African marigolds (Tagetes erecta) are annuals such as their smaller cousins, French marigolds (Tagetes patula). The flowers bloom profusely from late spring to early fall. Since the flowers thrive in warm, dry conditions, they produce an ideal border for warmer inland regions. French and African marigolds didn’t make their appearance in what could become the United States until shortly after the American Revolution.
The blossom was used by the Aztecs in Mexico for its religious and medicinal uses, including healing hiccups, according to the record De La Crus-Badiano Aztec Herbal of 1552. Smaller, shorter marigolds were bred to become taller and bigger. The blossom was also said to guarantee a safe journey for those potable water. African marigolds naturalized in Africa after a journey over water from Mexico to Spain, then France and finally to Africa.
Flowers are warm-season and need full sunlight to thrive. They will tolerate drought conditions and perk up when watered. Plant from seed directly in the garden once the days warm up to 65 degrees Fahrenheit or greater. If you would like a jump start on the summer, African marigolds are easily started in pots on a warm sunny window sill. Remove spent flowers to keep the marigolds blooming all summer and into early fall until the first frost. Permit the last batch of marigolds go to seed. Save the seeds in paper bags and replant the next season.
The plant has finely cut leaves resembling ferns on branched stems. The stems are hollow and break, or bend, readily. Luckily, cutting off any split stems encourages African marigolds to bush out. It will grow from 18 to maybe 36 inches high. The flowers bloom on the end of the stems. Colors include yellow, orange, cream and gold. The flowers vary from the size of a golf ball to the of a tennis ball. The ruffled petals are packed tightly together in a similar fashion to a carnation. Unlike French marigoldsthat are too brief, African marigolds do make decent cut flowers. The flowers will continue in bouquets for several days. They tend to make the water cloudy fast, so new water in the vase every day assists the flowers last longer.
The unmistakable scent is spicy to a few and musky to others. The leaves are scented in addition to the flowers. Some gardeners dislike the scent. If that’s you, plant them off from patios, or play areas, so the smell isn’t noticeable.