In any year, the darker days of winter need some bright flowers to cheer us up – and calendula is a perfect solution here in the Southwest. Say “C” (si!) for calendula! It is cheerful, charming, and can easily be grown!
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) has a long history of human use as an herb – one with a wealth of 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 (tastes 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. But all that information is better shared on SavortheSW (on some future day).
Planting and Care of Calendula
Calendula are perennials in some parts of the world but must be considered annual plants in the Southwest. They will thrive all winter, ripe for the plucking, then pass into the great compost heap in the sky when the weather heads into the heat of our summer. This is just like a number of other winter annuals I wrote about earlier – here. For the complete alphabet of choices for winter annuals – see my “Zones. Plants & More” page and scroll down to the heading “Flowers.”
In January, grow calendula from seedlings (little plants) from the nursery. Next year you can start from seed in October. Or from seedlings from the nursery.
Calendula plants prefer 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.
Plants do best with six or more hours of sun. Full winter sun is fine.
Keep the soil relatively moist during establishment. Once plants get larger, you can let the soil dry a little more.
Deadhead – No, Not the Band
It’s a flower thing, no relation to the rock band. “Deadhead” is the term for removing blossoms before they go to seed. This encourages the plant to make more flowers. Deadhead calendula by grasping the stem under the flower and snap the stem where it most readily snaps. Do this by hand not pruners! This ensures that the stem is broken at natural breakage points – called abscission areas – that occur between the plant cells. It helps the plant to heal more rapidly. Pruners cut right through cells and make it harder for the plant to heal.
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.
Plant your calendula where you can enjoy them – and do keep them well away from hungry wildlife.
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Daily Fun & Help
More about growing colorful flowers (outdoors) every month of the year in this book: Month by Month Gardening for Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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