How to Plant and Grow African Marigold

This species boasts some of the largest blooms in the marigold family.

African Marigolds, or Tagetes erecta, have a long history, from their use as a topical agent and dye among the Cherokee tribe to their use in the Day of the Dead observances of Mexican culture. It is also celebrated as the symbolic birth flower for the month of October. But despite their common name of African marigolds, these plants are actually native to the Americas and are much taller than their cousins, the French marigolds.

African marigolds have long been planted as an easy-to-grow annual that requires very little maintenance. Coming in warm colors of creamy white, yellow, orange, and rusty red, African marigolds can add a welcome pop of color all season long. Even without the blooms, they have attractive deep green foliage.

African Marigold Overview

Genus Name Tagetes erecta
Common Name African Marigold
Plant Type Annual
Light Sun
Height 1 to 3 feet
Width 1 to 2 feet
Flower Color Orange, Red, White, Yellow
Foliage Color Blue/Green
Season Features Fall Bloom, Spring Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Fragrance, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 10, 11, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Seed
Problem Solvers Deer Resistant

Where to Plant African Marigold

African marigolds grow in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 11. In zones 10 and higher, they may bloom well into fall, but in zones where temperatures fall below freezing earlier, their lifespan may be shorter.

These large pom-pom blooms are perfect for garden beds, path edges, and containers—especially where sunlight is plentiful. So, choose an area that is sunny and protected from strong winds with well-draining, fertile soil that has a pH of 6.0 to 7.5.

How and When to Plant African Marigold

Plant African marigolds in the spring after the danger of frost has passed. You can sow seeds directly in the ground once the soil is warm or—even better—start them indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost.

If planting seedlings, space them about 10 to 12 inches apart and water thoroughly. Once they are established, pinch the plants off to prevent them from sending up single leggy shoots. This will encourage the plants to grow lush and bushy. Just use your forefinger and thumb to pinch back the top of the growing tip.

African Marigold Care

African marigolds are easy to grow and only require a little sun and water (and occasionally some support) to grow. They are so simple to care for that the sunny blooms are often listed as easy plants
for beginning gardeners


Marigolds perform best in full sun, which keeps the tall plants sturdy and helps them form large, dense blooms and foliage. However, in part shade or more, all parts of the plant are more susceptible to fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew.

Soil and Water

African marigolds need well-drained soils that won't stay wet for long because most marigolds are susceptible to rot and other soil-born fungal issues. They can tolerate many types of soil from dry to clay, but it’s best to aim for a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.5 for optimum growth and blooms.

When you water your African marigold, avoid wetting the foliage—especially later in the day—to help prevent rot and fungal issues.

Temperature and Humidity

African marigolds are fairly drought-tolerant and seem happiest in dry, hot conditions since damp, cool weather tends to cause fungal disease and rot. In most zones, they will not survive past fall when temperatures drop to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and cooler.


Make sure your African marigold plants have a good amount of organic matter mixed in with their soil. In poor soils, they may benefit from regular fertilizer applications or a single application of a slow-release fertilizer. For the amount to use, follow product label directions.


Deadheading the plants will encourage them to continue blooming for a more extended period as marigolds finish blooming. Deadheading also helps the plants focus their energy on flower production versus seed production.

The best time to harvest marigolds for arrangements or crafting is when the flowers are first starting to open. Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle just above the leaf node and put the stems in cool water immediately. Be sure to strip off the leaves as they can emit an unpleasant odor.

Potting and Repotting African Marigold

African marigolds grow easily in containers, but you will want to be sure to choose a pot with good drainage that is at least 10 inches in diameter and deep enough to allow staking. It’s also a good idea to choose a heavy-bottomed pot to prevent the tall plants from tipping over.

Since African marigolds will only last one growing season, repotting is not necessary, but you can use the same pot from season to season.

Pests and Problems

African marigolds are susceptible to aphids and spider mites in the dry heat of the summer, so watch for the tell-tale signs and treat with insecticidal soap as needed. They can also develop fungal diseases (like powdery mildew) if the soil or foliage is too wet.

Slugs and snails also like to munch on marigolds—especially during overcast days. Check regularly and dispose of the critters or sprinkle crushed eggshells around the base of the plant as a barrier.

How to Propagate African Marigold

Because African marigold grows so readily, propagation is rarely done, but you can propagate from stem cuttings if you like. Using sharp pruning shears, clip 4-inch segments from a healthy stem (preferably without blooms) and place the cuttings in a small pot filled with moist potting mix. Enclose the entire pot in a plastic bag and place it in a warm location where it will receive sun, but not direct sunlight. Check the progress of the cutting periodically to see if it is developing roots and moisten the potting mix as necessary. Once the plant has begun to root, remove the plastic bag and place the pot in full sun until it is ready to go in the ground.

