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How to grow African marigolds

Val Bourne / 01 July 2014 ( 15 February 2021 )

Val Bourne admires African marigolds - and reveals why they make a very useful companion plant for fruits and vegetables. Find out how to grow these cheerful orange annuals.

African marigold
Plant African marigolds to encourage beneficial hoverflies into your garden

African marigolds (Tagetes erecta) actually come from sunny Mexico despite their name, although it does explain their other name - Aztec marigold. These half hardy bushy annuals are popular bedding plants in the UK, and can easily be found in supermarkets and garden centres in the spring, but they can easily be grown from seed too.

Their cheerful warm orange and yellow blooms can liven up borders, baskets and container patios, and can even be useful for keeping pests away from more valuable crops.

Where to plant African marigolds

As you would expect from their name, African marigolds enjoy warm, bright conditions and well-drained soil.

Visit our Home and Garden section for gardening guides, home improvement tips and much more.

When to sow African marigold seeds

April is the perfect month to sow African marigold seeds. 

How to plant African marigolds

Sow African marigold seeds in trays indoors. Once they germinate, prick them out and plant them outside from mid-May onwards - after the fear of frost has passed. 

Alternatively you can buy ready-grown trays of African marigolds from garden centres. These will need to be hardened off before being planted out.

Do African marigolds come back?

African marigolds are not perennials so they do not come back, but you might find them growing in the same place if they managed to self-seed.

African marigolds and wildlife

African marigolds make excellent companion plants for vegetables and fruit because their flowers are adored by hoverflies. Although adult hoverflies only drink nectar and feed on pollen their larvae are aphid-eating predators. Hoverflies obligingly lay their eggs close to colonies. Once the larvae emerge they eat hundreds of aphids and they keep your cabbages, lettuces, fruit and beans free of pests. 

Find out more about encouraging helpful insects into your garden

Best African marigold varieties

My favourite short varieties are' Naughty Marietta' and 'Honeycomb' (from Mr Fothergill's), 'Solan' (from Thompson & Morgan) and 'Queen Sophia' (from Suttons) and these are perfect among loose-leaf lettuces.

I also like to use taller varieties and the frilly mixture of doubles and singles in 'Bo Jangle' (only available from Sutton's) is my all-time favourite. Mix that with the single maroon and yellow 'Striped Marvel' to create summer razzle-dazzle.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.