How to Grow and Care for Nasturtium

nasturtium flowers

​The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

Nasturtium plants (Tropaeolum spp.) are loved for their rich, saturated, jewel-toned colors. Planted in the spring after the threat of frost has passed, they are fast and easy to grow. In fact, they do best with a little neglect. In general, nasturtium flowers tend to the hot end of the color spectrum. The rounded leaves look like miniature lotus leaves.

There are nasturtium varieties for almost every gardening purpose: bushy plants for borders and edges, trailing plants for walls and containers, and climbers that add dramatic height. The leaves and flowers are edible, with a peppery tang, so you'll often find this plant in vegetable gardens planted alongside broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, where it keeps pests away.

Common Name Nasturtium
Botanical Name Tropaeolum spp.
Family Tropaeolaceae
Plant Type Annual, perennial
Mature Size 1-10 ft. tall, 1-3 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full
Soil Type Moist but well-drained
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring, summer, fall
Flower Color Red, orange, pink, yellow, white
Hardiness Zones 9 to 11 (USDA)
Native Area Central America, South America
2:19

Watch Now: How to Grow and Care for the Nasturtium Plant

Nasturtium Care

Nasturtiums are started either from seed as annuals, or purchased as starts at nurseries, where you may find them alongside other vegetable companions. The seeds germinate quickly and the plant starts blooming soon after. Once planted, nasturtiums generally takes care of themselves, requiring the same amount of water as you would give surrounding plants. Deadheading (removing spent blooms) is usually not necessary, however, pulling ripe flowers for use in salads and to place on top of summer desserts is always recommended.

Nasturtiums spill beautifully over walls and onto pavers when used as edging. They also hold up well in containers. Bushy, ground-hugging nasturtiums will fill bloom gaps in a sunny perennial garden and work well planted among daylilies or roses.

closeup of a nasturtium flower
​The Spruce / Lacey Johnson
nasturtium flowers in the sun
​The Spruce / Lacey Johnson
nasturtium flowers in a basket within a garden
​The Spruce / Lacey Johnson
nasturtium spilling out of a container
​The Spruce / Lacey Johnson
nasturtium in a wall planter
​The Spruce / Lacey Johnson

Light

Nasturtiums grow and bloom best when planted in an area of full sun that receives six to eight hours of direct sunlight daily. This plant can tolerate some shade (three to six hours of sunlight), but might not bloom as profusely. When planted in a warm climate, some shade is actually preferred, as hot temperatures may end up browning leaves.

Soil

Surprisingly, nasturtium flowers do well in relatively infertile soil with good drainage. Soil that's too rich will result in abundant greenery, but few flowers. This plant grows best in soil with a neutral pH (6 to 8) and can tolerate dry conditions, although a moderate amount of moisture is appreciated. 

Water

Nasturtiums typically prefer weekly watering, but can be watered more often when planted in a greenhouse or in a sunny vegetable plot. In these conditions, the water demand can be high from surrounding plants and will dry the soil quickly. Nasturtiums will survive moderate droughts, but blooms will likely diminish and the foliage will begin to look spindly.  

Temperature and Humidity

Some varieties of nasturtium are planted as perennials in USDA growing zones 9 through 11. However, in most North American climates, this plant is treated as an annual, completing its life cycle in just one growing season. They prefers daytime temperatures in the 70s F and can survive a light frost, but not a cold freeze. Additionally, this plant prefers average humidity levels (between 30 and 50 percent), yet it's not overly particular. Nasturtiums can struggle, however, in extremely dry or extremely humid conditions.

Fertilizer

Using synthetic fertilizers is usually not recommended, as many gardeners grow them to eat. Organic gardeners rarely need to amend the soil before planting, unless conditions are very poor or the surrounding vegetables need soil im[rpvements. Just remember, robust soil properties can cause nasturtiums to put out more foliage and fewer flowers, so a good balance is important.

Types of Nasturtium

Nasturtium plants grow full, with rounded leaves and colored blooms peeking out behind their greenery. The flowers of this plant are funnel-shaped and come in varying shades of yellow, orange, pink, and red. Certain varieties boast subdued shades of butter yellow and cream, and others have variegated leaves.

