Bed of blooming marigolds | Photos by the writer
Other than the rose, the marigold is one of the most commonly used flowers in local wedding celebrations and décor. It adds vibrant hues of yellows and orange to the backdrop of the stage and is symbolic during cultural events such as mayun and mehndi.
Adhering to the family Asteraceae, the herbaceous plant of marigold is scientifically known as ‘tagetes’. Interestingly, the flower is also favoured by kitchen gardeners for its benefits. The flower is believed to repel any likely pest attacks and many consider the marigold as a potential source for attracting predatory insects including ladybugs, wasps, hoverflies and lacewings.
These predatory insects, in turn, eat up the pests, including aphids that may damage the kitchen garden. Many kitchen gardeners grow marigold plants around their organic herbs, fruit and vegetable plants. Marigold also helps in pollination of other vegetables by attracting pollinators such as butterflies and honeybees.
Marigold seeds are rather thin and black in colour with a white bottom. There are different types of marigold seeds for varieties such as dwarf, tall, hybrid, desi and French, with different colours including white, yellow and orange. The best time to sow marigold seeds is during spring.
The marigold flower is especially beloved in the subcontinent, not only for its brilliant gold and orange hues but also for a number of other beneficial reasons
To grow a number of marigold plants simultaneously, well-drained soil is required, preferably in a 4 by 4 inch-sized container. The seeds are then sprinkled on the surface of the soil while covering it with a thin layer of compost.
When sowing the seeds, be sure to gently water the pot in such a way that it starts draining through the bottom drainage hole of the pot. If the seeds become visible again after watering, you may cover them with a fine layer of compost again.
If the weather is dry, you may cover the pot with a plastic bag and keep it aside to hinder water evaporation. In humid conditions, it may be kept in a cool, dry place. The seeds are likely to germinate in seven to 10 days. After germination, the plastic bag covering the pot should be removed to ensure normal growth. These seedlings should be carefully watered from here on as they are very fragile at this stage.
In two to three weeks, the sprouted seeds will be in their sapling stage. In this phase, the plant is in need of constant nitrogen-rich fertiliser supply to guarantee healthy growth. During the sapling stage, these plants are segregated and transplanted to a much bigger space. I recommend anything more than an 8 by 8 inch-sized container.
After transplantation, when the plant stabilises and begins to grow further, another gardening technique of pinching should be applied. The plant should be pinched at the top while removing the top stem and even the new buds. This will ensure better foliage and will result in a bushy plant rather than a leggy one with less branches and plant volume.
Generally, in seven to nine weeks, the plant will reach its flowering stage and the yellow and orange marigolds will start to bloom. At this point, nitrogen-rich fertiliser should be replaced with a balanced fertiliser of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus. Potassium supply to the soil is integral to producing larger-sized and healthy marigold flowers.
Harvesting seeds of orange marigold flowers
The flowering plant thrives when it is provided with direct sunlight from morning till noon. The watering should be such that the soil remains moist but well-drained. There are high chances of pest and disease attacks if the plant does not get adequate sunlight or when the soil remains wet without drainage.
Marigolds are more prone to aphids, leaf-miners, spider mites, powdery mildews and mealy bugs, among other pests. To prevent this, the plant should be sprayed with organic pesticide every fortnight from the sapling stage. In case of a pest attack, add a few drops of any dish-washing soap to the spray and spray it every alternate day, till the pest is eradicated.
Generally, when the flower dries up, these are cut and removed from the plant. This is done to make the plant look prettier and it is believed that it will also help the plant to continue producing more flowers for a longer period. The phenomenon is known as deadhead.
After the flower dries up completely, the seeds can be harvested for next season. From a single seed pod, one may get enough seeds to grow a number of marigold plants for the next season. One may even share these with friends and neighbours, to encourage gardening as a hobby.
Please send your queries and emails to firstname.lastname@example.org. The writer is a physician and a host for the YouTube channel ‘DocTree Gardening’ promoting organic kitchen gardening
Published in Dawn, EOS, November 6th, 2022