How to Plant and Grow the Glorious Marigold

Tagetes

Before we get too far into this, I have a confession:

I love marigolds, everything about them.

A close up of an deep orange French marigold.

So, if you were expecting an article about these annual flowers that’s written with journalistic detachment, you’re out of luck. This is my tribute to the peerless marigold, recognizing its great virtues and its hangups as well, with unabashed affection.

While preparing for this article, I learned quite a few interesting things about these flowers. They are a surprisingly far-flung flower that has traveled across the Atlantic on multiple occasions. One variety of the flower is even fed to chickens so that egg yolks have a more perfect yellow color.

Marigolds are a garden staple- but do you know how to grow them in your garden, and perhaps more importantly, why you should? Learn more now on Gardener's Path!

They might be a familiar sight, but marigolds have a few tricks available to them that can surprise even the most educated gardener. Grab your coffee or your tea, because we’re headed to marigold town!

(That sounded a lot better in my head…)

History and Cultivation

I read a nice apocryphal tale about the origin of the flower’s name.

The version of the story I read indicated that Mother Mary of the Christian tradition was robbed by bandits, but when they cut open her purse all that fell out were yellow flowers, something that would one day by named “marigold” (Mary’s gold) in her honor.

But there’s a little hole in that story – and I’m not just talking about the one in the purse.

The varieties we’re discussing today are botanically known as Tagetes and are indigenous to the Americas. Discovered in the 1500s in Central and South America, these flowers had great religious and social importance to the native peoples of the Americas, and they eventually crossed the Atlantic to Europe.

Companion planting orange and yellow marigolds with dusty miller | GardenersPath.com
A tried and true combination with dusty miller.

Here, the story of Tagetes takes both directions at a fork in the road.

Tagetes erecta, commonly known as the African marigold, made its way to France and North Africa. After a considerable length of time, the flowers naturalized to the environment of North Africa so that when European settlers visited the region, they assumed the flowers were African in origin.

The French marigold, or Tagetes patula, had a similar journey. Their seeds crossed the ocean from the Americas with European explorers who were returning home. T. patula made its home in France and became a popular flower in the region, earning its common name.

Both species then made another journey across the Atlantic and returned home to the Americas before becoming a popular and standard choice for North American gardeners.

So what about that whole Mother Mary story? How could these flowers be something referenced in biblical tales if the Americas weren’t even discovered yet? Don’t worry, I did some digging on that, too.

It seems that the European-originated species Calendula was likely the flower referenced here. Some species, such as Calendula officinalis, share similarities with our friend Tagetes, and even have a common nickname of marigold. In this case it is the pot marigold more specifically, and they were likely the flowers referenced in this tale.

Yellow calendula, aka pot marigold | GardenersPath.com
Calendula officinalis

That was a fun line of questioning that led me down the marigold rabbit hole, but you’re probably ready to learn about generalized care for these classic flowers. Shall we?

Growing Tips

There’s a reason people have used these flowers as a garden staple for a very long time. Tolerant of heat, drought, and pests, the marigold is about as easy to care for as they come.

They take off easily from seed, either grown indoors during the winter months or sown directly into the soil when it’s warmer out.

Want to add vibrant orange and yellow marigolds to your garden? We share our planting tips: https://gardenerspath.com/plants/flowers/grow-marigolds/
Tagetes are at their best in the full sun.

You can plant them in almost any area that receives sufficient sun, and are an ideal choice when you’re planting with style. Marigolds are one of the best choices to use when you’re a free-spirited gardener who wants their plants to be happy.

Better yet, Tagetes offers a slew of benefits for the rest of your garden. From deterring pests to attracting pollinators and desirable insects, and improving the soil quality, marigolds should find their way into your garden every year.

Water Requirements

In my book, the sign of a good flower is one that doesn’t require attentive watering. Tagetes fits this requirement pretty darn well.

When first planting these guys, it’s best soak the soil thoroughly. This is standard practice with most plantings. Not only does it give the plant a nice drink to get started growing in its new home, it also helps to settle the freshly disturbed soil.

