Calendula Flowers are Easy to Grow

Grow calendula for a bright and shining and long-lasting pretty flower in the cooler months of winter in the desert Southwest.

Calendula – The Plant

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) was once an important herb found in every herbal garden. Now calendula commonly grown for its pretty blooms. It still has a wealth of uses. Mostly though, I like to grow it because it is nice to have bright flowers to greet me as I step outside the door. And they come in so many colors! If you don’t like cream, golden, and orange, then maybe other annuals are for you in the winter. Maybe you’ll find inspiration on my list – Cool Season Annuals.

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Common name for calendula here in North America is calendula, but if you go “across the pond” to England, they call it “pot marigold” – not to be confused with our “marigold” used for Day of the Dead gardening-with-soule-tagetes-marigold(Tagetes).  If you try to eat most of the species of Tagetes using a Calendula recipe, you would experience “gastric distress” to say the least – that is if you could even swallow it.  This is why all herbs you use should be by the scientific name not the common one.  Also – don’t use the common garden Tagetes to make soaps or shampoos, you could get a rash.

Uses

Calendula can really shine in the kitchen. Cooks use calendula leaves and petals (botanically they are florets) steamed as a vegetable and to make pudding, dumplings, wine (better than dandelion wine!), and to flavor cakes and breads. Fresh petals look and taste fine in salads.

Calendula makes a lovely golden yellow dye. Science shows that a tea of calendula will kill gram negative and gram positive bacteria, so it can be used in bactericidal soaps. It is also said to help make your hair more shiny, so you might see some in shampoos. More uses at the end of this article.

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Calendula Planting and Care

Calendula are perennials in some parts of the world but must be considered annual plants in our area. They will thrive all winter in the desert Southwest, with their pretty flowers greeting you virtually every day. Here’s the care broken into my “Four Elements of Desert Gardening.” Class to be offered in January 2024.  Sign up for my newsletter to be notified when it is available.

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Soil (Earth)

Calendula prefers well-drained, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. It grows well in containers. Pots as shallow as eight inches can be used. Fill with potting soil that has some added sand.  block the bottom hole with a piece of window screen.

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Sunlight (Fire)

Plants do best with six or more hours of sun. Full winter sun is fine.

Water

Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. Once plants get larger, you can let the soil dry a little more.

gardening-with-soule-calendula-for-desert-winter

Air

Generally in our area, these winter loving plants will pass into the great compost heap in the sky when the weather warms up over 90F.

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They also make great cut flowers.

Start Calendula

Calendula can be grown from seed or from seedlings from the nursery. Set seed a quarter inch deep. Try to space any rows around a foot apart. When seedlings are two inches high, thin to eight inches apart.

Calendula Care

Deadhead.
It’s a flower thing, no relation to the rock band. It’s the term for removing spent blossoms before they make seeds. This will encourage more blooms. Mine rarely reach this stage as I use them so often.

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See those seeds developing? Remove (deadhead) this cluster if you want the plant to spend energy making flowers instead of seeds.

If you are collecting the blooms for herbal use, you want to harvest them at peak bloom, before they go to seed.

Fertilizer.
Avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. In late February you could apply a general purpose fertilizer at half-strength which will help calendula keep blooming until it fries in the May heat.

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Harvesting and Use

Harvest blooms or deadhead by grasping the stem under the flower and snap the stem where it most readily snaps. Doing this by hand rather than by prunners or clippers ensures that the stem is broken between cells, and it will heal faster. Technically I could tell you that this snapping is along the natural abscission areas between the cells. Clippers cut through cells and make it harder for the plant to heal.

gardening-with-soule-calendula-for-desert-winter

Non-Food Uses

Tinctures use freshly harvested material. But to make teas (decoctions), it is best to dry the petals prior to gardening-with-soule-calendula-for-desert-winteruse. This helps remove (volatilize) some of the bitter compounds. Calendula decoction or in tincture is used topically to treat acne, or internally to aid in reducing inflammation, controlling bleeding and soothing irritated tissue.

Dried calendula can be used to make a body powder for babies and adults. Finely grind dried petals in a mortar, and mix half and half with corn starch.

Dried then reconstituted petals can be added to soap as an anti-bacterial agent.

A calendula infusion as a rinse helps bring out highlights in brunette and blond hair. Calendula is often used in commercially available products.

Other Herb/Flowers You Can Grow

May I recommend my book?  The Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Guide offers not just growing guides but some of the latest varieties – including ones specifically for raised bed and container growing. Price is what you would pay on Amazon – only when you buy from me you get a signed copy!soule-books-buy

From the review:

In this updated 2nd edition of Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, you’ll find much-needed advice and practical tips on growing an edible garden, no matter which part of the southwestern US you call home.

Growing in the Southwest isn’t easy. It’s either too hot or too cold and often very dry. The region hosts a range of soils and climate conditions that can be difficult for a gardener to navigate. That’s why this region-specific garden guide is a must-have for every Southwestern gardener!

Botanist Dr. Jacqueline Soule simplifies the ins and outs of gardening in the Southwest and serves as your guide to success. Regardless of whether you’re tending an in-ground plot, a small container garden, or a series of raised beds, Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening is an invaluable resource.”

Profits from the sale of this book via my book selling site go to the Arizona-based Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.

Legal

© Article copyright Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

Disclaimer

The author of this website has researched the edibility of the materials I discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.

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