In the Garden:
Middle South
September, 2003
Regional Report

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More than just a pretty face, my 'Queen Sophia' French marigolds suppress nematodes and smell good, too.

Fine French Marigolds

Several years ago, a gardening friend shared her best tip for coloring up the fall garden. "Sow some French marigolds to replace short-lived spring annuals," Lois said. "They’re better than mums for rich fall color." I finally got around to heeding my friend's advice this year, and it's a tip worth sharing. In addition to providing color and a fragrance I find quite eerily invigorating, French marigolds (Tagetes patula) suppress several species of soil-borne nematodes.

Waiting for Flowers
Yet there is one problem, which is that patience is required. French marigolds that are sown in summer, when days are long, grow into lush green plants that have little interest in producing buds and flowers. Then, when days become short (in the 12 hour range, which occurs in September), they cover themselves with flowers. Wet weather and rich soil can delay flowering, too, but once French marigolds begin blooming, there is no stopping them! Healthy plants will bloom steadily until a hard freeze takes them down in late autumn.

Sowing Savvy
I planted my fall crop in early June by sowing seeds where I wanted the plants to grow. They popped right up, as French marigolds germinate willingly in warm soil. This is what you might expect from a plant native to Mexico, that is named after Tages, an Etruscan god who sprang up from newly plowed ground. The species name, patula, means spreading.

Although I have seen not evidence of rootknot nematodes in my soil, it's likely that several other microscopic species inhabit my beds. Nematodes are everywhere! In addition to being a non-host plant, soil scientists think that French marigold roots release substances that inhibit the growth of several nematode species (see Web Finds for a link to this research). Other plants seem to like growing in the company of marigolds, too, though claims that the plants repel pest insects has never been substantiated.


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