Marigolds (Tagetes spp.) are some of the easiest flowers to grow, making them a plant type often associated with children and beginner gardens. However, there’s another reason you can find packets of marigold seeds just about anywhere seeds are sold.
It turns out that marigolds not only bring beauty to your gardens but a whole slew of benefits for your other plants.
Welcome to the secret world of companion planting and the role of marigolds within it!
Why Grow Marigolds In The Garden?
Marigolds have a lot of great qualities that make them worth growing on their own. However, their status as beneficial companion plants makes them perfect for almost any garden setting.
What Is Companion Planting?
Alternately known as complimentary gardening, this is the fine art of grouping plants with similar needs and benefiting each other.
For example, plants with different root depths can be planted closer together than those with similar depths, which allows you to avoid unsightly gaps and prevent weeds from getting a foothold.
Grouping plants with different bloom times helps ensure the garden remains exciting throughout the entire growing season.
Some plants can naturally repel pests or fend off diseases, allowing them to protect more susceptible plants so you won’t have to resort to pesticides.
In other cases, a plant will attract pollinators or beneficial insects, spreading to less attractive plants nearby.
And finally, some plants are especially attractive to certain pests and are planted specifically to use sacrificial plants, drawing negative attention away from more valuable crops and ornamentals.
Of all the benefits, this is by far the most obvious.
Marigolds bring a burst of bright color to the garden, most often in hues of gold to orange, but sometimes also reds.
Most marigolds bloom in late spring to early summer, but some species and cultivars bloom later or even can bloom twice in one year.
They make for wonderful cut flowers, and their root depth allows them to be planted very close to many common garden plants, so the blooms appear to hover amongst other flowers.
Arts and Crafts
Marigolds have been used for centuries in many commercial products, many of which you can replicate at home.
The petals can be used as a natural food coloring but are also used in textiles.
Unlike many other natural dyes, you can easily extract the color from marigold petals and don’t need alum or other additives to make the dye stick.
This makes growing marigolds with your family a great excuse to start collecting ocre, berries, and other natural pigments to do tie-dyes, make natural paints and do other fun family crafts.
Believe it or not, many species of marigold are edible. The petals can be used in salads and can be used as a cheap substitute for expensive spices such as saffron.
They can also be used as edible decorations for pastries, and many great recipes exist (such as marigold vinaigrettes).
On a side note (which we’ll speak more of later), marigolds protect many crop plants, especially tomatoes. This means there’s no excuse to omit them from a vegetable or herb garden.
WARNING: While beneficial to many crops, please be warned that certain chemicals marigolds release into the soil are harmful to legumes, so these two should never be planted close together.
While barely noticeable to humans, marigolds have a strong scent that drives a wide range of pests away.
If paired with alliums or other repellent plants, marigolds can deter deer and rabbits, although they’re not overly effective on their own if you plant a tasty treat beside them.
However, these plants are far more successful at repelling several smaller pests.
Some of the pests they’re known to repel are the following:
- Cabbage moth
- Mexican bean beetle
- Tomato hornworm
- Whiteflies (to some extent)
They also release a chemical into the soil that kills harmful nematodes, which are microscopic, wormlike creatures that come in harmful and beneficial varieties.
The harmful ones will attack plant roots, while beneficial ones aid in composting.
Birds and insects use a different visual spectrum than we do, allowing them to see colors we’d consider impossible while being unable to see colors we enjoy.
Marigolds employ colors that draw the attention of pollinators, such as bees and butterflies.
These pollinators interpret the coloration to mean there’s a lot of nectar available and will flock to the marigolds.
Once there, they’ll notice other plants nearby and begin to fan out and pollinate them.
While it’s shown that marigolds can repel many pests, the effectiveness can vary a little based on the variety and other factors.
However, they fight pest problems another way as well by attracting beneficial insects.
The two most popular are ladybugs and parasitic wasps, although the marigolds also attract other predators.
These natural predators will feast on aphids, mealybugs, spider mites, and a host of other pests that may infest nearby plants.
Without marigolds or other predator-attracting plants in your garden, these beneficial insects might not stay or even skip your garden altogether.
Slugs absolutely move marigolds, and this has led to the plants often being used sacrificially.
Plant a bunch of them off to the side, and the slugs will head toward the marigold patch instead of your veggies.
You can sprinkle some diatomaceous earth around the base of the marigolds every few days, killing the slugs as they try to have their little feast.