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Growing Calendula: Bold, Brilliant Edible Flowers

Growing calendula in your garden will cheer up even the dullest corner with beautiful vibrant yellow and orange, daisy-like flowers that bloom from late spring through to the first frosts. Fuss-free and easy to start from seed, grow calendula (also called the pot marigold) if you are new to gardening, as it’s a great easy-to-grow starter plant for people just starting to garden.

Traditionally, gardeners would grow calendula flowers for medicinal and culinary use. Calendula has both antifungal and antimicrobial properties to help fight infection and anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits to boost immunity. Flowers and leaves are edible and can be added to salads or dried for herbal teas.  The extracted oils are also used to produce skin-soothing beauty products.

It’s possible to grow calendula plants for fresh-cut flowers, and later one can dry the blossoms for longer ornamental value. There are many new calendula cultivars available ranging in bloom color from creamy yellow, deep red, orange to pink. 

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Quick Care Guide

Growing calendula
Growing calendula is quite rewarding. Source: 雷太
Common Name(s)Calendula, Pot marigold
Scientific NameCalendula officinalis 
Days to Harvest6-8 weeks
LightFull sun to partial shade
WaterRegular watering
SoilMost soil types
FertilizerNot necessary
PestsAphids
DiseasesPowdery mildew

All About Calendula

Toothed petal tips
Note the delicately-toothed tips of the petals. Source: Terrie Schweitzer

The botanical name for calendula is Calendula officinalis, with the term ‘officinalis’ indicating the plant’s medicinal or culinary benefits. Calendula is also commonly known as ‘pot marigold’, and that may cause confusion with other flowers such as French marigolds. While both plants are members of the Asteraceae family, French marigolds are from the genus Tagetes, and pot marigold (calendula) is from the genus Calendula.

Calendula is an annual or short-lived woody perennial originating from wasteland and rocky habitats in southern Europe and North Africa.  The leaves are light to mid-green and have a fuzzy texture on both sides.  They are lanceolate to 2 to 7 inches with slightly wavy or toothed margins and grow alternately along the stem.  Single and double floret daisy-like flowers ranging from pale to vibrant yellow, orange, and pale pink are borne on branching stems throughout late spring, summer and fall.  Calendula flowers unfurl from tight buds and can reach 2-3 inches in diameter. As flowers fade, green crown-like seed heads mature to brown and readily self-seed.  Seeds are crescent-shaped with a rough, spiky texture and approximately a quarter of an inch in length.  Calendula grows to around 24 inches (60cms) in height in its first year.

Although both the leaves and calendula flowers are edible, it’s mainly the flowers that are used in cooking, such as adding petals or whole flowers to a salad to add color and interest. Dried petals can also be used in herb tea infusions and the pressed flowers as cake decorations.  Traditionally calendula petals were added as a golden food coloring for butter, cream, and soups. Calendula is also known as the poor man’s alternative to saffron, adding a subtle warmth, spice, and orange color to dishes. 

Medicinally, calendula has been used for its healing properties and the extracted oils used in beauty products such as moisturizing and soothing body creams, lotions, lip balms, and soaps.

This multi-tasking plant will even help attract beneficial insects to your garden to battle pests and its aromatic foliage will repel insects from devouring your vegetable garden. 

Types of Calendula

There are many different varieties of calendula plant to select from. Some of our favorites include:

  • Indian Prince: Produces single and double florets in yellow and orange.
  • Snow Princess: One of the palest varieties, with creamy yellow-white florets.
  • Pink Surprise: Yellow-pink double florets.
  • Touch Of Red Buff: Pink with dark red-orange petal tips.
  • Neon: A bright neon orange calendula with doubled florets.
  • Bull’s Eye: Almost pompom-like in shape, with yellow petals and a dark, reddish-brown center.

Planting Calendula

Orange calendula
This calendula flower is almost neon orange. Source: PMillera4

Plant calendula seeds directly in September/October before the first frost of the year, or in spring after the last frost.  Alternatively, calendula seeds can be sown indoors in seed starter cells in September/October and March/April. 

Successful germination will occur between 59-77°F (15–25°C) and seedlings should appear within 7-14 days.  Plant calendula seeds half an inch deep into moderately fertile, well-drained but moisture-retentive soil.  Container-grown plants may need some additional grit or perlite added to the soil/compost mix for extra drainage once they’re planted in their future permanent garden location.

If planting outdoors, planting seeds under the cover of a greenhouse or polytunnel can produce larger plants that flower earlier in the season.  All plants raised indoors will require hardening off for at least a week to acclimatize to outdoor conditions.

Provided that you have grown calendula before and want to grow it again in the same location, simply let your plants self-seed in their garden bed or containers. Calendula can tolerate full sun to light shade and prefers a sheltered location. Thin direct sown plants and plant calendula transplants into the garden spaced 12 inches apart (30cm) with 2ft (60cm) between plant rows.

Calendula, if planted near food crops, can act as a trap crop as well as an herb. When planted nearby, the calendula becomes a target of aphid feeding rather than your prized vegetables. This can address some of the pest pressures you’d normally face while gardening, reducing the risk of aphids feeding on your leafy greens like lettuce or swiss chard. 

Care

Calendula plant
Calendula plant in bloom. Source: UnconventionalEmma

You can grow calendula easily in your garden. Follow the tips below for healthy, vigorous plants that flower right through to the first frosts.

Sun and Temperature

Grow calendula in full sun to partial shade, as it prefers at least 4-6 hours of direct sun per day.  USDA zones 8 to 10 are ideal growing locations.  Plants flower best in the cooler seasons and can become dormant in summer when temperatures rise above 85°F (29°C), flowering again in autumn when the weather has cooled.  