Water marigolds properly | GardenersPath.com
It’s vital to protect the water-sensitive flower heads and only wet the ground.

Established plants don’t need much in the way of watering. In fact, unless the weather is unusually dry and hot, they don’t need anything besides a good soaking once a week. Rainfall is often enough for these tough flowers.

Plants grown in containers are similarly tolerant of drought and only need to be watered when the top few inches of soil become dry to the touch. If the leaves start drooping, they’re in need of a drink sooner than later!

Be mindful not to water marigolds from the top. If their blooms get too wet, they will often turn into a mushy brown mess. Marigolds can be susceptible to root rot as well, if they are over watered.

Sun Requirements

Native to sunny and warm climates, Tagetes prefer brightly sunny areas with moderately-rich soil. They can withstand full sun exposure with impressive grace and only begin to show signs of stress when the weather is relentlessly hot, be it humid or dry.

This makes the marigold a perfect accompaniment to coreopsis, and pretty much every herb you can think of.

Although capable of growing in a part-sun environment, marigolds will never shine in these conditions. In addition to developing weaker and less prolific blooms, when grown in the shade, they become susceptible to powdery mildew and a host of rots that affect buds and stems.

A white planter of young marigold plants set on a dirt garden bed. | GardenersPath.com
The gardener who put this container together recognized the habit of the marigold.

If you’ve got marigolds in a container, consider moving the pots to provide a few hours of cover from the sun during the hottest periods of the summer. It isn’t necessary, but they’ll be happier for it.

Keep a diligent eye out for spider mites when the weather is hot and dry, and look for little weblike buildups on plants to indicate their presence.

Like many plants, marigolds are also susceptible to yellow aster. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do if you find this nasty ailment in your garden except to dispose of infected plants.

Planting Tips

Planting marigolds is as easy as it gets.

If you purchase your Tagetes from a retail store you’ll find a few options in plant size, but the process is always the same.

Whether it’s a six-pack of marigolds, plants in four-inch containers, or a big bowl of half a dozen plants, you’ve got basically the same project on your hands.

Keep in mind that most flowers sold in retail stores have been produced and grown under perfect conditions, so they likely have extensive root systems that are beginning to girdle the plant.

Girdling is bad news! This is when a plant’s roots grow horizontally in a circle, and can result in dead plants. In both annual and perennial plants, girdled roots prevent the plant from ever grabbing a firm hold in the soil; they’re far more likely to die and “heave” out of the soil in this condition.

A human hand holds up a marigold in a four-inch pot that has been root-bound by the container.
With the roots growing out of the pot, this marigold is root-bound and girdled. Photo by Matt Suwak.

In trees, girdling roots can be a major problem years down the road, as the roots practically strangle the tree. We’ll cover dealing with this much larger issue (for much larger plants) in another article.

But for marigolds, what’s the solution?

Rip those root balls apart when you’re planting! Yes, it’s stressful for the plant, but it will respond by establishing new roots and grabbing a firm foothold in its new home. Watering becomes easier, and after a brief breaking-in period, you’ll find the plants happier and healthier.

A human hand tears at the roots of a previously potted and girdled marigold plant.
Photo by Matt Suwak.

This applies to marigolds, because they’re often grown in plastic containers that roots can’t break through. I find the best solution when planting almost any herbaceous plant, annual or perennial, is to simply rip of the bottom of the root ball.

A marigold plant removed from a small pot with its's roots lightly ripped at the bottom.
Lightly ripping up the bound roots promote future vigor. Photo by Matt Suwak.

If the remaining roots are densely matted, you can scrape this up as well.

Once the root ball is broken up a little bit, you can get to planting.

To avoid additional undue stress, you can try planting on an overcast day. But I’ve found that a quick potting up with some adjustment to the roots can usually be done quickly enough that it won’t cause too much in the way of transplant shock. Marigolds are fairly resilient.

Starting From Seed?

No problem! I’d recommend purchasing your marigold seeds from a retailer, online or in person, rather than collecting your own. Many of the better performing and prettier cultivars are hybrids and they don’t grow as well in the 2nd generation.

