Grow Indoor Gems while isolating at home

April 1, 2020

During the self-isolation, the nail salons and beauty shops are closed, so it’s about to get ugly out there. But you can bring some beauty and peace indoors with easy-to-grow flowers that, as a bonus, are quite edible. The humble marigold, named to honor the Virgin Mary, has a sweet surprise. While regular marigolds can be eaten, they have a strong, unpleasant taste. The so-called citrus marigolds are truly delicious, with a fruity citrus flavor.

These are the Gem marigolds, also called Signet marigolds (Tagetes tenuifolia), which grow in several colors: Lemon Gem, Tangerine Gem and Red Gem. They all sport lacy leaves and delicate single flowers. Both the leaves and blossoms have a subtle citrus smell.

They grow in a rounded, fluffy bush about 12 inches tall. The small flowers are much more profuse and less brassy. Even the finely cut leaves are attractive and have a delicious citrus smell.

Gem marigolds grow quickly and soon form dense mounds covered with flowers. Best of all, because they only grow a foot tall, they can easily be grown in pots indoors or on a porch or patio.

Not only are these tiny flowers charming, but the continuously blooming plants attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies, honeybees and moths.

Seeds are widely available from nurseries or garden centers, or by mail from seed-houses such as Johnny's Seeds ( or High Mowing Seeds of Vermont ( or phone 866-735-4454).

Use both the leaves and flowers in salads or stir-fries. You can even add them to desserts such as cakes and puddings. Add flowers to egg dishes or rice recipes where their delicate floral flavor adds touches of citrus. They are a little bit spicy and just slightly bitter. For best flavor pull the petals from the blossoms, because the base of the flower can be quite bitter.

Plant gem marigold seeds in sterile seed-starting mix. Barely cover the seeds with soil. Keep the pots warm and moist, but not soggy wet. They should sprout in a week or two.

Marigolds grow best with lots of light so place them in a bright window or under grow lights.

During the dead of winter they prefer slightly cooler temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees, but do well in the average home temperature. During the winter your marigolds won’t be growing fast, so you can cut back on watering. Let the soil dry out between waterings. Also during the winter they do not need fertilizer. During spring and summer when plants are actively growing you can fertilize about once a month with a good organic plant food; however, they do fine in average soil with no additional fertilizer.

For bushier plants pinch the tops off when they are a few inches high. Remove dead flowers regularly, and you will get many more blooms.

To harvest the flowers pick them in early morning when the blossoms are fully open but still have tight centers.

So plant some Gem marigolds and try not to panic, even though we heard Snow White is down to six dwarfs because Sneezy is in quarantine.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.

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