A bright, colourful, and easy-to-grow annual or perennial, Nasturtiums can be enjoyed by the whole family. Find out how best to grow them with my advice.

What is the scientific/botanical name for Nasturtiums?

You will often find that Nasturtiums are given the name Tropaeolum. And depending on whether they are bushy/dwarf varieties or climbing varieties, they are named Tropaeolum minus or Tropaeolum majus respectively.

Additionally, other varieties include Tropaeolum azureum, Tropaeolum peregrinum, Tropaeolum speciosum, Tropaeolum tricolor and more.

The more common name, Nasturtium, comes from the Latin translation ‘nose twister’. This is because Renaissance botanists compared its taste and spicy scent to that of watercress, which is named Nasturtium officinale.

Where are Nasturtiums native to?

Nasturtiums are native to South America, specifically to the Andes Mountains, where they are considered an invasive species outside its typical range.

Nasturtiums growing on a rock face in California USA.

What do Nasturtiums look like?

This depends on which variety you grow. Tropaeolum minus is a bushy/dwarf variety, which grows well in containers and the front of borders. Tropaeolum majus is a climbing variety, often seen as trained on wigwams or other tall structures or as ground cover.

They can be seen with either simple or ovate, circular leaves that palmate, with bright funnel-shaped flowers featuring 5 petals each.

What colours do they come in?

Nasturtiums grow in a rewarding number of colours, some of these even combined in mottled, marbled, or bicolour designs.

The colours you’re most likely to see from Nasturtiums include orange, red, yellow, cream, pink, dark red, bright red, and salmon. When growing from seed, check the packet so you know which colours to expect.

Red and yellow Nasturtiums
Orange and yellow nasturtium plants
Pink nasturtiums

Where do Nasturtiums like to grow?

These colourful plants need sunlight for at least half of the day to grow well, so choose a sunny spot.

Free-draining soil is best, and not too fertile. If it is too fertile, the plant will grow predominantly foliage, which may bury the blooms, hiding them.

Nasturtiums do fine in rich, fertile soil, however they tend to grow masses of foliage compared to less blooms. This is why they grow better in poor soils generally.

Moist soil is also not so great for Nasturtiums, preferring soil that drains well.

How do you grow Nasturtiums successfully?

Know which Nasturtium you’re growing, first and foremost. Climbing Nasturtiums will grow in different places to dwarf/bushy Nasturtiums, so keep that in mind when planting.

You can expect to see their flowers emerging from June all the way through to October. This gets you through most of the summer, and autumn, until the first frosts.

Nasturtiums are notoriously easy to grow. So easy, in fact, that they are often given to children to grow! And because all parts of Nasturtiums are safe to ingest, this means children can grow them from a young age.

These plants are often annuals, which means they need to be sown again every year to see them come back. They live for as long as they flower, then die back during the frosts.

Nasturtiums in a salad to be eaten
Nasturtiums growing up a support.

Are Nasturtiums good for pollinators?

Yes, Nasturiums are really good plants for a pollinator-friendly garden. Their bright and various colours are very attractive to pollinators, plus their trumpet-shaped flowers give easy access to the nectar and pollen.

How to choose the right Nasturtiums for your garden?

The main two categories of Nasturtium are bushy, or trailing/climbing. Choosing which of these two varieties you would like to grow is probably the easiest place to start!

Bushy or dwarf Nasturtium varieties are ideal for growing in containers and at the front of borders. Their flowers are bright and eye-catching, and they don’t grow particularly tall, most only growing up to 30 cm (1 foot) tall.

Climbing or trailing Nasturtium varieties are a great choice for a few different options. They can be trained to grow up wigwams, supports, obelisks, or another vertical surface. As they also trail, they make a great choice for ground cover too. They will even spread across gravel or paved surfaces for some bright colour! Trailing varieties also grow well in pots, and they have a lovely chandelier effect in hanging baskets.

Nasturtium in a hanging basket.

How big will my Nasturtiums get?

Again, this depends completely on which variety you choose to grow.

Tropaeolum minus typically won’t grow much taller than 30 cm (1 foot), and the same goes for the spread of these varieties.

