice colors, some cool, some warm and bright, make it a great bouquet filler.

Alstroemeria flowers in a variety of pinks


The long-stemmed varieties work perfectly with marigolds, with a good assortment of colors.

Blue pin-cushion type flower

Perennial Scabiosa

The cool colors are a nice foil to the hot colors of summer flowers…and with long stems!

Mixed bouquet with one orange marigold that stands out
A marigold in a bouquet of golden glow, bee balm, small sunflowers, echinacea, carmine globe amaranth, annual statice, and a wild, native sunflower.