A 6-foot marigold repels deer

Wild marigold, a fall bloomer, can repel deer.

Photo courtesy of Donna Williamson
Tiny marigold flowers arrive late in season.
Photo courtesy of Donna Williamson
Tagetes minuta can get quite tall in only one season.

Years ago – I’m saying that much too often – I bought a packet of seeds of a nematicidal marigold (Tagetes minuta) after some gardening authors touted the benefit of the marigold to reduce the load of damaging nematodes in the soil.

I wasn’t sure how beneficial nematodes felt about the marigold, but I planted the seeds anyway. Perhaps the nematodes relocated because of this plant. I don’t know if they were a problem to start with, but I love the idea of natural magic.

What I do know is that the deer don’t like the minty smell of this 6-foot-tall marigold that has survived for five years by reseeding around my formerly Zone 6b home.

Voles, mice, and insects may love the seed because I find the marigold growing everywhere. It doesn’t flower until October with tiny pale lemon blossoms so the seed-making process must be very speedy.

The foliage is ferny so works OK in a mixed shrub border unless it's placed right in front where it will wrestle the gardener into near submission before succumbing to pruners.

Easy to remove as seedlings in the spring, the plants are vigorous growers and recover quickly from being cut in half. This marigold will grow in sun or shade.

Cutting the tall lanky stems in late summer allows me to use this natural deer repellent to save my newly planted spinach and halfway-ravaged Swiss chard. The stems and leaves are narrow – especially when wilted - so laying cut stems across the spinach bed works well.

I have also woven them into the wire frame that supports grapes and rambling roses with some success. The minty aroma is pungent.

In parts of South America, people value Tagetes minuta and drink a tea made with this herb. In the scientific literature online, there appears to be anti-fungal and other interesting properties to the plant.

But be warned -- in California and Hawaii it’s a noxious invasive.

So I don’t know about those nematodes, but it has certainly helped a little with the deer. If a vigorous reseeder like this would upset you, avoid it. Otherwise, consider the possibilities.

My friend Rita, a talented and brilliant weaver, is using leaves and stems to weave boxes and purses. Last fall I sent her some long straight marigold stems to use in some of her work. Her work is natural magic.

Update: I lamented the missing wasps (that parasitize tomato hornworms) in an earlier blog. They appeared on a late hornworm in mid-September. Interesting year when a cool rainy spring gave way to hot, hot, hot in August. I finally have figs but none will ripen before frost. The grapes were delicious and abundant!

Donna Williamson is a master gardener, garden designer, and garden coach. She has taught gardening and design classes at the State Arboretum of Virginia, Oatlands in Leesburg, and Shenandoah University. She’s also the founder and editor of Grandiflora Mid-Atlantic Gardening magazine, and the author of “The Virginia Gardener’s Companion: An Insider’s Guide to Low Maintenance Gardening in Virginia.”  She lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Editor’s note: To read more by Donna, check our blog archive. For other Monitor gardening content, see our main gardening page and our RSS feed.

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