Alternatively, Tropaeolum majus will, like T. minus, grow not much more than 30 cm tall (1 foot) unless climbing. Its spread can be much larger, with some varieties growing up to 1.5 metres (5 feet).

How to plant Nasturtiums?

Before sowing or planting, you want to make sure that the area is weed-free, and well-draining soil. Rake the surface to a fine tilth and produce seed drills 2cm deep. Each drill should be about 30 cm (1 foot) apart.

If you’re growing your Nasturtiums from seed, you want to sow them between March and May. You can do this exactly where you want them to grow, or in 9 cm pots in a greenhouse or windowsill. Use free-draining soil for this.

If you’re planting out established Nasturtiums, you can do this anytime from May to August, again in free-draining soil.

How to care for them?

Nasturtiums are extremely low maintenance, so don’t need much from you once sown or planted.

Once the seedlings have emerged, you can thin them out to make sure they are no closer than 30 cm apart.

If you are growing your Nasturtiums in the ground, they are unlikely to need regular watering. In containers, you should check that the soil is moist, but not sodden.

It’s best not to feed Nasturtiums! Feeding will lead to masses of foliage growth and fewer blooms.

How do I propagate Nasturtiums?

Nasturtiums are typically grown from seed. You can harvest these from the plant in late summer or early autumn but wait until the last minute. You want to ensure that the seeds are mature! They can dry and fall off the plant, or you can collect them yourself. The seeds are the size of a large pea, and there will be roughly 2-4 of them per flowerhead.

Leave them out on a paper towel to dry, then store in a cool, dry place. Then you can plant them next year!

What problems can Nasturtiums have?

It is not uncommon to see large and small white butterflies laying their eggs on Nasturtium leaves. These eggs develop into caterpillars. That is why Nasturtiums are often planted among crops you would prefer the caterpillars to leave alone, as Nasturtiums recover well.

If you don’t really want your Nasturtiums eaten by caterpillars, the best thing to do is try to move them if you can to a plant you don’t mind being nibbled. Caterpillars are valuable to our gardens, as both moths and butterflies are important pollinators.

Nasturtiums can also be affected by aphids, which is why they are often planted amongst aphid-vulnerable crops. If you’re growing for Nasturtium flowers, encourage aphid predators like ladybirds, hoverflies, and lacewings into your garden.

What varieties should you look out for?

Tropaeolum minus ‘Phoenix’ is a lovely bushy Nasturtium variety, with split petals in fiery shades of red, orange, and yellow, earning its name. Its flame-like flowers make for a very eye-catching display, which is ideal for borders and containers.

Tropaeolum majus ‘Orange Troika’ is a bushy Nasturtium, with jewel-like flowers which stand out well against the lighter, marbled foliage. As a trailing variety, this is particularly well suited to ground cover and spillover in hanging baskets and window boxes.

Tropaeolum azureum is a rare climbing vine with blue/purple flowers and is found in dry areas of Chile naturally. This variety can actually be grown as a perennial variety, as it dies back to resting tubers in the winter.

Tropaeolum speciosum (Flame Nasturtium), which is otherwise known as the ‘Flame Flower’, is another perennial variety. They bloom with swathes of small, red flowers. It can be quite hard to get established, but well worth it once you do, and can be quite a vigorous grower by then.

Tropaeolum tricolor, another perennial, has rather unusual but striking flowers in three different shades. The leaves of this climbing variety are different to the typical ovate shape of other Nasturtiums too. They have small, yellow flowers in the centre, with contrasting purple-tipped petals surrounding, fading to a yellow/orange shade towards the stem.

Flame nasturtium
Tricolour nasturtium.

When should I buy Nasturtiums?

Young annual or perennial plants can be bought from the garden centre and from nurseries between late spring and early summer, ready to plant out straight away.

Seeds can be bought year-round from your local garden centre too, to plant out in the spring.

Which garden design styles do Nasturtiums work best in?

The best garden styles for Nasturtiums to feature in, include City and Courtyard, Gravel and Rock, Informal, and Cottage garden designs.

Thanks to their low maintenance, Nasturtiums can be a fun plant to keep and grow at any age. Consider these bright and wonderful blooms for your garden and grow them together with the whole family.

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