How To Grow Calendula (Seed To Harvest)

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Calendula (Calendula officinalis) is a popular annual flower grown not only for it’s beauty, but for it’s various medicinal uses as well. This lovely plant attracts beneficial insects to the garden while also boasting colorful flowers that have many uses in the kitchen. What’s not to love?

If you think these flowers look a bit like marigolds, you’re right! Calendula is also known as “pot marigold,” though it is not a true marigold. They are part of two different families, despite their common cheerful appearance and preference for sunny spots in the garden. 

Calendula

There are many different varieties of calendula you can choose from depending on your color preference. This year, I decided to grow “Bronze Beauty” calendula which is a pale peachy-pink color. Though, a few seeds may have gotten mixed up because some of the blooms are definitely a different variety! While orange shades are the most popular, there are many options for beautiful white and yellow blooms as well.

While you may have luck finding this flower at some local farms or nurseries, I suggest growing it at home from seed. It’s one of the easiest flowers you can grow, and the colorful blooms reward you early in the season and beyond.

Step 1: Start calendula seeds indoors

While you can direct sow calendula, I prefer starting calendula seeds indoors to give them a head start. Determining when to start seeds will depend on your last frost date.

  • Sow seeds 4-5 weeks before they will be planted outside. In our zone (6b), we start our calendula at the end of March. 
  • Sow seeds 1/4″ deep in your favorite seed starting mix. 
  • Germination can take 1-2 weeks with ideal soil temperatures between 70-75°F.
  • ​As soon as seedlings sprout, place them under grow lights or in your sunniest window for the strongest plants.
  • ​Calendula plants take about 55 days to bloom from the day they are planted. If you start your seeds indoors in March, you’ll have flowers by late May in the garden.

​Step 2: Transplant calendula seedlings outdoors

Small calendula plants
  • With any flower or vegetable you are growing indoors, I always recommend hardening the seedlings off for at least 1-2 weeks. Bring them outside (starting in a shady spot) and gradually introduce them to the elements for a few hours a day. 
  • When outdoor temperatures are at least 50°F, you can transplant your calendula seedlings outdoors. This plant can tolerate temperatures much lower, but young plants can be a bit more vulnerable than those that are established.
  • You can grow calendula in your raised garden beds, in containers, or use them in borders in an in-ground bed. They also make a great addition to the herb garden or in the vegetable garden as a companion plant.
  • Space your calendula plants about 12 inches apart.

Step 3: Provide the right conditions

Calendula flowers
Orange calendula blooms.
  • For the best blooms, provide calendula plants with full sun. 
  • Calendula prefer well-drained soil. Though, these flowers are less picky than most and have been known to grow in poor soil conditions.
  • Don’t over-fertilize, as this may reduce the number of flowers on each plant.
  • ​In cool or overly wet conditions, calendula is susceptible to powdery mildew. Ensure there is good air circulation around the plants to prevent this. 
  • Calendula can attract aphids and whiteflies. While we don’t mind as much (if these pests leave our vegetables alone and take preference to the flowers), they can be controlled with a gentle blast of water from the hose. I do not recommend spraying these flower with any insecticides, as this can do more harm than good, especially to the beneficial insect populations.

​When and how to harvest calendula 

For cut flowers, you can harvest calendula at any time. For the longest lasting blooms, cut the calendula flowers when they are half open. You can use the flower petals in the kitchen to decorate cakes or salads. 

​Calendula also makes an excellent dried flower. You can harvest the flowers and dry them in the dehydrator (on the lowest setting), on a drying tray, or hang them upside down with the stems intact. Dried flowers can be used to make calendula tea or in cosmetic products with medicinal properties.

Drying calendula in dehydrator
Drying calendula flowers in a dehydrator.

Calendula is one of my favorite edible flowers to grow in the garden. It’s incredibly easy to grow from seed and you can’t beat the colorful daisy-like flowers that add interest to any flower bed.

In the early spring, these flowers are one of the first to emerge, helping to fuel our excitement for the gardening season ahead. If you have experience growing calendula in your garden, let me know which colors and varieties you like to grow best and whether you direct sow or start your plants indoors.

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