Calendula is frost hardy, but will not survive prolonged freezing temperatures. Plants overwintered outdoors will require frost protection with fleece or supplementary heating. If you want, bring your plant indoors and grow calendula in containers in a bright window throughout the winter months. This keeps them out of risky weather conditions.

Water and Humidity

Water in the morning or evening if plants show signs of wilt.  Timed soaker hoses work well. Alternately, watering by hand and targeting the soil around the plant will avoid wetting the foliage.  Damp conditions can cause mildew and other fungal diseases of the leaves and stems.  

Calendula is relatively drought-tolerant given its origins from rocky, wasteland habitats.

Soil

Calendula grows well in most soil types and isn’t fussy about fertility or soil pH.  However, like many plants, it performs best when you plant calendula in loamy, well-drained, and moisture-retentive soil. 

If growing in containers, provide lots of good quality compost and loamy garden soil with added grit or perlite for drainage.

Fertilizing

Calendula tends not to require feeding and will grow quite happily if given the right soil, light, and water conditions.  However, if plants are not thriving, supplement with liquid seaweed or a nitrogen-rich fertilizer in spring to give young plants a boost, followed by a potassium-rich fertilizer when in flower. You can provide a supplemental boost during the summer if desired to encourage more bloom development.

Pruning

Regularly deadhead calendula plants to produce continuous calendula blossoms. Pinch out the growing tips of young plants to encourage branching and prune the lateral branches throughout the season to develop bushier new growth and less spindly plants.

Propagation

Calendula is propagated from seed. Seeds can be sown directly into their final growing position or in module cell trays for transplanting later. 

For direct planting, sow calendula seeds in autumn 6-8 weeks before the first frost of the year or in spring after the last frost. If growing in seed starter cells, sow seed indoors in autumn 6-8 weeks before the first winter frost or in spring, 6-8 weeks before the last frost.  Sow seeds half an inch deep, cover and water well. 

If you have grown calendula the previous year, you might discover lots of free self-sown calendula seedlings popping up around the garden. These are great for transplanting to other locations including containers and window boxes or give them away to friends and neighbors.

Harvesting and Storing

Calendula officinalis var. Shattered
The “Shattered” variety of calendula is very striking. Source: Pensive glance

The best part when you grow calendula is harvesting!  Whole flowers can be used in salads, ornamental arrangements, and even dried for a therapeutic tea.

Harvesting

Harvest calendula in the morning when the flowers are fully open.  If harvesting as a cut flower, cut the stems to the length you require, leaving a few leaf nodes to encourage more flowering stems.  Place the stems into a bucket of fresh water and leave somewhere cool and shaded.  This allows the flowers to condition, hydrate and any hitchhiking bugs can leave to new pastures.  After a few hours, the flowers are ready to arrange.

When harvesting calendula for the flower heads and petals, simply snip off the flowers and store them somewhere cool until needed. 

Storing

Calendula flowers will remain fresh in a vase for up to a week if the water is changed regularly and the stems cut at the bottom with each water change.

Flower heads are best stored in sealed plastic tubs or glassware in the fridge.  This keeps flowers looking their best and protects the calendula petals from bruising. Flowers can be air-dried in a similar way to herbs, either strung up by their stems or laid flat on a tray somewhere cool, dark, and ventilated.  Once completely dry, flowers can be stored in airtight jars for up to a year.

Troubleshooting

Center of calendula flower
Close-up shot of the center of a calendula bloom. Source: ccrrii

Although calendula is pretty much trouble-free and easy to grow, there are one or two growing problems to look out for.

Growing Problems

The main difficulty with growing calendula is plants going to seed too early, becoming leggy, and generally untidy in appearance.  This tends to happen when plants haven’t been deadheaded regularly and lateral branches pruned to keep the plant bushy.  

Another common problem is plants self-seeding early in the season and competing with the mother plant for space, water, and nutrients.  The simple resolution is to deadhead regularly removing the seed heads rather than allowing seeds to fall on the ground and weeding out any seedlings as soon as they appear.

Pests

Aphids are the main pest affecting calendula especially towards the end of the season when plants are weaker.  Aphids (Aphidoidea), are small, sticky, yellow, green, and black pests that feed on the sap of new growth.  Encourage lots of beneficial insects into the garden by planting a good selection of wildflowers and umbellifers such as coriander.  Spray with an organic insecticidal soap or neem oil. If infestations are severe, pyrethrin is an organic pesticide that can address the issue and reduce pest populations on your calendulas  Squishing aphids with fingers or knocking them off with a quick blast of water can help reduce numbers as well. 

Diseases

Calendula is susceptible to powdery mildew if grown in humid, shaded conditions and especially towards the end of the growing season.  It grows as thick whitish dust on leaves, inhibiting photosynthesis and hindering growth.  Maintain good garden hygiene, removing infected foliage to prevent the disease from spreading and reinfection in subsequent years.  Provide adequate sunlight and good air circulation. Treat affected plants with an organic fungicide such as sulfur, copper fungicide, or potassium bicarbonate prior to or on first sight of disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is calendula annual or perennial?

A: Calendula is so easy to grow that it is usually grown as an annual.  It can also be grown as a short-lived perennial in warmer climates.

Q: Is calendula a good companion plant?

A:  Calendula is a great companion plant, drawing away aphids from your vegetable garden as a trap crop and attracting beneficial insects.

Q: Are calendula cut and come again?

A:  The more flowers you harvest from a calendula plant the more blossoms it will produce in return.  Consistent deadheading and pinching out lateral tips will develop healthy, vigorous plants full of blooms.