Calendula for your winter garden in the desert
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is normally grown as an annual in any climate. The difference within the climates is in its growing period. It is a short-lived perennial with a lifespan of around two years, but it is usually grown as an annual flower in both garden beds and containers.
Warm States – In year-round warm regions, Calendula is usually planted towards the end of the hot summer and will last until the heat builds up again with nighttime temps above 60°F in the spring.
Cold States – In cooler regions, or should I say cold, Calendula can be planted as soon as the danger of a freeze has passed and will live through the summer.
When I first saw Calendula, I thought it was a marigold. I read the nursery tag and realized that although it looks like a large Marigold, it is in a different family. To confuse this even further, one of the common names for the Calendula is a Pot Marigold.
For our Scientists and Botanists: From Wikipedia, “Calendula (/kəˈlɛndjuːlə/)[ is a genus of about 15–20 species of annual and perennial herbaceous plants in the daisy family Asteraceae that are often known as marigolds. They are native to southwestern Asia, western Europe, Macaronesia, and the Mediterranean. Other plants are also known as marigolds, such as corn marigold, desert marigold, marsh marigold, and plants of the genus Tagetes. The genus name Calendula is a modern Latin diminutive of calendae, meaning “little calendar”, “little clock” or possibly “little weather-glass.”
The term Pot Marigolds came from the earliest days of the Monks who used Calendula in their soups and stews, i.e. they made stew in pots with Calendula.
Why I Like Calendula
I was immediately drawn to Calendula because of its bright yellow color in a daisy-like upright flower. Marigolds can’t tolerate the desert winter, but the Calendula thrives all season long.
Its strong stature and 2 – 4″ flowers are bold enough to handle being planted out in the distant “back 40.” The two standard colors of yellow and orange are great when you want these primary standout colors.
Newer varieties of Calendula include various shades of the two primaries ranging from cream to variegated tones of orange resembling what is called “Strawberry Cream” to a pure cream color. Centers can vary from yellow and orange to orange-red and even brown.
We can achieve a strong, primary yellow with Pansies but they are a lower growing plant. Calendula, depending on the variety, can reach three feet. However, I have never seen them reach that height in the desert winter. Our desert plants range between 12 inches to 18 inches tall. This makes Calendula a perfect mid-height to tall plant for our pots and raised planters.
Of course, you can start Calendula from seed in mid-winter, indoors. But you know me, from the generation of immediate gratification, I like buying the plants nicely grown from the nursery. You will find them in 4” containers and gallon nursery cans.
My advice on choosing between a 4” plant and one in a gallon can is always the same, “It depends.” The 4” plant is a singular plant that should be well rooted and growing and flowering nicely before you buy it. There should be many branches coming up from the main root stem.
A gallon container will either be a single, but more mature plant or three smaller plants upsized to the gallon can. Look carefully so you know what you are getting and make your decision based on growth and value. If one 4” plant is $4 and a gallon holding three healthy similarly sized plants is under $10, then it makes sense to buy the gallon – that is if you want three plants of that color!
Be sure to check the variety you are buying and know the projected height. They are cute and short when first arriving at the nursery. But like anything small and cute, they will grow!
Sometimes Calendula is a flat of mixed seeds so you have a variety of colors within that one flat. Other times they will be segregated by color.
Calendula takes full winter sun in the desert and summer sun in 4-season climates where winters are cold. It can tolerate some late afternoon shade. Can’t we all?!
Use a quality potting mix for your Calendula and follow my instructions from previous articles for instructions on adding fertilizer.
Based on the variety of Calendula you have chosen, decide where in your pot you want them. Decide if you are planting back to front or in the round. Because all varieties will gain in height, you want to plant them as a middle plant if you have taller plants going in or as a center or back plant if this is the tallest star. Don’t plant it in the front of the pot or around the edges.
Plant Calendula as you would any annual. In pots, space them just a couple inches apart. As always, water in well after planting.
Calendula need the standard care of all of our annuals. Regular deadheading, consistent, thorough water and the jet blast treatment to deter any pests or disease
Harvest some of the flowers every 2-4 days to keep the plants full and abundant. As you pick the flowers, more will blossom. Great for cut flowers to fill your vases.
Periodically selectively prune Calendula back to new growth. This will create a bushy plant just wanting to put out new flowers, rather than an unruly, spindly plant.
Look for growth down two-thirds of the height of the stem and snip it just above those baby leaves.
Added Benefits of Calendula
- The flowers are popular in stews and soups for their spicy taste similar to saffron.
- Many cosmetics and remedies are made from Calendula including dealing with age spots, soothing itchy skin irritations, and gut maladies. Check with your physician before trying any remedies at home. Most products are manufactured from ground dry flower and leaves.
- It is reported that Calendula will draw Aphids away from your vegetables and roses. Let’s give this a try and report back!