By Pat Johnson, Contributor
Summer’s heat and drought has brought wishful thoughts of showers and cooler times of autumn to our minds, especially those of us who would like to see our gardens and yards look less stressed. As gardeners many of us begin planning for future plantings or look at our landscapes to determine what has survived and what might need to be replaced or moved to a location more suited to the plant’s liking.
As admirers of nature we look forward to chrysanthemums, fall asters, snapdragons, pansies, Mexican mint marigolds and other plants that show off their maximum beauty in the fall. The Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida) is a plant that is quite a surprise to the novice gardener. This wonder bursts forth with small, bright yellow, daisy-like blooms in the fall which give wildlife such as bees, butterflies (including migrating Monarchs) and birds a boost in their diet at this time of the year.
One might recognize Mexican mint marigold by another name because it is also known as Yerbis Anis, Spanish tarragon, Texas tarragon, Mexican tarragon, sweet mace, cloud plant, coronilla, winter tarragon, and sweet marigold. This plant has an excellent anise or licorice aroma. It can be used in place of the herb tarragon in soups, sauces, salads, vinegars and other dishes—or in any recipe that calls for tarragon. Its narrow, dark green leaves contain the flavor. Use fresh Mexican mint marigold because the dried form loses a lot of flavor. Tarragon struggles greatly to grow in our hot, humid climate.
Mexican mint marigold is different from its cousin plant, the annual marigolds we might plant in the spring. Mexican mint marigold is a perennial that comes back each year from its roots; its smell is quite different; it does not get plagued with spider mites. It is native to South and Central America. This plant has been used as medicinal purposes in native cultures for over a thousand years.
Mexican mint marigold “medicinal uses include treatment for upset stomach, for stimulating the appetite, as a diuretic and stimulating beverage,” according to www.heirloomgardener.com. Strong tea made from Mexican mint marigold is said to have caffeine levels similar to strong coffee. It was used by the ancient Aztecs as a flavoring in a stimulating, foamy cocoa drink.
Mexican mint marigold is a deciduous plant that grows about two to three feet tall and will spread two to three feet. It can be sheared in the spring to encourage compactness. It has low water requirements, but needs to watered deeply each week in the heat of the summer. It must be planted in soil that has good drainage. It tolerates a wide variety of soils but requires full to part sun.
This plant grows upright and spreads more by clumping rather than branching. Clumps can be separated and transplanted. If the flowers are left to seed, you will find that the seeds do not go far. It should be cut back in late winter and will return from its roots in the spring. Transplants of Mexican mint marigold should be planted in the spring after the last frost. Consider including this versatile plant as an accent to your landscape but definitely as an asset to your herb garden.
A few tasks of the long list of things to do in the Central Texas garden in September include planting perennial herbs such as oregano, rosemary and thyme; plant cold weather vegetable seeds such as lettuce, broccoli, kale and spinach in pots—be sure to keep them out of the hot sun; lightly prune roses and perennials early in September; oak trees can be pruned now. It is also time to divide and or move spring-blooming perennials, daylilies, cannas, and iris.
Mark your calendar for a class on Greenhouse Basics on Sept. 20 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Texas A&M Bell County AgriLife Building located at 1605 North Main Street, Belton. This class is free and open to the public.
Bell County Master Gardener Association annual fall plant sale will be held on Saturday, September 29 also at 1605 North Main Street, Belton. Also check out https://txmg.org/bell/ for information on signing up for our next Master Gardener training class beginning in January 2019. Registration is going on now. Be sure to sign up early, many years there is a waiting list for this training. Happy Gardening.