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How to Grow Calendula

Calendulas are a colorful addition to the herb garden. The calendula’s daisy-like flowers are bright yellow and orange and are as easily grown in containers as they are in planting beds. The calendula is also known as pot marigold because cooks toss calendula blossoms into pots to thicken and color soups and stews. Calendula flowers also add a peppery flavor to salads, sandwiches, soups, and stews.

How to grow calendula: calendula flowerGet to Know Calendula

  • Botanical name and family: Calendula officinalis; calendula is a member of the Asteraceae–daisy family.
  • Type of plant: Calendula is a herbaceous annual.
  • Growing season: Spring, summer, and fall
  • Growing zones: Calendula grows in zones 3 to 10.
  • Hardiness: Calendula is resistant to cold weather down to 25°F; calendula is a cool-weather plant; it does not do well in the heat.
  • Plant form and size: Calendula plants are mounding plants 12 to 15 inches tall with narrow long leaves that are aromatic and slightly sticky. There are hybrid dwarf varieties half the size.
  • Flowers: Calendulas have bright yellow or orange daisy-like double or semi-double flowers 2 to 4 inches across. There is one flower on each stem.
  • Bloom time: Calendula blooms from midsummer to after frost. Flowers close at night and reopen in the morning.
  • Leaves: Calendula has pointed oblong or oval leaves to 3 inches long on angular stems; leaves have smooth edges and a prominent middle vein. The upper leaves clasp the stalk.

How to Plant Calendula

  • Best location: Calendula prefers full sun in the northern regions and partial shade in southern regions. Calendula is intolerant of intense heat and crowding. In hot regions calendula may die in midsummer; plant calendula in dappled shade in hot summer regions.
  • Soil preparation: Plant in compost-rich, well-drained, and moisture-retentive soil. Calendulas grow best where the soil has a pH of 6.6.
  • Seed starting indoors: Calendulas can also be started indoors and transplanted out to the garden when the soil is workable; avoid transplanting seedlings into the garden when temperatures are hot. In Zone 5 or colder, start seeds indoors about 8 weeks before the last spring frost date. Seeds take 7 to 14 days to germinate. In southern regions, sow seed outdoors in fall.
  • Outdoor planting time: In Zone 5 or colder, transplant calendula seedlings to the garden a week or two before the last spring frost. In Zones 5 to 6, plant seeds outside after the soil warms to 60° In Zones 7 to 10, sow seeds outdoors in fall, where they are to grow.
  • Planting depth: Sow seeds ¼ to ½ inch deep.
  • Spacing: Space calendula plants 8 to 10 inches apart.
  • How much to plant: Grow 6 calendula plants for culinary use; grow 12 plants for preserving.
  • Companion planting: It is said that calendula protects vegetables against asparagus beetles and tomato hornworms. Calendulas attract aphids, whiteflies, and thrips; use calendula as a trap plant to keep pests away from nearby herbs and vegetables.

How to grow calendula: double flowerHow to Grow Calendula

  • Watering: Grow calendulas in evenly moist soil.
  • Feeding: Feed calendulas with an all-purpose organic fertilizer such as 5-5-5 or 10-10-10.
  • Mulching: In hot regions mulch around mature plants to retain soil moisture and keep roots cool.
  • Care: Deadhead calendula regularly to keep plants blooming throughout the summer. Cut plants back to about 3 inches after the first bloom and they will regrow to bloom again. Provide good air circulation and drainage to prevent powdery mildew and other fungal diseases from attacking calendula.
  • Container growing: Start calendula seed indoors then transplant them out to containers when they are 3 or 4 inches tall. Choose a pot at least 6 inches wide and deep; larger for multiple plants. Plant calendula in mid to late summer for indoor fall color.
  • Winter growing: In mild-winter regions, calendulas will bloom outdoors all winter.