Immature Marigold Seedlings in starter trays.

In my own case, the seedlings often crash shortly after germination, or when they grow they are a stunted and weak version of the parent plant. That being said, you can buy open open pollinated heirloom varieties where seed collecting is a viable option.

Seed Starter Peat Pot Kit via Amazon

If you want to have your marigolds at their prime size in time for mid-spring planting, start them indoors about fifty days before the last frost date. Sow the seeds in biodegradable seed starting trays and cover with a thin layer of vermiculite, perlite, or potting mix. The marigold seeds do not need sunlight to germinate, but they do benefit from a clear plastic lid acting as a greenhouse lid.

The seedlings should germinate about a few days, at which point they should start receiving about six hours of light a day. Keep an eye on them and thin the seedlings once they start producing a second set of leaves.

After you’ve thinned the marigold seedlings you can transplant each soon-to-be flower into its own pot and keep them waiting inside until your last frost date!

Older marigold seedlings in individual pots.
After thinning, individual plants can be added to their own pots to await the last frost before planting.

If you’re sowing directly outdoors, bear in mind that you’ll likely see the marigolds choked out by other, faster growing weeds, and understand that your flowers will likely not reach their peak before the end of summer.

Lay Out Your Plants

I’m terrible with this aspect of planting, but it’s mighty important to the long-term appeal and composition of your flowers.

Marigold flowers in plastic 4 inch pots, laid out in their planting pattern to get correct spacing.
Take the time to get the best spacing and planting pattern set before you dig. Photo by Matt Suwak.

Plop individual plants where you want them to go,preferably while they’re still in their nursery pots, to avoid prolonged root exposure. Space them according to the information on their tags, and step back to look at the setup.

It’s a lot easier to make changes at this stage, instead of when the plants are already in the ground.

Consider the height the plants will reach at maturity, their spread, and their proximity to bedlines and other potential dangers, like a stray mower wheel or a string trimmer on weed patrol.

Dig the Holes

If your soil isn’t too dense, the planting hole only needs to be about 10% larger than the root ball, just enough to backfill some soil.

Human hands wield a soil knife to dig holes to plant marigolds.
Soil knives or hori horis make quick work of digging small holes for planting. Photo by Matt Suwak.

On the other hand, if your soil is dense and heavy (think clay), you’ll want to dig a hole that’s wider and deeper than the root ball by about 50%.

Plop ‘Em In

Break the soil up and backfill around the marigold, being careful not to damage too many leaves around the plant.

A human hand places a young flowering marigold plant into a freshly prepared hole.
Leave a little bit of the root ball above the surface of the surrounding soil to help the roots from becoming waterlogged. Photo by Matt Suwak.

I’ve always planted with the root ball just sticking above the soil grade, maybe half an inch higher than the rest of the surrounding soil. This prevents wet feet, but it also accounts for the eventual settling of the soil that will occur.

Cover and Conceal

Settling and finishing the planting area is my favorite part of planting, except for the part when I finish the job and get to sit back and appreciate my work with a beer in hand.

A close up of a freshly planted marigold with the existing wood chip mulch reapplied to conceal the fresh planting.
Photo by Matt Suwak.

The greatest advice I ever heard regarding design and composition in the garden is, “make it look like it’s always been there,” and that’s our goal when planting marigolds.

Smooth out the soil surrounding the plants, round out rough edges, and “tilt” the plants a little in their holes.

Half a dozen arrow-straight marigolds sure look nice, but freshly planted flowers are almost always so obvious.That’s not bad in and of itself, and many gardeners love that fresh, manicured look.

A partially planted bed of marigold flowers.
Photo by Matt Suwak.

But if you want something more flowing and natural, consider the following:

You can tilt the root balls once they’re planted and before patting down the soil to avoid a repetitive unnatural grouping of plants that are standing straight up like soldiers.

With shorter French varieties, I’ll tilt the plants about 20 degrees so they’re facing forward, or whatever direction I want them to face.

African marigolds don’t require so much tilting, but a slight lean forward makes the planting appear less rigid.

