Calendula, AKA “pot marigold,” is one of my favorite flowers to grow in the vegetable garden. Calendula is part of the Asteraceae family, which gives us daisies, zinnias, and so many other favorite flowers, and brings a cottage garden vibe to your space.
Flowers come in many different colors and shades—from wistful pink to cheerful orange—and make for long-lasting cut flowers. If you leave them in your garden space, they’ll attract every bee and butterfly around.
In addition to adding some bright color to your garden, this edible flower also has various culinary and medicinal uses. I’m not big on calendula tea, but I do like to make a salve to calm itchy skin.
Here’s how to plant and grow these fantastic flowers in your space.
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THE BEST TYPES OF CALENDULA TO GROW AT HOME
Give one of these recommendations a grow for an easy annual flower:
- Butterfly Flowers Flashback Calendula – This cheerful mix will give you flowers in rosy-peach, cream, apricot, and bright orange. Flashbacks feature semi-double blossoms that are 2″ to 3″ across.
- Orange and Lemon Twist Calendula Mix – This mix will give you gorgeous golden yellow and orange flowers that will bloom nonstop all summer long.
- Zeolights Calendula – These bronzy orange petals fade to a soft pink with a yellow base. So pretty!
WHEN TO GROW CALENDULA
Calendula plants are annuals that love cool weather and can handle some light frosts. Your plants might be able to hold up over hot summer months if they’re already established in the garden before the heat arrives.
The best time to plant calendula is in the spring and fall. You can get a head start on your bloom time by starting calendula indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before your average last frost in the spring. Or you can wait until you’re just about 2 to 4 weeks away from your last frost to direct sow calendula seeds in the garden.
Wait until your temps drop below 85°F in the fall to plant another round if you live in a warmer climate.
Use frost cloth to extend your enjoyment of the flowers before a hard frost wipes them out. Calendula is technically a tender perennial, so you might just be able to keep your plants alive all winter in a warmer climate.
WHERE TO GROW CALENDULA
With a name like pot marigold, you’d expect calendula to do well in pots. And you’d be right… as long as the pot or container of your choosing is at least 6 inches deep and has a good drainage hole in the bottom. Fill your container with a mix of compost and organic potting soil.
You can also grow calendula in raised beds and right in the ground. Calendula, like most of the plants in the daisy family, doesn’t mind not-great soil conditions. I love to grow calendula flowers near my leafy greens like spinach and lettuce. Calendula acts as a trap crop that lures pests like aphids away from the leaves you want to eat. It also repels other pests and attracts beneficial insects when it’s flowering. Pretty powerful little companion plant to help you with organic pest control!
To maximize your blooms, plant calendula somewhere it’ll receive full sun, though it can actually tolerate partial shade.
HOW TO SOW CALENDULA SEEDS
Calendula is super easy to grow from seed. If you plan to start calendula indoors and are new to seed starting, check out our indoor seed starting guide.
Follow these three steps to sow calendula seeds.
Prepare your growing medium for planting. If you’re direct seeding calendula outdoors, add a 2- to 3-inch layer of fresh compost to the top of the planting area. (This is really all the nutrition these low-maintenance plants will need.) If you’re starting calendula seeds indoors, fill your seed trays to the top with pre-moistened seed starting mix.
Use a dibber or a chopstick to make shallow holes in the soil or in the center of each seed starting cell. Calendula seeds only need to be planted ¼” to ½” deep. Calendula seeds are nice and large (and funky shaped!), so they’re easy to handle. If you’re direct sowing, you can space them every 1″ to 2″, but plan on coming back later to thin seedlings to about one every 8″ or so. I usually get good germination from my calendula, so I typically space the seeds a bit farther apart.
Water the planting area. If you’re starting seeds indoors, use a water bottle to gently spray water on the soil surface and water from the bottom of the seed tray to avoid displacing seeds. Maintain consistent moisture until your seeds germinate. You should start to see little green shoots in 5 to 15 days. Turn your grow lights on as soon as you see signs of sprouting if you’re growing indoors.
You can transplant calendula seedlings that were started indoors once they’re about 2″ to 3″ tall, as long as you’re past all danger of frost in your area. Make sure to move seedlings outdoors for longer and longer time each day for about a week (this process is called hardening off) to get them used to being outdoors.
HOW TO CARE FOR CALENDULA PLANTS
Calendula plants are the type to largely take care of themselves. Your tasks are watering, protecting your plants from extreme temps, deadheading and potentially fertilizing them.
Calendula needs about 1″ of water a week. Again, make sure the growing space has good drainage because these plants won’t like to have their roots sitting in water.
Protecting calendula from frost and heat
Use some frost cloth or old blankets and towels to protect your calendula from your first light frosts of the season or to protect young plants from one last unexpected wintry freeze. Again, hard freezes will likely kill calendula, but you can certainly extend your growing time a bit more with these simple covers.
Use shade cloth once the temps rise above 90°F in the summer to keep plants blooming longer. Established plants might survive the summer, but they will likely be too stressed to bloom.
Deadheading calendula flowers
Deadheading means to cut off old flowers. Calendula needs to be harvested (or deadheaded) often to keep the plant happy and continuing to grow new pretty blooms. You can use some scissors or your fingers to pinch off old blooms.
The compost you added at the time of planting is likely enough to feed these hardly little flowering herbs for their entire lifecycle in your garden. If you feel like your plants could use more nutrients, push some more compost around their base or sprinkle some worm castings. Another option would be to add a liquid fertilizer like MicroLife’s Maximum Blooms, my go-to organic fertilizer for flowers and fruiting plants.
HOW TO HARVEST CALENDULA BLOSSOMS
If growing conditions have been ideal, you can expect to have your first little blooms about 6 to 8 weeks after sowing calendula seeds. You can then harvest stems for cut flowers or for culinary use.
Harvest calendula in the late morning, once the dew has dried. Take blooms that have fully opened by cutting the base of the stem with a clean pair of pruners or scissors. This will give the plant more energy to grow new blooms.
Note that leaving spent flower heads on your plants means they’ll drop seeds and you’ll likely get baby calendulas popping up in your garden the following year.
HOW TO ENJOY CALENDULA
Calendula flowers are edible (though they do have a slightly bitter/peppery taste) and make excellent colorful garnishes for salads and baked goods. People have long used calendula as a medicinal herb to make soothing lotions, salves, teas, tinctures, and of course, calendula oil.
The best way to prepare calendula blooms for winter storage so that you have them on hand for cozy winter teas is to spread them out on a screen and dry them for at least 14 days. You could also put them in a dehydrator if you have one. Make sure all moisture is gone before tossing them into a jar.
If you’re not interested in any of that, you can always just cut your own beautiful little bouquets to perk up your house.
HOW TO SAVE CALENDULA SEEDS
It’s super easy to save extra seeds for next year. Just follow these three steps:
Leave spent blooms on the plants near the end of the season. Let them turn brown and shrivel up on the plant.
Cut the stems of the dried seed heads. Hold them over a plate or towel and ruffle the dried petals to remove the seeds. You can harvest about 6 to 10 seeds from each bloom.
Store seeds in an airtight container somewhere cool, dry, and dark for next spring, or go ahead and plant them in your garden now to overwinter. (Calendula also self seeds, so you’ll likely get what’s called volunteer plants in the spring. Harvesting seeds and planting them now just gives you more control where they pop up.)
This is how one seed packet of calendula seeds can give you blooms for life!
Hope You Enjoy These Beautiful Flowers in Your Garden!
That’s really all there is to growing calendula. This is one of my favorite plants to grow in cooler temperatures here in Central Texas. I’m sure you’ll love them as much as I do!