New gardeners are always looking for easy plants and marigolds are one of the easiest. Whether you purchase flats of small plants at the garden center or plant your own seeds, they are almost sure to reward you with a great show.

Even seasoned gardeners know that they can count on marigolds for a care-free addition to the sunny border. They will thrive in average to poor soil and few pests bother them. The scent of the flowers and leaves even tend to discourage some insects and there is some indication that cats will avoid the area where they are planted too.

Marigolds have a long history going back hundreds of years, with wild species found in both the Americas and Europe. The flowers were considered sacred, medicinal and culinary. Uses ranged from a cure for smallpox and 'evil humors' to the yellow coloring in cheese making. Marigolds are edible and even modern-day chefs use the petals in salads or teas.

These annual flowers make a great beginner plant and are often included in children's gardens because they are so easy. The seeds are large enough for small hands to grasp and the gratification is almost instant because they germinate in just a few days. From seed to flower averages about 45 days, so they don't bore young attention spans.

Marigolds grow so fast that most gardeners tend to direct-sow the seeds wherever they plan for them to grow, scattering the seeds on well-prepared ground and just covering them with soil. Depending on the mature size of the plant, you should thin the seedlings from 6 inches to 10 inches apart when they get their first true leaves. Don't toss those thinned plants! Marigolds transplant happily and you can use the extras in containers and around the garden. Just make sure that they get at least 6 hours of sun each day and they do not sit in soggy soil. These plants will thrive in hot, humid conditions, so if you have an intense, sun drenched area where plants usually struggle, try marigolds. They like it!

Marigolds do well in containers and are often used in sunny combinations. They pair well with pentas, petunias and salvias along with many more annual plants. They are even easy to tuck into beds with perennials. Just lift the spent plants at the end of the season and the bed is ready for a fresh look. Marigolds do look best when they have a bit of grooming so dead-head spent blossoms for the best appearance.

Toward the end of the season, gardeners may want to try saving seeds. The resulting offspring may not be exactly like the parent, but there would be a great number of seeds to cover some big spaces. Just let the flowers fade and dry on the plant. They will shrivel and turn brown and dry. Once that happens, break the flowers apart and separate the long, narrow seeds from the spent petals. They will look like little black or gray spears with a couple of 'tails' at the end. Save the seeds until next season in envelopes or old pill containers.

Marigolds are easy to care for and they bloom all season. The plants are cheap at the garden centers and you can have a huge show for very little cash. Plant the seeds for an even more frugal garden. New gardeners find them almost fool proof and experienced gardeners can add them to their gardens for bright, easy spots of color. They are a great way to get started in our wild, crazy plant-loving world.