Writer Walt Streightiff noted that “There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes of a child. There are seven million.” Kids and many grownups find the natural world infinitely fascinating with its endless mysteries literally begging to be explored. You can probe some of nature’s intimate secrets with deadheaded marigold blossoms. Fast-growing, drought- and pest-resistant, durable and tough to kill, marigolds are among the easiest and fastest of all seeds to germinate. Considering that they’re also bright and pretty, marigolds may well be the most wondrous of small wonders to delight you and share with your curious junior green thumbers.
Gathering Marigold Seeds
Deadhead your marigolds regularly throughout the growing season. Pick the flowers off the plants as soon as they fade. This keeps the marigolds looking neat and tidy, and encourages them to keep blooming.
Allow some of the spent marigolds to remain on the plants when flowering slows in the fall. Deadhead them when the blooms lose most if not all of their petals and the green flowerheads turn completely brown. This is when you can be sure that the seeds inside the heads are mature.
Smooth a paper towel out on a dinner plate. Hold a deadheaded marigold blossom by the petals over the plate. Grasp the flowerhead between the index finger and thumb of your other hand. Pull the flowerhead apart slowly. The seeds will slip out easily. Many will still cling to the dead petals. You may want to do this yourself instead of letting the kids separate the seeds as they might be sharp.
Spread the seeds out over the paper towel in a single layer. Allow plenty of space between them to allow for good air circulation. Set them in a warm, dry spot away from direct sunlight. Allow the seeds to dry for a week or two.
Dump the dried marigold seeds in a paper envelope. Seal it and write the date on it. Put the envelope in a sealable plastic food storage bag. Keep the seeds in the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator. The ideal temperature is between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Refrigerate the seeds until you’re ready to plant them the following spring.
Testing the Seeds
Put a paper towel on a dinner plate to test your homegrown marigold seeds for viability about six weeks before the last predicted frost date for your area. Spritz the paper towel with warm water from a plastic spray bottle to moisten the towel evenly. Don’t make it soggy. Since many hybrid marigolds don’t produce seeds that will germinate successfully, it’s better to test your seeds now than to risk disappointment after planting them.
Space 10 seeds about an inch apart on the paper towel. Leave a 2-inch border between the seeds and the edge of the towel. Fold the towel carefully into a long 1- or 2-inch wide strip. Fold the strip in half. Put it into a sealable plastic food storage bag and write the date on the bag with a permanent marker. Set the bag in a warm room with a consistent temperature between 70 and 80 F but out of direct sunlight. The top of your refrigerator or above a hot water heater are good locations.
Check the paper towel daily for dampness. Don’t allow it to dry out. Spritz with warm water as needed to keep it evenly moist.
Open the paper towel carefully after three days to see if any of the seeds show signs of germinating. Marigold seeds often sprout within several days of planting. Check again every day until most of the seeds have germinated. Allow three more days after each sprouting for stragglers to catch up. Your test is complete when three days pass with no new arrivals. If your germination rate is 70 percent or better, you’ve got a winner. Thirty percent or lower tells you that you’ll need to plant at least four times the seeds for the number of desired plants.
Planting Marigold Seeds
Cut the lid off an empty foam egg carton with scissors to create a seed-starting flat. Set the lid aside to use as a drip tray. Poke several holes in the bottom of each cup in the egg carton with a toothpick to allow for drainage.
Fill the cups about 3/4 full with sterile potting mix. Set the flat in a baking pan of warm water. Remove it from the water when the surface of the soil feels moist. Let it drain for about 20 minutes.
Place two marigold seeds on the soil of each cup. Set the seeds on their sides about 1/2 to 3/4 inch apart. Cover them with 1/4 inch soil. Spritz the soil with warm water to moisten it evenly. Don’t make it soggy or wet. Set the flat in the drip tray. Close the flat up in a clear plastic bag. Poke about five or six holes in the bag with a toothpick. Set it in a warm room with a temperature between 65 and 75 F out of direct sun. A spot above the hot water heater or on top of the refrigerator is ideal. Your marigolds should sprout in about three to five days.
Open the bag every day to check the soil. Don’t allow it to dry out. Spritz with warm water to keep the soil surface evenly moist but not wet.
Remove the bag for good when the seeds germinate. Move the flat to a spot near a bright windowsill in a warm room. Keep the soil surface evenly moist. Don’t let the seedlings dry out.
Step the seedlings up to individual 3-inch pots of sterile potting mix when they’re about 2 inches tall. Move them to a sunny windowsill in a warm room, and keep the soil evenly moist.
Plant the seedlings outside in a well-draining spot in full sun when they’re about 3 inches tall and have at least two or three sets of leaves. Keep the soil evenly moist until you see new growth. Water when the soil surface dries out thereafter.