Growing Calendula – How To Care For Calendula Plants In The Garden

By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden

Bright yellow and orange flowers, historically used for medicinal and culinary purposes, come from easy calendula care when growing this simple flower. Commonly called the pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), the calendula flower has long been a staple in British cottage gardens. Petals are used in cooking, and were used as yellow coloring in cheeses and butters in centuries past. When used in stews, broths and salads, these petals add a spicy taste similar to saffron to many dishes.

All parts of calendula plants are useful in many ways. The plant is said to stimulate the immune system and is currently used as an ingredient in many cosmetics. Flowers and leaves of the calendula may be dried and stored for later use. In the vegetable garden, calendula draws aphids away from valuable plants.

While uses of calendula plants are diverse, growing calendula in the flower or herb garden is an optimum use of this attractive plant. Calendula plants are frost tolerant and somewhat cold hardy and add long-lasting color and beauty in a flower bed or container.

How to Grow Calendulas

The calendula flower or flowering herb is an annual which will readily reseed. Too much calendula care can result in stunted or slow growth. Poor to average, well draining soil and only occasional watering after plants are established is the secret to growing prolific calendula plants.

Like most herbs, calendulas are adaptable and do not require a lot of maintenance. Roots will often adapt to the space provided. The amazing pot marigold can be grown in containers or beds in full sun to shade conditions. As the calendula prefers cool temperatures, flowers last longer in filtered sun or shady areas.

If deadheaded regularly, this plant can bloom from spring through fall and beyond. In warmer areas, the calendula may take a break from blooming during summer heat and then put on a show as temperatures fall in autumn. Regular pinching keeps the 1-3 foot (30-90 cm.) plant bushy and prevents tall, spindly stalks.

Now that you’ve learned how to grow calendulas, take advantage of their long-lasting blooms in the herb garden or light shade area. Experiment with use of calendula flower petals to replace saffron in recipes. If you are so inclined, use plant parts as a topical treatment for minor scrapes and cuts.

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Read more about Calendula

Choosing calendula seeds

Calendula is propagated by seeds. So, obviously, if you want to grow calendula you need to buy seeds to start.

For calendula seeds you have 3 options:

  1. Buy organic seeds
  2. Buy conventional seeds
  3. Harvest seeds from your own calendula for planting the next year

If you are just starting out to grow calendula, then you have to decide between choice 1 and 2.

If you are planting calendula for medicinal uses or planning to use petals for salads or teas, then, preferably, go for organic calendula seeds. Once planted, you will be able to pick and store seeds for the next year from your own organic calendula plant.

If you plant calendula for decorative purposes, then it doesn’t matter much which seeds you use.

The other thing to consider when you are buying calendula seeds is what height of the plant you are looking for. Depending on variety calendula plant height can range from 8″ to 27″. Short calendula varieties will look good when planted in the borders. Tall variety with large flower heads can be used for cut flowers and bouquets.

Because calendula flowers come in various shades of yellow and orange color when getting seeds be sure that you find a calendula variety with the color of your preference.

You can buy seeds from Home Depot, Lowes, grocery stores in spring time, or various seeds catalogs. Below are my favorite calendula seeds that can be obtained online from Amazon.

Reasons to Grow Calendula

1. It’s Gorgeous and it Blooms Forever!

This incredibly vibrant flower blooms from June until sometimes later than November! Adding this plant to your garden will keep it striking and lovely long after the other plants have gone to sleep for the colder season.

2. It’s a Great Companion Plant

Calendula is an incredible plant to pair with your veggie patch or near your fruits. Why?

It’s an incredible flower for attracting pollinators. This not only helps the calendula itself, but it helps other plants in the garden that may struggle with attracting pollinators. And since calendulas are in bloom for such a long time, that’s a whole lot of extra pollen for the pollinators.

Not only this, it simultaneously repels certain pests and attracts other kinds of pests away from vulnerable plants. They attract ladybugs and hoverflies which are predatory to smaller pests. They also repel whiteflies away from tomatoes and lures away aphids with an enticing smell. Unfortunately for the aphids, calendula is poisonous to them.

