How to Grow Nasturtiums

Add a pop of color to your garden and a spicy tang to your food by growing and cooking with peppery nasturtiums.

| Winter 2016-2017

Beautiful, old-fashioned, edible nasturtiums will attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects. Easy to grow, nasturtiums have trumpet-shaped flowers range from brilliant hues of flaming orange and butter yellow, to cooler tones like rose and salmon, to subtle shades such as burgundy or cream with mahogany splashes.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum spp.) are native to South America, where they were used medicinally and for flavoring dishes. Imported to Spain in the late 1500s, these plants eventually graced gardens across Europe. Claude Monet, the impressionist artist, planted an arched main allée at his now-famous garden in Giverny, France, where he lived and painted from 1883 to 1926. Monet wanted a small fringe of flowers along the pathway’s edges, so he chose to grow what he believed to be dwarf nasturtiums (T. minus). Turns out they were ramblers (T. major) that crept far into the pathway. He liked the effect so much that he repeated it yearly. Today, Monet’s garden is a museum where nasturtiums grow as he loved them. Nasturtiums came to North America via Europe; Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello.

Growing Nasturtiums

Dwarf nasturtiums make attractive edging. Semi-trailing types brighten flower baskets and window boxes. Single-flower climbers, with runners up to 8 feet long, are great for trellising.

Grow nasturtiums by sowing seeds directly in soil after your area’s last spring frost date. Poke the big seeds ½ to 1 inch deep into moistened, well-drained soil and firmly cover. Nasturtium seeds typically germinate within 10 days and may bloom within a month. Peppery edible nasturtiums don’t transplant well. If you’re starting them a few weeks early indoors, use biodegradable pots that you can bury without disturbing the roots. Some growers nick the hard seeds with a knife or sandpaper and soak them overnight to improve germination, but I’ve never needed this step for them to sprout.

Don’t over water nasturtiums after they’re established. Give them about an inch of water per week during dry periods. They flower best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Nasturtiums are heat wimps and will fade during hot spells. If this happens, cut them back, and they’ll usually return to brighten your autumn. I’ve enjoyed blooming nasturtiums alongside my ripening pumpkins.

Nasturtiums don’t need very fertile soil, especially regarding nitrogen, which brings more leaves and fewer blooms. Aphids love the soft plant tissue created by ample nitrogen, especially when other nutrients that would strengthen plant tissue are too low or missing.

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