Green Bamboo Stakes via Amazon

These taller flowers may require staking to prevent the stems from bending and breaking under the weight of the flowers. Use dyed green bamboo stakes and some green jute twine https://www.amazon.com/Cordage-Source-1006G-Twine-140-Feet/dp/B000FP8HIM to offer your taller marigolds whatever support they need.

Green Jute Twine via Amazon

I like using my trusty pruners to cut the top portions of the bamboo stakes away to just below the height of the top flower of a marigold, effectively hiding the presence of these stakes in the garden.

Layer In Some Mulch and Water

A light dressing of mulch will help the marigolds conserve water and makes for a neater planting area. You will only need a light application of mulch “for color” for this, not the inches of mulch used in vacant planting beds.

When you’re finished planting, give your new transplants a nice drink of water, then check on them in the next day or two to see if they need more. It only takes 1-2 weeks for the marigolds to start setting roots and becoming established, eliminating the need for watering except during droughts.

Companion Planting

It’s difficult to find places where Tagetes is unwelcome.

The flower’s scent seems to deter nasty bugs and pests that would otherwise be ready to start munching down on your other tasty plants that are growing in the garden. Additionally, the roots have been shown to deter nematodes for up to a year.

I’ve seen other gardeners plant them when rotating their crops, to ensure healthier soil.

Ideal as a companion plant, the marigold often is planted as a border or buffer around a garden, since the pungent scent is so offensive to pests. From yours truly over here, I think marigolds smell like summer, but to each their own.

Orange marigolds planted in a decorative flower bed with a dusty miller border, with other types of green foliage and pink flowers in the background | GardenersPath.com
A ring of dusty miller surrounds a stunning patch of T. erecta.

I’ve specifically planted marigolds with petunias, alyssum, dahlias, and another favorite of mine, chamomile.

Tomatoes get along especially well with them. Try combining marigolds, tomatoes, basil, and alyssum in a planting. It looks nice and the plants seem to enjoy teaming up together. There’s enough variety in these choices to make some pretty stunning and edible combinations.

Just make sure you refer to it as “Mad Man Matt’s Plantastic Arrangement” when your family and friends ask about it.

Cultivar Selection

Because they have rightly earned their place as a garden favorite, we are able to choose from a great variety of marigolds to fit your needs. We’ll look at a few favorites for you to pick through here:

African (or American)

Reaching heights of up to 4 or 5 feet and topped with massive pom-pom flower heads, Tagetes erecta can be a bit of a bully in some plantings. It wants to grow wildly and will knock over other plants to achieve this. T. erecta can be especially demanding of space in containers.

Still, it’s my favorite variant. The giant blooms are a sampling of delightful and cheery yellows and oranges that look like they’re straight from a big ol’ box of Crayola crayons. They might require staking if they get too tall, but that’s alright. You can always spot my home by the wall of marigolds I’ve got growing in the front yard.

Moonsong Deep Orange has a deeply saturated color to its bloom that borders on the profuse.

Moonsong Deep Orange Marigolds | GardenersPath.com

Moonsong Deep Orange Seeds, available from True Leaf Market

I like this variety because it exhibits a restrained and rich color that nicely accents the other brighter shades of different cultivars. This type will grow to be about a foot high and about a foot wide.

Vanilla is my go-to choice when I want a white colored flower that pairs well with zinnias. I’ve got a major soft spot for white and yellow flowers, and the delightfully creamy texture of this one finds me ordering seeds on a regular basis.

Vanilla Marigolds | GardenersPath.com

Vanilla Marigold Seeds, available on True Leaf Market

This variety will grow to reach about eighteen inches in height and sheds water from its flowerheads more easily than other African marigolds.

Antigua is a must in any discussion of this flower. Easy-to-grow and providing a nice range of colors, the Antigua series is probably what comes to mind when people imagine these blooms.

Antigua Gold Marigold Flowers | GardenersPath.com

Antigua Series Flower Seeds, available from True Leaf Market

Expect tons of flowers and a height reaching between one and two feet.

French

With a daintier and more compact flower, Tagetes patula has the added benefit of possessing multicolored flowerheads that its taller cousin cannot produce. The French variety tends to be a bit more tame and comes in at a shorter stature.

