How to Grow Marigolds From Seed in 7 Easy Steps
Are you thinking of growing marigolds from seed this season, but aren't sure where to start? Marigolds are a garden favorite, and with good reason! They have beautifully colored blooms, and make great companion plants. In this article, gardening expert Natalie Leiker walks through how to grow marigolds from seed in a few very simple steps!
Marigolds are one of the most popular flowers amongst home gardeners around the world. I grow marigolds every year in the garden and a few in patio containers since they bloom so well well in many different conditions. Most of the time, gardeners opt for store-bought marigolds that are later transplanted into their garden. But if you are looking to save a few bucks, harvesting their seeds and growing your own can be a great option.
Harvesting seeds from marigold plants is an easy way to continue growing them for many seasons to come. I like to harvest as many seeds as possible to ensure that I have enough for myself, some to give away as little gifts, and some to scatter in those bare areas that just need a pop of color.
If you’ve never grown marigolds from seed, the process is fairly simple. Follow along as we walk through everything you need to know about seed grown marigolds, step by step!
Reasons To Grow From Seed
- Cost effective, allowing you to save money on seeds.
- Get a head start on your spring planting.
- More variety options than already grown plants found in nursery or garden center.
- Interactive & fun learning experience.
First, you need to decide which type of Marigold to grow. There are several marigold varieties to choose from, but most gardeners usually go with one of the most popular: French, African, and Signet Marigolds. Let’s look at each in a little more detail.
The most common marigold you’ll find are French marigolds. Otherwise known as Tagetes patula, they have fern-like leaves and generally stay about one foot tall. These marigolds are well known for being deer and rabbit resistant, which is a sought-after characteristic in some regions.
Also known as Tagetes erecta , African Marigolds are another common marigold we see. They have similar leaves, but grow and flower taller than that of the French marigold. The flowers are generally yellow, orange, or cream-colored.
This variety is not only popular for its ease of care, but also for it’s status as a pest repellent for vegetable gardens. They are typically treated as annuals and are drought tolerant.
Otherwise known as Tagetes tenuifolia, signet marigolds are a more subtle variety that can add a different texture to the garden than that of the French and African. Its fine, lacey foliage hosts small simple flowers that gracefully present warm colors: red, orange, and yellow.
All marigold seeds have germination and environmental requirements, however, the French and African marigold seeds tend to be a little less finicky to grow from seed.
Each variety might differ a bit as far as days to germination and maturity, so be sure to read your selected seed packet and do as much research as possible.
My favorite seed companies include Burpee, Renee’s Garden, and Botanical Interests. They have organic options out there if you are looking to add marigolds to your vegetable garden but are looking to grow organic.
Prep Work: Gather Tools & Materials
- Trowel or small handheld shovel: For filling seed trays.
- Gloves: Optional, however, gloves can be helpful with transplanting.
- Heating mat: Optional, but can help seedlings with germination.
- Grow light: Optional, but can be useful if you don’t have an area with direct sunlight.
- Watering can: Useful for watering prior to transplanting.
- Seed starting mix: Purchase a starting seed mix, or create your own.
- Seeds: You can harvest your own, or purchase them from garden centers.
- Water: Consistent watering is crucial to growing healthy seedlings.
- All-purpose fertilizer: Optional, but can help plants bloom faster.
- Seed trays & containers: Will be needed for planting into trays prior to hardening off.
- 3 – 4 inch pots: Larger containers will be used later on for transplanting.
Step 1: Choose Your Seeds
As mentioned briefly earlier, there are many types and varieties of marigolds available for purchase. It can be overwhelming when deciding what kind to get, where to get them from, and how many to get.
If you are new to seed starting, I recommend starting small – maybe pick one or two varieties. Research is very helpful when choosing the right variety, and a reputable seed company. Reading about germination rates, and success or failure stories can tell you a whole lot about what might work or not work for you.
Lemon Drop French Marigold
Lemon Drop is a small yellow variety that adds a great pop of color to containers or borders. The french marigold is notorious for warding off harmful pests and the bright flowers attract beneficial insects.
Lemon Gem Signet
Lemon Gem is a compact, fine plant that creates a dense bushy plant. While this plant adds a beautiful texture and color to any area, that is not their only attractive quality – they are edible!
Happy Days Mixed French Marigold
Happy Days french marigold is a classic representation of marigolds. Flowering in oranges and yellows, this compact variety is perfect for containers or adding companion plants to your garden.
Orange and Yellow Beast African Marigold
Orange and Yellow is a larger marigold that can be added to containers. However, it is often used for cut flowers due to its large blooms and tall growing habit.
Pro Tip: Most marigolds will reseed themselves if you let the plant go to seed at the end of the growing season. This means you could have volunteer plants next spring, or you could harvest the seeds and save them for the next season!
Step 2: Material Prepping
Now that you’ve done your research, selected your seeds, and gathered the materials – it’s time to get started! I like to gather all of the materials I need in my planting area before I begin.
Get your set up for the seeds in place and working. Your grow light, heating mat, location, and water source should all be in place.
Fill your containers or cell trays with the planting media first. Wet the media with your watering can before planting the seeds – this will keep the media in place, and also give the seeds a jumpstart on the germination process.
