We use Calendula or pot Marigold, in many ways at home and have a lot that have self seeded. In order to get them started for your garden it is really easy and a fun project for kids or the beginner gardener.
Calendula are perfect for kids as they can scatter the seeds and cover with a thin layer of soil. Germination takes only a few days and a few weeks later the seedlings can be thinned out. Meaning a quick turnaround for a long flowering season. Ours are out from April to November in a South facing garden in the UK.
There is a bit more to it than this though! So let’s look at possible pitfalls and how to get the most from your flowers when they do arrive!
How To Sow Calendula
- If sowing seeds indoors you will be fine to sow 6-8 weeks before the last frost. If you are planting directly to the ground outside, try to choose a time when the fear of harsh frosts has passed.
- Moisten the soil first then scatter the seeds and cover with a thin layer of compost. If you are planting outside prepare the soil with an organic peat free compost, or well rotted homemade manure.
- Germination is so quick at around 5-14 days. With about 6 weeks to being large enough to handle without damaging those first leaves.
- When the seedlings are large enough to handle thin them out to around 50cm apart in all directions. If you are transplanting from indoors thin to a reasonable distance to allow good leaf growth without roots becoming entangled.
- About 60 days after planting you will see flowers emerging. A liquid feed is appreciated during the flowering season as is regular deadheading.
- You may find flowering starts even earlier in those seasons where we have a lot of sunshine early in the year. We have some calendula that have been flowering since late April well into October.
- They will grow to between 50cm – 80cm in height and as such we use in borders and along paths to fill spaces, therefore allowing self seeding is fantastic for finding those spaces.
- Calendula is not a perennial but an annual that can behave as a perennial by self seeding. We grow as a herby shrub and use the petals and leaves in dishes and to create spices as well.
How To Harvest Calendula Seeds
You have two main options here, gather the seeds yourself for the following year, or letting them self seed. We have had a lot of luck with self seeding, to the point where we are almost ‘weeding’ the plants out. We like to collect the seeds before they can fly off themselves.
Any plant that is good at self seeding needs very little persuasion to reproduce, making it great for newbies to gardening.
- Dead head the flowers to encourage a longer flowering period. Calendula will respond well to dead heading and you can do this when you are also collecting petals for making a saffron replacement.
- If you collect the seeds from the heads you can simply rub them in your hand and gently let the seed be winnowed from the chaff.
- Store in an airtight container in a cool and dark place. A potting shed is ideal.
- You need to label your jars with dates and seed type – even though calendula seeds are quite different from marigold seeds, you still don’t want any chance for confusion.
- If you collect ‘green’ dead heads from your calendula then you want to cut the stalk lower down. Keep about 5-7 inches in length.
- Remove the lower leaves and hang the stems in bunches of no more than about 8.
- Hang them upside down in a cool, airy location out of direct sunlight. Pop a paper bag over the heads of the green flowers.
- In about two weeks time take the bunches down and gently shake the stalks of the calendula to hear the seeds fall down.
Drying calendula or some varieties of marigold leaves can be fantastic as a substitute for saffron in dishes that call for a subtle flavor and strong, vibrant color. The difference between marigold and calendula can be very important to understand and is worth taking a closer look at.
How To Dry Calendula Petals
To dry petals you just need to deadhead the flowers and remove the petals with your fingers. It is a slow process but one which the kids will be happy to help with as you get nice and sticky fingers, plus our chickens will rob the kids of the petals!
Once you have about 20 flowers worth of petals pop them into a shallow bowl. Leave it in the window in an airy room, but without direct sunlight. You want the petals to retain their color, but heat will dry them out. You will need to move them around every few hours to make sure they get a chance to dry evenly. After a few days the petals will be dry and have darkened in color. This new intensity is what will make them perfect as a substitute in paella or bouillabaisse for saffron. But you can grow your own saffron crocuses, it is just as easy to harvest calendula petals and mix them together to make your super expensive saffron go further!
There are lots of health benefits to eating or drinking calendula. But the main issue is some people find the leaves to be quite bitter. Perfect as a small addition to a herb salad, but more valued are the petals. Bright and vibrant they really lift any dish and work well in ice cubes for most cocktails and Summer drinks. They are also vital to bees and pollinators as early and later food!
So what’s to lose? I would always recommend growing edible flowers in a garden as they bring so much color and sunshine, even on a gloomy day.