Annuals For Your Garden: Nasturtium

Ilona Erwin

Lovely Summer Nasturtiums

Tropaeolum majus are a favorite for a Child’s Garden because their seeds are large, easy to handle, and germinate fairly quickly – 10 to 14 days. They were beloved in Grandma’s old fashioned gardens and Monet lined his garden walk at Giverny with them. Nasturtiums are not only pretty, but used as a companion crop, an edible addition to salads, and as an herbal medicine. They should be on every cottage gardener’s “flowering annuals for the garden” list.

Important Things To Know About Nasturtiums

  1. Cool season annual
  2. Best left unfertilized, which can lead to too much leafy growth.
  3. Full Sun, Well drained soil
  4. Best sown directly in the garden; fast growing.

Two types of Nasturtiums make our garden annual plants, Tropaeolum majus and T. minus. The resulting garden plants come in three forms: dwarf, semi-trailing, and single flower climbing.

Native to the New World, Central and South America.
Cool Season Annuals


[The Look]

nasturtium flower

Alaska with variegated leaves

The leaves are shaped something like flat parasols, held up by single stems. They have a pleasing bright medium green shade and hold droplets of dew in the morning. Officially they are called peltate or shield shaped leaves.

The flowers are like large blowsy snapdragons in warm colors of bright orange, yellow and red usually, although there are dreamy varieties of apricots and creams as well as bicolors. The blooms have spurs at the back, like the Columbine, which are nectar tubes and hummingbirds like them. The look in form and color is very cheerful.

The taste is peppery, and best in the young leaves. They are a source of Vitamin C and contain oxalic acid.

Dwarf types are bushy and compact. If you choose the cultivar ‘Alaska’ you get the addition of leaves variegated with cream, ‘Empress of India’ is large deep orange, ‘Whirlybird’ holds its flowers well above the foliage and comes in mixed colors, while ‘Strawberries and Cream’ is a pale yellow double flower with a center of scarlet red. ‘Peach Melba’ is one of my favorites for its creamy true peach color.

Try a semi-trailer like ‘Gleam’ in your hanging baskets.

If you would like a climbing variety, try ‘Canary Creeper’, or the variegated ‘Jewel of Africa’. These flowering annuals have six to eight foot runners which will climb a trellis.


How Nasturtiums Are Grown

[Garden Guide]
Good growing practices:

  • Always position in a sunny spot
  • Native to Peru, not hardy
  • Aphids love Nasturtiums, and they make a good “catch crop” for other plants
  • Average moisture, good drainage

Tropaeolum majus seedling After the soil is warmed, press the large seeds into the ground 1/2 inch deep and 10 to 12 inches apart. Keep moist until seedlings sprout. They have the little umbrella shaped leaves early and are easy to recognize.

Don’t overfeed these plants, the sappy growth of the leaves will attract even more aphids and they won’t bloom well or at all, in that case.

Although they like poorer soils than a vegetable garden, Nasturtiums are often used as a catch crop for aphids. Don’t worry about this unless you are going to eat the leaves or flowers. Just be sure to rinse them well before adding to your sandwich or salad.

Nasturtiums are related to the capers and brassicas, belonging to the same order, Brassicales.

Nasturtium Flower Links:
Growing Nasturtiums

In The Garden

photo by Lori L. Stalteri

photo by Lori L. Stalteri

They can be used as trimming along walkways, and in the garden borders I think they would look wonderful with the large-flowered, solid color brights of giant Zinnias.

They are “old fashioned” Grandma’s garden plants and can be mixed with Cornflowers, Petunias, Marigolds and other brightly saturated colors.

They are pretty in Cottage gardens, and in Kitchen gardens. If potted in urns they are fine for formal spaces and front entries.

As Thomas Jefferson planted nasturtiums in his garden from at least 1774, they are a candidate for American historical gardens.

Monet’s garden with nasturtium edging:

Source: Pinterest

Plant Facts

Fun Facts

Tropaeolum majus leaf

Tropaeolum majus leaf

Nasturtiums are edible flowers, and their leaves are sometimes used like watercress.

Victorian ladies liked to include Tropaeolum flowers and leaves in their tussie mussies, for their fragrance which helped alleviate bad smells.

Nasturtium literally means “nose-tweaker”. The Latin name ‘Tropaeolum’ is a fanciful reference to the battle victory trophies which the Romans hung on poles called ‘tropaeum’. The red helmet look of the flowers and the shield shapes of the leaves conjured this sight inside Carl Linnaeus’ mind.

Herbalists use Tropaeolum majus for infections of the respiratory and urinary tract.

Additional resources
RHS Alaska Series
RHS Whirlybird Series
Herbal use of Nasturtiums

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.