Step 3: Planting the Seeds
Planting seeds can be a tedious process, but it’s well worth it! There are a few ways to go about planting your seeds. Once your soil media is moist and ready for seeds, you can pick which route you want to take.
Creating a small hole or dent with the end of a pen or pencil can make it easy to drop seeds right in. You can also place the seeds on top of the soil and then push them down with a pen or pencil.
Once the seeds are in place, lightly sprinkle soil mix over the seeds until they are covered by at least a quarter inch.
Pro Tip: Place 2-3 seeds in each cell/hole to increase chances of successful germination.
Once your seeds are planted, moisten them with a mist or light watering. Use a watering can or mist bottle so you don’t run the risk of splashing the seeds or soil out of the container. Label and mark each pot or cell so you can keep track of the date planted, variety, and success rates.
Step 4: Caring for the Seedlings
It is important to check on your seedlings often, even before you see germination. Keeping the media moist, warm, and in a bright location is crucial to successful seed starting.
You’ll want to keep the media moist, depending on the environment, tray material, and soil mix you could be watering every day or possibly twice a day. Use the same spray bottle or watering can to water your seedlings until they are well rooted.
It can be tricky to fully wet the soil if using a spray bottle, just be sure to check the soil frequently to make sure it doesn’t get too dry.
Pro tip: Place plastic wrap over your seedling tray to keep moisture in and increase humidity. Check the soil often to maintain moisture levels, and if it seems to stay too moist remove the plastic for a few hours at a time to prevent mold or seed rot.
Place your recently planted seeds in a location that receives a good amount of sunlight. This is often near a window, east or south facing if possible.
If using a grow light, this won’t apply to your situation, you’ll just need to hang your lights a few inches from the pots, and adjust them in accordance to the seedling growth.
Light isn’t super important at this stage as the seedlings have not yet sprouted, but being prepared can help you out when the time comes.
Be sure to rotate your tray frequently to create even lighting for the seedlings. Once sprouted, the seedlings will grow towards their light source, so tray rotation will help them grow evenly.
Step 5: Sprouted Seedlings
Once your seeds have sprouted, this is exciting but can be overwhelming now that you have live plant babies to take care of. Keep watering as you were before germination, and keep an eye on the plants.
Keep in mind that you might have planted multiple seeds in each cell. It is possible for all seeds to sprout if germination is very successful. If multiple seeds sprout, you’ll need to thin them out so there is only one seedling in each cell or container.
Thinning your plants will allow the one seedling room to grow and will eliminate other plants competing for nutrients.
Let the seedlings grow at least two sets of leaves before you start thinning them. Thinning consists of removing the smallest seedlings of each cell, leaving the largest and most healthy plant. You’ll want to do this to each section of your tray.
Use a pair of garden scissors to trim the seedlings you aren’t keeping. Attempting to pull them out can disrupt the root system of the plant you are keeping.
Once the seeds have been established, and the roots are filling the small containers, they will need to be transplanted into larger pots or containers before they can be planted outside.
Planting the small seedlings into 3-4 inch pots and getting them well established will help toughen up the plant and root system.
When the seedlings are well rooted in their cell tray and have at least 3 sets of true leaves, it is time to transplant them. Depending on what material you started your seeds in, it might be challenging to pull the seedlings out. Using a spoon or small garden tool might be helpful in order to avoid damaging the root system.
Plant the seedlings in an all-purpose potting soil. Keep them in the same location as before, and allow them to grow into their new pots. When they begin to grow, and their roots have expanded to the edge of the pots, it is time to harden them off.
Step 6: Hardening Off
Hardening off plants that are started indoors is a crucial step in seed starting. This refers to the process of getting your plants adapted to the outside before transplanting them again. This will help toughen them up, and allow them to grow stronger thicker stems and larger leaves.
To harden your plants off, place them outside for brief periods each day. On the first day they should be placed in a shady, protected location for 1-2 hours.
Increase the amount of sun exposure and time allotted outside each day. The idea is to gradually adjust them to the outside world without shocking them.
This process should last for 1-2 weeks. Once they are adapted to full sun exposure and gusts of wind, they are ready to be planted outside!
Step 7: Planting Outside
When planting marigolds outside, make sure you are past any danger of frost in your area. Marigolds are very sensitive to cold temperatures and prefer to be grown in temperatures above 55 degrees. Night temperatures that dip below 55 can harm your plants and stunt growth.
Plant the marigolds in a container at least 8-10 inches wide and deep. If you are planting in the ground, plant in well-drained fertile soil to ensure the marigolds are happy in their new location.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why aren’t my seeds germinating/sprouting?
Seed germination can be affected by a few things. If the seedlings were not kept warm enough, or moist enough, this can delay germination.
Why are my seedlings stretched out/leggy?
Seedlings that aren’t receiving enough light will become leggy. They will become thin and stretched out searching for more light. If your seedlings start to grow this way, move them to an area that receives more light.
Will seed grown marigolds come back each season?
Some varieties of marigolds are considered perennial flowering plants, meaning yes, they can return each season. Most varieties are frost sensitive, and are treated as annuals.
Seed grown marigolds can be cost-effective and allow you to grow all kinds of different varieties. Starting seeds will require certain materials, tools, and patience, so be sure to have a game plan before you dive in. With some TLC and a little bit of luck, you’ll have a flower bed full of as many seed-grown marigolds as you can plant this season!