 Troubleshooting Calendula

  • Pests: Calendulas can be attacked by slugs, snails, aphids, whiteflies, leafhoppers, and thrips. Handpick snails or slugs or drown them in a shallow can of beer set at soil level. Control aphids, leafhoppers, whiteflies and thrips with insecticidal soap or knock them off plants with a strong blast of water.
  • Diseases: Calendulas are susceptible to fungal diseases including leaf spot, downy mildew, and powdery mildew. Space plants so that there is plenty of air circulation and do not use overhead irrigation. Control stem rot by allowing the soil to go dry just before watering again.

 How to Harvest Calendula

  • When to harvest: Harvest calendula flowers just after they open fully throughout spring and summer, gathering them in the morning when the dew is dry. Do not harvest flowers going to seed.
  • How to harvest: Harvest flowers with a snip or garden scissors.

How to grow calendula Calendula in the Kitchen

  • Flowers: Calendula flowers have a mild peppery flavor; they have no fragrance. Remove the petals from the center of the flower; sprinkle the petals over salads, soups, stews, sandwiches, cheeses, eggs, butter, cakes, cookies, and puddings. Dried petals can be used as a food coloring; add a half cup of petals to soup or broth to give the dish a golden glow. Dried petals can be used as a substitute for saffron.

Preserving and Storing Calendula

  • Drying: Separate petals and lay them on parchment paper in a dehydrator or between sheets of brown paper in the shade. Keep petals from touching each other or they may discolor as they dry.
  • Storing: Store dried petals in an airtight, moisture-proof container in a dark dry location.

Propagating Calendula

  • Seed: Grow calendula from seed. Calendula easily self-sows; allow a few seedheads to remain in the garden to sow for next spring.

Also of interest:

Growing Herbs for Cooking

How to Grow Mint

How to Grow Thyme

How to Grow Oregano

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6 Comments

  1. Hi and thank you for these very informative and interesting instructions! I am a brand new gardener as of this year. I bought a Calendula seedling from a nursery last week. It was doing fine but suddenly has started wilting and some of the leaves seen to be snapping off easily. I get confused about watering because I read so many different things.
    Would you kindly explain to me what is meant by this:
    “Soil preparation: Plant in compost-rich, well-drained, and moisture-retentive soil.”
    To this beginner, that sounds like an oxy-moron, lol. Well-drained and moisture-retentive sound like opposites to me so I’m not sure how to proceed.

    Than you very much!

    • Loam, humus, compost-rich are nearly synonyms; these soil ingredients are both well-drained and moisture retentive. The organic matter in these soils holds moisture; the soil particles are plump bit or decomposed organic matter (humus) and soak up moisture. That is good because there is a reservoir of moisture plant roots can draw from, but at the same time, the soil is not waterlogged. The particles in sandy soil are large and water/moisture drains past these large particles quickly; moisture does not hang around long enough for roots to take up the moisture. Clay soil particles are flat and sticky; clay particles become coated with moisture and the moisture does not drain away (this leaves plant roots waterlogged). Loam, humus, and aged compost contain most of the nutrients plants need; sandy soil and clay soil do not. Roots take up nutrients in solution–so it is important that wh soil be both moisture-retentive and well drained.

  2. When harvesting herbs do I need to wash them before drying them? Same for calendula, etc. I don’t see any references to do so in multiple sources but it see.s they might be kind of dusty…
    Thank you!

    • Herbs can be rinsed but then need to air dry quickly. Harvest and rinse early in the day then hang the herbs in bright spot, but not direct sun, with plenty of air circulation. You can place a fan nearby to help the leaves dry quickly.

  3. In zone 7b can I replant in the fall for winter blooms? Mine does probably from the heat. Was hoping to have blooms at least till frost.
    Also many had blooms that were bound they never opened. Is that normal?

    • Check the average first frost date for your area, if you have 6 weeks or so your calendula should make it. You can start some from seed and also set out starts from the garden center. To promote blooms, use a phosphorous-rich fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 5-10-10.

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