Tree marigolds (Tagetes lemmonii) are also known as mountain marigolds, Mexican bush marigolds and tangerine marigolds. They're delightful, vigorous, tough plants that grow as sprawling large bushes or small trees to 1.5m with narrow, strongly segmented green leaves that smell like lemon, mint and tangarine combined. The botantical name, lemmonii, is derived from the name of an American botanist, not from the fact that it has a citrusy scent. Flowers are bright golden yellow and appear in autumn and winter providing bright splashes of colour for many months.
Grow new plants from seed planted in spring or by taking cuttings in spring or autumn. Tree marigold will grow in most soils as long as they are well drained and it likes a sunny but sheltered position. I’ve found that it needs very little water so it’s a great candidate for that hard to reach spot where it won’t get much attention and where you might regularly forget to water. Cut it back every now and then to promote flower growth and keep the bush from becoming too straggly.
Tree marigolds are grown for their beautifully scented leaves and I really love their scent. But as with so many things, scent is in the nose of the sniffer. So I also know people who hate the scent and one at least who has a severe hay fever attack if she ever goes near it. That said, for most people it is a beautiful and useful plant in the garden and in the home.
Dry leaves and flowers and add them to potpourri and scented sachets, just for their scent and colour but also for their pest repellent qualities. In the garden the roots will help to repel soil nematodes while the leaves repel and confuse a range of air-borne pests including whitefly, carrot fly, white butterfly and pumpkin beetles. Recent research has shown that marigolds are particularly useful for repelling whitefly from tomatoes. So plant it near your tomato patch. Also plant it in several other spots around the garden and when you prune it, dig the prunings into the soil, keep the soil moist as they rot and this will keep nematodes away.
By: Penny Woodward
First published: September 2019