Spotlight on Marigold: An Excellent Companion Plant for a Vegetable Garden

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Many vegetable gardeners go to their planting laser-focused on planting as many vegetables as possible, leaving no space for anything else. However, organic growers generally recognize that a healthy garden needs more than just vegetable plants.

A healthy garden requires a mix of components that promote a regenerative system (beyond sustainability, regeneration improves the garden). Healthy gardens need lots of organic matter. They need insects, both harmful and beneficial. They need a dazzling array of colors, shapes, smells and root systems.

One of the main allies of a healthy garden are support species, companion plants that primarily serve the system rather than produce huge harvests. Undoubtedly, the French marigolds (Tagetes patula) are a great addition to vegetable gardens, and the ways are many.

happy producers

When selecting support species, they should be low maintenance. Simply put, vegetable gardeners shouldn’t spend time bringing uncultivated plants into existence. Marigolds are pleasant growers from seed, and they are an otherwise inexpensive bed plant. Sow them indoors in pots a month or more before the last frost.

Self-seeders

Although they are annuals, which means they have to be re-started every year, they are prolific self-seeders. In other words, if we leave them to mature in the garden, they will plant themselves for next year’s marigolds. This means that although they are inexpensive, we may not have to buy seeds or seedlings after the first year.

Edible plants

No one will ever want to sit down to an entire plate of marigolds for lunch, but the petals are edible and add a pop of color to dishes all summer and early fall. They are described as a cross between slightly lemony and somewhat spicy. Use them raw in salads and to garnish dishes like tofu scrambles, soups and stir-fries.

Pest repellents

Although there is scientific debate about the true effectiveness of marigolds as pest repellents, a great deal of popular wisdom says they most definitely are. Organic gardeners have long used them as such, especially in the fight against nematodes. They are also thought to thwart Mexican bean beetles, whiteflies and cabbage moths.

Pest Distractors

In addition to deterring some pests, marigolds are likely to distract others, acting as a sacrificial plant that protects susceptible crops. Slugs, in particular, love marigolds and often happily devour them instead of preying on these crucifers. When a gardener sees marigolds suffering, it might be time to get a few slugs out of the garden.

pollinator candy

While marigolds deter some pests and distract others, they also attract pollinators to the garden. We all know that bees and butterflies play a crucial role in pollination, but there are plenty of other insects in that mix. Some of these other insects, such as ladybugs and predatory wasps, hunt and feed on other insects, again helping to control the pest population.

Floral arrangements

It’s great to pull a load of veggies from a garden, but there’s more to life than just eating, fun as that may be. Sometimes the beauty of a vase of flowers is enough to bring a smile. Marigolds are beautiful flowers that can be cut fresh or dried to include in arrangements around the house and on the dinner table.

Mulch material

Rich soil has abundant soil life, and this life feeds on the organic matter found in the soil. At the end of the growing season, many gardeners cut the plants off and leave them on the beds to decompose and be eaten over the winter. Marigolds are great as mulch material to help revitalize the soil year after year.

Including beautiful flowers in the vegetable garden, especially as bed borders and border plants, makes a lot of sense. Marigolds are one of the best, if not the most popular, to use. Two other great options are zinnias and nasturtiums, which are also edible, beautiful, and incredibly useful.

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