One last benefit for the rest of your garden: their root system! The root system of calendula plants can act as a type of mulch. The roots are so fibrous and grow in thick, dense patches that it protects the soil.

3. They Attract Lepidopterans

In case you’re unfamiliar with the term Lepidoptera, this is the family to which butterflies and moths belong. So whether you’re more of a moon child or a sun child, you’ve got a beautiful winged friend to adorn your precious garden.

4. They Predict the Weather

This was briefly touched on earlier, but it’s such a cool factoid I just had to reiterate! Calendula flowers are super sensitive to weather conditions. If you pay close attention to how open or closed their flowers are, they will tell you what to expect without having to check the Weather Network!

When the flowers are wide open, you can expect a sunny day. If they’re closing up, it may be a good idea to postpone that picnic you were planning on account of it raining cats and dogs.

5. Calendula Can Be Used For Natural Dyeing

If you ever harvest a bunch of calendula flowers to brighten up your home, you should try out boiling a few of them to see what kind of color seeps out.

Historically calendula has been used as a natural dyeing property, specifically to color butters and cheeses. It’s still used today to dye clothes and paint colors as well!

6. Use Them For Homemade Cosmetics

Calendula is really good for you when topically applied. It’s quite easy to use calendulas when making homemade lotions, balms, or even use it to tint homemade makeup too!

Calendula leaves, flowers, oils, and stems can all be used when making your own tinctures and moisturizers, and whatnot.

7. They’re Medicinal

Calendulas have been used for herbal remedies for a long time. They’re very rich in vitamins and minerals. They also have anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties too. Dried calendula is what is incorporated into other tinctures and balms to be taken either topically, or ingested. Having calendula in your garden is like have your own personal holistic pharmacy!

8. They are Incredibly Low Maintenance

And last but not least, calendulas require almost nothing from you. It seems a little bit uneven really, they provide so much for your garden and ask for almost nothing in return. Calendulas actually thrive in soils that are low in nutrients. So don’t use fertilizer on them! They don’t need it!

They also tend to perform quite well without too much water. Like I mentioned before, they are extremely resilient and thrive off of neglect. Calendula is a true superhero flower.

Are calendula leaves edible?

Not only are they edible, but they’re also good for you! Dried calendula leaves can be made into tea, used in making natural lotions and balms, and they make for a lovely garnish on a dessert or savory dish too!

When do calendulas bloom?

They can remain in bloom from early June all the way up until late November sometimes.

Are calendula plants resilient?

They most certainly are. You can pretty well ignore them for their entire existence and it won’t make a difference to them. They don’t need nutrient-rich soil and they don’t need lots of water. They make out pretty well with totally natural conditions.

Where does calendula grow naturally?

It was first endemic to places like Southwestern Asia and Northern Europe, but it is not cultivated all over the planet.

Which part of calendula is medicinal?

Every part of calendula can be used for medicinal properties or just for eating. Seeds, stems, flowers, roots, leaves, everything.

Will calendula grow in the shade?

Yes! It actually prefers to have a little bit of shade and a little bit of sun, but it will do just fine with almost any type of sun exposure.

Is calendula poisonous to dogs?

Not at all. Some people actually give calendula to their pets to ease anxiety or help with difficult poops.

Can calendula survive the winter?

They will lose their blossoms near the end of November and remain dormant if there is snow, but they’ll pop their little heads back up come early summer!

Are calendula and marigold the same thing?

No, they are not. They are both members of the sunflower family, but they are different genus’.

Why are calendulas called pot marigold?

This reference actually comes from renaissance festivals called the “Virgin Mary”. Calendulas would be in full bloom in a rich golden flower. Hence the name marigold.

No other flower in the cutting garden glows with cheerfulness quite like calendula, commonly called the pot marigold. This bright yellow and orange flower is not only calming to my spirit, but also has many other benefits: it attracts pollinators, repels pests, has healing properties, and is edible! Learn more about growing calendula.

Benefits of Calendula

Included in a mixed bouquet, calendula (Calendula officinalis) flowers are sure to gladden the hearty of the recipient. Irresistible waves of bright yellow and orange daisy-like flowers greet me on my morning rounds, lifting my mood even on the worst of days.

