Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum minor) are colorful annuals that are easy to grow in almost any sun or soil condition. Their blooms are always either bright yellow, orange, or red, and it comes in three forms – dwarf, semi trailing, and climbing (with many hybrid cultivars). This plant has always been an old garden favorite for good reason. Just plant the seeds and forget about them for the remainder of the growing season. No watering, feeding, dead-heading, or pruning is needed for growing nasturtiums, they are that easy to grow!
Nasturtiums have edible flowers with a peppery flavor. The colorful blooms are often used as a plate garnish or as part of a fresh salad. These annual flowers will add bright color and health to the garden from spring through fall.
Use these tips for successfully growing some of these edible annual flowers in your garden this season.
Nasturtiums love the sun and will grow in any soil condition, although they prefer poorer, sandy soil. The poorer the soil, the better the blooms. The plant will improve soil structure so planting nasturtiums in poor soil is a great way to increase the fertility of garden soil. Full sun is recommended for best blooming, although they can also tolerate partial shade with 4-6 hours of direct sun daily.
How to Plant
Plant the seeds, which look like dried peas, half and inch deep, directly into garden soil after all danger of frost has passed (in the early spring). Space seeds 12-inches apart, lightly cover with soil and water thoroughly. The sprouts should start appearing in about 7-10 days.
The mature size of dwarf varieties will be 15-inches tall while climbing nasturtiums can reach over 10-feet in length.
Nasturtiums begin to produce colorful blooms 35-45 days after seeds are planted. Plants will bloom all summer until the frost kills them in fall. Tip: Prune the blooms by cutting off faded or dead flowers, because this prolongs the blooming.
Flowers can have single or double petals in bright shades of red, yellow, salmon, pink, and cream. Hummingbirds are attracted to all the bloom colors but red seems to be a favorite with them.
Beneficial to Garden Plants
Nasturtiums make a great companion plant for most plants in the vegetable garden. The plants repel harmful pests, like slugs, squash bugs, cabbage looper caterpillars, whiteflies, cucumber beetles, and aphids from vegetable plants. Aphids are attracted to nasturtiums so the plant indirectly acts like a sacrifice or “trap crop” to keep aphids off of food-producing plants by attracting them onto itself. In turn, nasturtiums can attract hoverflies which prey on the aphids.
In the garden, nasturtium is very compatible with plants like Brussels sprouts, cucumber, tomato, potato, broccoli, squash, cabbage, and pumpkin. Nasturtium roots help increase vegetable production by increasing the nitrogen level in the soil and strengthening plant roots. For the above reasons, nowadays nasturtiums are very much in demand for organic and permaculture gardens.
Harvest and Storage
Nasturtium produces large sized seeds that are around the size of chick-peas, making it a good plant for teaching kids how to plant seeds. The seeds grow on the vine of the nasturtium, and will drop off once they dry out. It does not matter if the seeds are brown or green – what matters is the size. The larger the seed, the more viable it is. Collect them, clean off the dirt/soil, dry them, and then store them in a dark and cool place for next season’s planting. If you prefer eating them, green unripe seeds can be pickled in vinegar, then used in salads.
Edible Flowers and Leaves
The colorful flowers and leaves of the nasturtium are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants. The flowers are believed to contain 130mg of vitamin C per 100g of flowers, in addition to high levels of lutein, a natural pigment that is good for the eyes. The plant also contains anti-bacterial properties and has several medicinal uses, including anti-bacterial wash.
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