Gardeners' Dirt: Add bright, cheerful color to your garden with calendulas

Calendulas in yellow and orange hues, with one or more rows of petals on long stems with light green foliage, add spots of bright, cheerful color to your garden.
  • Calendulas - Planting and Care

  • Plant seeds in full or partial sun. Cover with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil.

    Lightly mist, or cover with a cloth temporarily.

    Plants appear in about two weeks and bloom in about six weeks.

    Fertilize once a month for ...

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  • Calendulas - Planting and Care

    Plant seeds in full or partial sun. Cover with 1/4 to 1/2 inch of soil.

    Lightly mist, or cover with a cloth temporarily.

    Plants appear in about two weeks and bloom in about six weeks.

    Fertilize once a month for continuous flowering throughout the summer.

    Water dry plants, but avoid watering the leaves. Pinch back growing plants for a bushier plant.

    Deadhead spent blooms.

When looking upon a garden or a beautiful landscape, my eyes always seem to be drawn to the color yellow. Could it be the wonderful contrast between green and yellow, or is it because I love the sunlight? If you are a gardener with the desire for a bright, cheerful color in your garden, please consider the calendula.

From near, far

Calendulas, often called "Pot Marigolds, Mary's Gold, and Golds," are annual herbaceous plants, which originated in parts of Europe and Asia.

They are from the family of Asteraceae and scientifically identified as Calendula officinalis. (Marigolds originated in North America/Mexico and are of the Tagetes family.)

There are about 20 species, some of which are annuals while others are considered perennials. The flowers may have single or multi-rows of petals. Long used in celebrations and historically for medicinal purposes, the calendula is October's birth flower.

Plant seeds in early spring

These bright flowers are comfortable wherever they are grown except for very cold climates. Having the colors of yellow, lemon and orange, the flowers grow on long stems bearing pale, green leaves. Calendulas are prolific self-seeders, so choose your location carefully. While predictions are likely for more cool weather before spring officially arrives, you may wish to consider planting seeds in the weeks to come. They should be planted in the early spring after the danger of frost has passed.

Minimal challenges

These plants will bloom quickly from seed and are recognized as hardy, drought and heat resistant. Aphids, the most common insect problem, can be treated with organic or chemical repellents. Mildew may also be a concern during humid, hot weather. The use of fungicides will solve that challenge. When using calendulas in arrangements, be aware their strong odor may not agree with everyone's nose.

Watch out for the new ones

Breeders have dedicated many years to the marigolds that we are familiar with as gardeners, but now, interest in calendulas has increased in the world of flower gardens - "Pink Surprise," "Geisha Girl," "Golden Emperor," "Mix" and "Orange King" are now available.

Growing calendulas in your vegetable gardens may help with insect control. Seeds may be purchased through catalogs or locally.

Uses for calendulas

Adding flavor and color to food dishes - The flowers and leaves are edible although the flavor can be slightly bitter and may add a tangy or tart flavor to your salads, soups and stews. According to Lynn Rawe, former Texas AgriLife Extension Horticulture Agent in Bexar County, the calendula is also known as the "Poor Man's Saffron." With its spicy, peppery taste, it will provide flavor to Southwest and Asian dishes. While used for flavor, it is many times just used to add a brilliant yellow color to your favorite dish or salad. Of course, don't use the plants if they have been treated with pesticides.

Remedy for some ailments - Calendulas have had many positive uses through time, and my research indicates that the ancient Romans used them as remedies for bee stings, scorpion bites, headaches and toothaches. It also is written that ointment made from calendulas can cure skin irritations, such as acne, rashes and sunburn. During the Civil War and World War I, calendulas were used to treat wounds. But having read this, please do not toss out the family health care provider's phone number, for one would need more research on the use of calendulas for health concerns.

Deer resistance - If you are having frequent visits to your landscape by deer that consume your blooming plants, you might win the battle in planting calendulas. Just as the strong odor of the calendula does not appeal to some people, it does not seem to agree with deer either.

Let's celebrate

Romans and Greeks used calendulas in rituals and ceremonies by wearing crowns and garlands made of the bright flowers. Ancient Egyptians used the petals for healing while the Aztecs and Mayans celebrated with calendulas, as do many citizens of Mexico and Central America. So now it's 2012, and I say we at least use them for their fantastic color.

We can celebrate calendulas today by adding them to our gardens for spots of bright, cheerful color.

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at