Marigolds have a sterling reputation among many flower lovers. They’re relatively small, incredibly easy to grow, attractive, beneficial companion plants, and some are even edible!
But one thing that often confuses people is the terms applied to popular marigolds. A perfect example is the French marigold, one of the most talked about varieties.
But does this term apply to a species or a group of species, or is it just a term used for certain cultivars?
Let’s look at the French marigold, why it’s popular, and how to grow it.
What Are French Marigolds? (and How To Grow Them)
French marigolds are an actual species of marigold, but it does have many cultivars to their name.
In fact, this species and its cultivars tend to be among the most iconic of all marigolds.
French Marigolds 101
Despite the name, the French marigold (Tagetes patula) is actually native to Mexico and Guatemala. It grows to around 18″ inches tall with a spread of 1’ foot, making it a popular groundcover.
In fact, the scientific name is pronounced [TAG-e-teez PAT-yoo-luh] and means “spreading Tages” (Tages being the name of an Etruscan god that sprang up from the plowed soil).
There are thousands of cultivars, with blooms displaying a blend of brown, orange, red, and yellow (depending on the cultivar) from July into October.
But French marigolds aren’t just a wonderful groundcover. They help repel many pests and act as a sacrificial plants for many other pests. More on marigold uses and benefits.
They’re also believed to kill harmful nematodes, and the essential oil is currently being tested as a possible treatment against fungal infections and bedbugs.
In the perfume industry, essential oil is considered a valuable ingredient. The petals are known as “poor man’s saffron” and can be used as a substitute for this expensive spice and benign natural food coloring.
Now that you know a little more about these plants, let’s look at how you can grow them indoors and outdoors.
Temperature And Lighting Requirements
French marigolds can survive a wide temperature range, allowing them to grow literally from spring frost to autumn frost outdoors.
French marigolds can be grown anywhere from USDA hardiness zone 2 through zone 11 as an annual but can grow as a perennial in zones 8 to 10.
Indoors, normal household temperatures are perfect for this flower. When possible, you’ll want to give marigolds full sun. Grow lamps can be used to augment natural light indoors in colder climates.
In southern regions where the midday sun is particularly harsh, consider an eastern or western exposure where it will have some light afternoon shade.
Growing French Marigold From Seeds
You don’t need much skill to grow these marigolds from seeds. In fact, you can grow them outdoors by simply spreading the seeds after the last frost is over and thinning out the seedlings as necessary so they’re 12” inches apart.
The soil should be somewhat loamy and well-draining, so you can turn in some compost or perlite as needed before sowing.
Indoors, you’ll need to sprinkle them onto seedling trays or put each seed into peat pots around 2 to 4 weeks before the final frost.
Use a standard potting mix with a little aggregate and keep it slightly moist.
French marigolds are a little slower to germinate, sprouting up in 7 to 14 days.
If you’re transplanting a marigold outdoors, wait until the danger of frost has passed, and no other preparation should be necessary.
Suppose you plan on keeping the French marigold in a container. In that case, you may need to add some 1-2-1 NPK liquid fertilizer occasionally, following any instructions on the package for frequency and diluting.
However, never fertilize more than once per week.
Watering Frenchie Marigolds
Of all the things plants need, watering tends to be the only potential sticking point with French marigolds.
Whether dealing with a potted marigolds or ground-based plant, you’ll know it’s time to water marigolds when you stick your finger in and the soil’s dry ½” inch down (which is about halfway to the first knuckle).
This plant does really well with the soak-and-dry method, which uses a slow pouring speed to allow the soil itself to tell you when to stop.
When you pour, the soil should soak up the water as fast as it hits.
Work your way slowly and evenly around the plant until you notice the soil beginning to drink more slowly or until you see moisture seeping from the drainage holes on the marigold’s container.
This Marigold species and its cultivars are quite effective at scaring off a wide range of pests and even deer and drought-resistant.
However, spider mites and thrips are known to attack French marigolds and the Colorado potato beetle.
Disease is rare with proper watering, but overwatering can make the plant prone to fungal infections.
Finally, be warned that this plant can slow the growth of certain other plants, such as various legumes, but can actually benefit other plants, such as tomatoes.
Propagating French Marigolds
As mentioned, this flower will bloom in July until the first frosts, although it can sometimes be forced as early as May.
Deadheading spent flowers will keep the plant blooming, but you’ll want to allow some blooms to wilt naturally toward the end of the blooming season.
As the blooms die and go to seed, keep an eye on them and harvest when they become brown and dry.
To harvest the seeds, gently roll the spent heads between your hands and separate the chaff. You can then store the seeds in a paper bag for the following spring.
Please note that this works best for the main species but may result in surprise plants when trying to use the seeds of cultivars.
To avoid this issue, you can propagate the cultivars using stem cuttings and continue growing them indoors all year round.