I like to plant the French types with my vegetables because they don’t get as pushy as T. erecta, and offer a nice combination of color that matches my tomatoes and cucumbers. If purchased from a garden center they tend to be sold in eight-packs, my choice for best-bang-for-your-buck when buying live plants.

Durango offers intense colors with a warm orangish-red center outlined in a softer orange.

Durango marigolds with red-orange petals with yellow centers and outlines of each petal | GardenersPath.com

 

Durango Series, available from True Leaf Market

They’ll grow to be about a foot in height, so I don’t use them as often as other T. patula species, but their color really is something else.

Bonanza is a good choice to use for edging your vegetable garden or for other borders.

Bonanza marigolds with stripy yellow petals with red centers | GardenersPath.com

Bonanza Series Seeds, available from True Leaf Market

Although it could potentially reach a height of six to twelve inches, it is best utilized for its spread of one to two feet. That’s a lotta flowers!

Disco is a “look at me, look at me!” kind of marigold, and I can dig that.

Disco Marigolds | GardenersPath.com

Disco Series Seeds, available from True Leaf Market

Reaching about a foot in height, this is a carefree flower that wants to be left alone so it can spread out and put on one hell of a show.

Petite would be my marigold of choice when used as a companion plant. It maintains good-sized flowerheads but rarely stretches to a height of more than six inches.

Petite mixture marigolds in red-orange, orange, and yellow | GardenersPath.com

Petite Mixture Marigold Seeds, available from True Leaf Market

You get all of the benefits that you’re looking for with this type of flower, with little of the vigorous competitiveness found in some other varieties.

Signet (Tagetes tenuifolia)

T. tenuifolia is not commonly planted because it tends to grow obnoxiously. It will reach places you never intended and fight like a scrappy junkyard dog to hold onto its territory.

For that reason, I don’t use them often in my plantings. But if you’ve got the room for it, we have a reasonably tame variety to introduce to your home and garden:

The Gem series offers a relatively compact habit and is an edible flower, so that’s pretty cool.

Yellow Gem marigolds | GardenersPath.com

Signata Gem Series, available on Trueleafmarket.com

A coworker plants the Gem series with nasturtium and sits back to enjoy the competition each plant offers.

Ready, Set, Grow!

They’re everywhere and are among the most recognizable flowers in the garden, but marigolds have to cheat to earn this reputation. They’re vigorous growers that require little care and are happy to deter pests and improve soil health, all while putting on a great show of color through the entire summer.

They’re also easily grown from seed! You can direct sow them into the ground, or start them indoors a few weeks before the end of winter. Planting these seeds is a great project for young and inexperienced gardeners, especially children, to get started on their green thumb early.

Orange and yellow blooming marigolds | GardenersPath.com

For the experienced gardener, a marigold offers an easy win and reliable performance that can be counted on year after year. Start seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last freeze and transplant those beauties right into the ground for fast satisfaction and a headstart on your neighbors.

Marigold Quick Reference Chart

Plant Type: Most are annuals, partially self-sowing Flower Color Orange, yellow, gold, maroon, white
Native To: Central and South America Tolerance: Drought, pests
Hardiness (USDA Zone): All Maintenance Minimal; dead head to prolong blooming.
Bloom Time: Spring, Summer, Fall Soil Type: Any, moderately fertile preferred
Exposure: Full sun Soil PH: 6.5 neutral
Time to Maturity 55-100 days, depending on cultivar Soil Drainage: Prefers free-draining
Spacing 1 inch, thin to 8-12 inches Companion Planting: Makes an excellent trap crop for aphids and nematodes
Planting Depth: 1/4 inch Uses: Borders, beds, containers, cut flowers
Height: 6-24 inches (depending on cultivar) Family: Asteraceae
Spread: 6-20 inches Subfamily: Asteroideae
Water: Moderate Genus: Tagetes
Attracts: Birds, bees, butterflies Species: Tagetes spp
Pests & Diseases: Aphids, nematodes

I trust you’ve enjoyed this affectionate look at the delightful marigold. It’s been a treat writing this for our readers! Send us your comments below, and make sure to visit us regularly for the always-enjoyable experience of the Gardener’s Path.