You can also collect seeds at the end of the year to use the next spring. To do this, leave some spent blooms on the plants and let them fully ripen, dry, and drop into the soil to seed. Take note that the seeds will produce plants that are genetically different from the parents, so there may be some variability in flower color and plant growth.

Types of African Marigold

It seems like there are always new varieties of African marigolds being introduced with improved plant growth. Breeders have focused on creating denser plants with larger, frillier blooms.

'Discovery Orange' marigold

'Discovery Orange' marigold
Laurie Dickson

Tagetes erecta 'Discovery Orange' bears bold orange flowers that reach 3 inches wide on compact, 1-foot-tall plants.

'Discovery Yellow' marigold

'Discovery Yellow' marigold
Peter Krumhardt

Tagetes erecta 'Discovery Yellow' bears big, 3-inch-wide bright yellow flowers on compact, 1-foot-tall plants all summer long.

'Taishan Gold' African marigold

'Taishan Gold' African marigold
Graham Jimerson

Tagetes erecta 'Taishan Gold' is a vigorous selection with strong stems that hold up better to wet weather than other varieties. It grows 12 inches tall and 10 inches wide.

'Crackerjack' African marigold

Crackerjack Marigold

Seeds of Change

Tagetes erecta ' Crackerjack' is a late-season bloomer that grows big, bright yellow or orange double blooms that can get as large as 3 or 5 inches in diameter. It grows tall at 24 to 36 inches in height and may need to be staked on account of its heavy flower heads.

African Marigold Companion Plants

French Marigold

french marigolds
Doug Hetherington

Just as you'd expect from something called French, these marigolds are the fancy ones. French marigolds tend to be frilly and some boast a distinctive "crested eye." They mature to roughly 8-12 inches high with a chic, neat, little growth habit and elegant dark green foliage. They do best in full sun with moist, well-drained soil and will flower all summer long. They may reseed, coming back year after year, in spots where they're happy.


Coreopsis verticillata 'Zagreb'
Scott Little

One of the longest bloomers in the garden, coreopsis produces (usually) sunny yellow daisylike flowers that attract butterflies. Depending on the variety, Coreopsis also bears golden-yellow, pale yellow, pink, or bicolor flowers. It will bloom from early to midsummer or longer if it's deadheaded.

Mexican Sunflower

Butterfly on Mexican sunflower
Peter Krumhardt

Attract butterflies and have fun doing it with big, bold, beautiful Mexican sunflower. Plant it from seed directly in the ground and watch it soar. It can hit up to 5 feet in just weeks with big, lush foliage and smaller but still showy flowers in sunset colors that butterflies love. Put a cluster of these bodacious beauties in the back of the border for height and drama. Many of the taller types need staking to keep them upright. Plant them outdoors in a sunny spot with well-drained soil after all danger of frost has passed.

Garden Plans

Children's Vegetable Garden

Easy Children’s Vegetable Garden Plan illustration
Illustration by Gary Palmer

Marigolds add some sunny color to this pint-size garden plan—perfect for budding gardeners who want to get their hands dirty while reaping the benefits of growing (and eating) their own produce.

French Kitchen Garden

French Kitchen Garden Illustration
Illustration by Helen Smythe

This garden—inspired by old-world monastery gardens—brings a bounty of produce and herbs as well as some elegant edible flowers like marigold and, nasturtiums.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between African, French, and signet marigolds?

    The three common types of marigolds are African, French, and
    signet. Signet marigolds are the smallest of the bunch, often measuring only 6
    inches tall or smaller. They have a single row of petals and are only about 1
    inch wide. French marigolds—which derived their name from their fame in French gardens—are typically about 6 to 12 inches tall with double and single blooms that measure up to 2 inches wide. African marigolds are the largest and can climb to heights of 2 to 3 feet tall with double pom-pom blooms measuring about 5 inches in diameter.

  • What do marigolds smell like?

    Marigolds have a musky, pungent smell that is alluring to some and offensive to others. The smell—which comes from the foliage and not the flowers—has been compared to wet hay, wet weeds, and cat urine. The smell comes from terpenes in the leaves which naturally repel insects and deter rabbits and deer from nibbling on the blooms. To diminish the smell when using marigolds as cut flowers, be sure to remove all of the foliage from the stems.

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  1. Shetty, L. J. A brief review on Medicinal Plant Tagetes erecta. Journal of Applied Pharmaceutical Science. 5 (Suppl 3); 2015: 091-095. From

  2. Marigolds - Dia De Los Muertos / Day of the Dead - Research Starters at Our Lady of the Lake University,

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