Growing Calendula from Seed

The Calendula Plant: Nature's Sunshine Herb

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Bouquet of calendula flowers.

Growing calendula (Calendula officinalis) from seed is an annual garden project in my family. We let the little ones help, and they enjoy monitoring growth as the first seedlings push their way through the soil. Calendula adapts to a wide variety of climates and soils. With its yellow, apricot or fluorescent orange blossoms, calendula is a cheery, dependable bloomer. The petals are single or double, depending upon the variety and the scent is somewhat spicy and clean.

Growing herbs outdoors or indoors from seeds is much less expensive than starting with nursery grown plants. Calendula has a high germination rate, so you’ll have enough from one seed packet to share.

This annual herb completes its life cycle in one year. Calendula can, however, become a short-lived perennial in some climates. It has many nicknames. Pot marigold is probably the most well known and refers to the way calendula petals are used in foods cooked in pots, like soups and stews. But calendula is not related to the common marigold. They are from different plant families. Calendula belongs to the Asteraceae family, which includes the chamomile plant and yarrow. Common marigolds are a member of the Tagetes family, which includes sunflowers.

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And here’s a bit of plant trivia. The calendula plant opens its petals in the direction of the sun in the morning. As the sun sets or after a cold spell or rain, the petals close up.

There’s a bonus here, too. The calendula plant is deer resistant and a favorite plant of pollinators!

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Closed Flower

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Bee Pollinating Calendula

Growing Calendula from Seed

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Seeds are Crescent or Horseshoe Shaped

Starting Seeds Indoors

  • Start seeds six to eight weeks before the last frost date.
  • Use a seed starting potting mix, not regular soil or potting mix. Seed starting mix has the correct balance of growing material and nutrients. You can plant the seeds in a seed starter kit and follow instructions there, or use anything that gets good drainage. I use peat cups and put two seeds in each. I’ll remove the weaker of the two seedlings after sprouting.
  • Press seeds on top of the soil and spread a 1/4″ layer of soil over seeds. Firm gently with your fingers.
  • Spritz soil until the top 1/2″ feels fairly moist. While the seeds are germinating, maintain that moisture.
  • I like to arrange mine on a tray to make them easier to handle. Cover with a layer of plastic wrap and poke enough holes in the wrap for air circulation and evaporation.
  • Set near a window with a southern exposure, one that receives at least six hours of sun daily. Or set under a grow or fluorescent light. Germination will occur in five to 14 days. Discard the plastic wrap. Remove the weaker seedlings. Rotate the seedlings if necessary so they don’t get leggy trying to reach the light.
  • After the seedlings develop their second/true set of leaves, they can be planted outdoors if the frost date has passed.
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Calendula seedling with first set of leaves

Direct Sowing Outdoors

  • Sow seeds after last frost date. Calendula won’t germinate in extremely hot weather. Seeds germinate in seven to 10 days. Calendula grows well in Zones 2 to 10 with a soil pH range from 5 to 8. Don’t be surprised if you see volunteers sprouting the next year. The seeds stay viable over winter. I see seeds sprouting toward the end of April in my herb garden. That’s a good six months after the seeds have dropped from the mother plant.
  • Plant in average, well-drained soil in full sun, or partial shade if the climate is very hot. Some describe calendula as a cool season annual. It’s said that in hotter zones, calendula may stop flowering. I have not had that problem here in my southern Ohio garden. There are heat-resistant cultivars available, such as Pacific Beauty.
  •  If using containers, use a good quality potting mix.
  • Scratch up the soil, water well, and plant seeds about four inches apart, 1/4” deep. Wait until the second set of true leaves appear and then thin the plants out so they grow eight to 12 inches apart. Plants eventually grow to at least 12 inches high, and up to a foot or more in width.
  • Seeds and seedlings need to be kept moist. As the plant grows, water as needed. I like to add a sprinkling of compost around established plants.
  • If grown in containers, fertilize and water a little more.
  • Although calendula is usually an easy plant to grow, monitor for pests and diseases by checking with your local Cooperative Extension Agency.

Growing calendula from seed gives you plants that flower profusely, so go ahead and pick to your heart’s content! Picking forces the plant to send out more flowers. Calendula can survive light frosts. In my herb garden, calendula is one of the last blooming flowers late into autumn.

Cook’s Friend

Trendy chefs have rediscovered this sunny flower and include it in their edible flowers list to add vibrant color and texture to foods.

Fresh petals can be chopped into salads or used as a garnish on fruit and vegetable platters. Roll a log of butter in minced calendula petals. Grind dry petals to a powder and add to rice and grains as a substitute for saffron or turmeric. In olden days, calendula was called poor man’s saffron. Calendula doesn’t taste like saffron but it does lend a golden hue to foods.

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Calendula-flavored brown rice and edamame

Calendula Benefits

The word Officinalis in the scientific name means calendula has medicinal qualities. With its antiseptic qualities, it’s a good remedy for sores, cuts, bruises, burns and rashes. Find calendula in oils, teas, natural toothpaste, creams, teething gels, salves, and ointments. The brightest orange petals have the highest concentration of active ingredients.

                                                                                    Calendula
Allergies Calendula is closely related to the ragweed family, so if you have allergies to ragweed, you may want to avoid calendula. Check with your health care provider.
Calendula vs. Marigold Calendula goes by many nicknames, but marigold is not one of them.These 2 plants come from completely different “families.” Calendula is from the Asteraceae family, which includes the chamomile plant. Marigold, a member of the Tagetes family, includes the common sunflower.

Do like growing calendula from seed or do you purchase already started plants? What’s your favorite way to use this golden flower?

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