  • Calendula blossoms can be used in cooking—eaten fresh in salads, added to rice, or dried and used as a poor man’s saffron, calendula petals make an ordinary meal seem special. See our recipe for Mixed Greens With Calendula.

  • Calendula has been used medicinally for centuries. Ancient Romans grew them to treat scorpion stings! In the Middle Ages calendula was a common remedy for everything from smallpox to indigestion. Today’s herbalists use it to make a healing salve for sunburn, chapped lips, minor burns, cuts, and scrapes. See more about calendula’s healing properties.
  • Calendula is a wonderful companion plant in the garden. Bees and native pollinators are drawn to these flowers, making them a useful addition to your vegetable garden. Plus, calendula repels many pests!

Enjoy seeing calendula in the garden!

Types of Calendula

The calendula family includes about 20 species of bushy annuals and a few perennials that are native from the Canary Islands through the Mediterranean area to Iran. They were found growing wild in the Holy Land by crusaders who brought them back to Europe. Legend has it that St. Hildegard of Bingen gave the plant the name “Mary’s gold” in honor of the Virgin Mary. To this day calendulas are sometimes called “pot marigolds” though they are unrelated to regular garden marigolds (Tagetes).

Calendula Varieties

  • ‘Pacific Beauty’ is my favorite but at one time we grew 8 different kinds. There are lots of interesting varieties.
  • For something unusual try ‘Porcupine’ which has spiky, bright orange, quilled petals,
  • ‘Touch of Red’ has dark red underneath and on the edges of each petal.
  • ‘Triangle Flashback’ has a soft, apricot-pink color.

How to Grow Calendula

Calendula is easy to grow from seeds directly sown in the garden.

  • Plant seeds early spring onward or start them indoors and set out the sturdy seedlings. They can be started indoors 6 weeks before the last frost date for extra early blooms.
  • Choose a sunny site. The more sun, the better.
  • Soil needs to be moderate-rich and drain well. Calendula will tolerate poor conditions but perform better when it has nourishing soil. Once established, calendula do not need any extra fertilizing or feeding.
  • Calendula grow nicely in the vegetable garden. Good companions are: Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Peas, Carrots, Asparagus, Spring salad vegetables.
  • The flowers bloom best in cooler weather with low humidity.
  • Cut them back and they will reward you with new growth and more flowers when the weather cools off. These plants are pretty tough and can take some frost. They will keep right on blooming until a harden freeze finally kills them.
  • Allow some plants to produce mature seeds to scatter where you want to see calendula seedlings in subsequent seasons.

Calendula Salve

If you would like to try making a simple calendula salve, here’s an easy recipe:

  • Steep one cup of fresh calendula petals in one cup of olive oil in a glass jar on a sunny windowsill for about a week.
  • Strain the oil.
  • Melt ¼ cup of beeswax and mix in the oil.
  • Pour into small sterilized jars and seal.
  • Let solidify overnight before using.
  • For the fullest effect, harvest the petals during the hottest part of the day, when the resins have risen to the surface of the flower.

A word of caution: People with allergies should test the salve on a small spot on the inside of the forearm and monitor it carefully for any adverse reactions.

This is one plant that is good for the garden and for the gardener alike. Make room for some comforting calendula.

Even the tiny tree frogs love it!

Want to grow more edible flowers in your garden. Here’s a list of more flowers that you can eat!

Although the "pot" in the common name "pot marigold" refers to this plant's traditional use in cooking, calendula is also commonly planted in pots, where it thrives. Most varieties do well in pots, although shorter cultivars may be better suited. Use any well-draining, organic potting soil or you can make a mixture with a blend of half garden soil and half compost. Make sure the pot has plenty of drainage holes since this plant does not like to be soggy. Potted specimens will need regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer.

Calendula has no serious insect or disease problems. They can sometimes be susceptible to powdery mildew (remedied by good air circulation), and slugs and snails may feed on them, especially young plants. Keep ground areas clear of debris to minimize slug and snail damage. Aphids and whiteflies can sometimes be a problem spraying with water or treating with insecticidal soaps can eliminate them.


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