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A collage of photos showing different varieties of marigolds in bloom. Closeup and at a distance.

Photos by Matt Suwak © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.

About Matt Suwak

Matt Suwak was reared by the bear and the bobcat and the coyote of rural Pennsylvania. This upbringing keeps him permanently affixed to the outdoors where most of his personal time is invested in gardening, bird watching, and hiking. He presently resides in Philadelphia and works under the sun as a landscaper and gardener, and by moonlight as a writer. An incessant questioning of “Why?” affords him countless opportunities to ponder the (in)significance of the great and the small. He considers folksy adages priceless treasures and is fueled almost entirely by beer and hot sauce.

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Rita Bamford
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Rita Bamford

This is such a great article about marigolds.

I’m trying to talk my friend into growing a combination of these in her small central plot. I figure different heights and a variety of colors would look super. Plus, she lives in Northern Calif., so it’s often very dry.

Is there any way I could get a printout of this article? Is there a magazine where this might have been printed? It’s so thorough and the photos are so great!

Thanks so much.

Allison Sidhu
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Trusted Member
Allison Sidhu

We’re so glad you enjoyed the article, Rita! Wishing you the best of luck encouraging your friend to grow marigolds. They do beautifully in a range of climates, and I have grown them successfully myself on both coasts.

We do not have a print magazine, but you are welcome to print out this article from your computer. If that’s not an option, what I would do is save it as a PDF, and email a copy to her. Maybe sending some seeds along as well will serve as added encouragement?

BJ
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BJ

What an informative article. I have been reading articles about marigolds for hours, but I stopped searching after reading this article.

Now, I know what variety of marigold I want to get.

Thank you so much.

Ann
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Ann

Enjoyed your article. Not sure why but my marigolds for the past 4 yrs came back every year. They need dead heading. I have been sick and not felt like it.

Allison Sidhu
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Trusted Member
Allison Sidhu

Mine do this as well, Ann, going through periods of little growth when they look almost completely dried out followed by perking up, growing new leaves, and producing flowers again. Are you located in a southern growing zone? In places without wintertime frost to kill them off, they can survive for several years, sometimes more.

Sorry to hear you haven’t been well. I hope you’re feeling better soon, and can get back to the garden!

Kevin
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Kevin

I agree that Marigolds are beautiful. I’ve always loved planting them, but wondered why they seemed to die off to quickly. I think I know why now; I was planting them in north-facing beds right in front of my house. So even on bright days, they were still shaded by my house. I’m guessing they just didn’t get enough sun.
Thanks for putting together this awesome guide Matt. Do you have any suggestions for my north-facing beds?

Mary Gabbard
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Mary Gabbard

I have a question concerning pruning marigolds. This was my first year to plant the tall marigolds and they are gorgeous. We’ve had a lot of rain and softened the soil. I have staked them but they are so heavy and like a bush. Can you prune them back without damaging the plant. Some of the limbs have broken off because of the weight and rain. I cringe Everytime it rains because I have the most beautiful flowers and I know the rain is going to lay them down. Any advice you can give is greatly appreciated.

Robert Berger
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Robert Berger

In my area, north suburban Chicago, we have experienced the wettest spring and early summer in history. As a result, my marigolds have been drenched repeatedly from “above” and are getting small, ugly and mushy, looking like they’re dying. Is there anything I can to do to save them, or should i just pull them out and buy and plant new, dry, hardy small marigold plants and hope that the rest of the season will be drier and kinder to them?

Natasha
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Natasha

Wonderfully written and so informative. Thank you, looking forward to many varieties in my garden next year.

Jennifer
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Jennifer

Thanks for this article and the accompanying photos. I love marigolds for their scent in the hot summer sun and plant them every year just for the memories from childhood. What would you consider the more fragrant varieties?

Bhagyashri
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Bhagyashri

Good information
I bought seeds from flipcart… 6 months over but no flowers. Plants growing well