Of the dozens of species of nasturtiums, favorites include:

  • The 'Alaska' Series' is a colorful heirloom variety with variegated foliage that holds different colored blossoms above its leaves. This bushy dwarf plant thrives in poor soil conditions and reaches a compact spread of 8 to 10 inches.
  • The 'Jewel' Series' grows vigorously to a height of 16 inches and produces different colored flowers in yellow, red, orange, mahogany, and rose. This variety is a profuse bloomer, but the flowers tend to get lost under the foliage.
  • The flowers of 'Peach Melba' taste like watercress and are two-toned—yellow with maroon spots near the center. This bushy dwarf plant works well in containers and has a mature height and spread of 10 to 12 inches.
  • 'Canary Creeper' is a trailing variety that is best planted near fences or trellises, giving it the opportunity to climb. This unique variety boasts yellow flowers that look different from more common varieties, as they spread out like canary wings.
Peach melba nasturtium
Getty Images
canary creeper
Francois De Heel / Getty Images 

Pruning

Trailing nasturtium varieties are prone to legginess and usually need pruning mid-summer, and then again in late summer, to stimulate new growth and blooms. Trim the longest stems back by 6 to 12 inches on trailing varieties and thin browning leaves and flowers by pinching them off at the base. For bushy varieties, trimming stems is not generally needed, but pinching off spent flowers and dried leaves will aid in the plant's overall aesthetic.

Propagating Nasturtium

After pruning your nasturtium, it is possible, and easy, to propagate the cuttings. You may also want to grow a new plant from a cutting if a large portion breaks off or if you want to replant the same variety in another part of your garden.

Here's how to propagate nasturtium from cuttings:

  1. Gather garden sheers, a pot with drainage holes, potting soil, and rooting hormone powder (optional).
  2. Fill the pot with potting soil.
  3. Select a stem from your mature nasturtium plant and cut off a 4-inch (or longer) piece with at least three leaves intact. Dip the cut end into rooting powder (this is not necessary, but may speed up the process).
  4. Poke a hole in the center of the soil and insert at least 1 inch of the stem into the hole.
  5. Backfill the hole gently with your fingers and water the pot carefully in the sink.
  6. Allow the pot to drain and place it in a sunny window or under grow lights.
  7. Check for roots in about one week. Once strongly rooted, transplant the stem into your sunny garden and continue to keep the soil moist.

How to Grow Nasturtium From Seed

Most gardeners choose to sow nasturtiums annually from seed. Seeds can be sown directly in the garden once the soil has warmed, or started indoors two to four weeks before the average last spring frost date. For outdoor planting, sow seeds directly into soil that is at least 55 to 65 F, and plant them 1/2 inch deep and 10 to 12 inches apart. Keep the soil continuously moist until seeds sprout, which should take about a week to 10 days.

When planting in pots, sow seeds in peat or paper pots, as nasturtiums can be finicky about transplanting. This will reduce transplant shock.

Potting and Repotting Nasturtium

Sowing seeds directly into pots is the best method for growing nasturtiums in containers. You can also sow seeds in peat starter pots, and then move them into a larger vessel once the seedlings sprout. A good quality potting mix will do, but don't opt for one with added fertilizer if you want more blooms. Nasturtiums grow best in natural stone or clay containers with ample drainage. You can also add a layer of stones or pebbles to the bottom of the pot, before adding soil, to increase the drainage capacity.

Common Pests and Diseases

Nasturtiums are prone to aphid infestation, consequently making them a good companion to, and deterrent for, vegetables also vulnerable to aphids. If your plant's foliage looks crinkled, or otherwise unhealthy, aphids might be the problem. Reduce the population with a strong blast of water from your garden hose. You can also opt for a non-toxic spray made at home from diluted vinegar or essential oils like lavender and peppermint. Better yet, plant catnip alongside nasturtiums to deter the pests altogether.

This plant can also contract bacterial leaf spot under improper conditions. Small brown or black spots will show on the leaves if this is the issue. You can minimize or prevent the problem by providing ample airflow between plants and watering with drip irrigation, as opposed to sprinklers, as this condition spreads by splashing water.

How to Get Nasturtium to Bloom

Nasturtiums begin to bloom when temperatures rise, so make sure your plant is in a sunny, warm location to assure maximum color. If your nasturtium hasn't started blooming within four to six weeks after sprouting, then you may need to wait for the outdoor temperatures to rise, or for weather conditions to improve.

Plants with abundant foliage but no blooms may be an indicator of rich soil conditions. While it's usually not recommended to fertilize this plant, under these circumstances, a plant food high in phosphorous may help promote flowers. Opt for natural products, like bone meal or rock phosphate, especially if you plan on eating the flowers. Pruning your plant may also help if you planted a variety that holds flowers under its leaves.

Common Problems With Nasturtium

Some varieties of nasturtium actually obstruct flower production due to the plant's physical structure. If you are growing nasturtium at ground level, as opposed to one that trails or vines, choose a variety that holds its flowers above its leaves, allowing the sun to get to the buds.

Root rot can also affect nasturtium if the soil is water logged. This plant prefers almost sandy soil, so make sure there is ample drainage in the location you select.

FAQ
  • What bugs does nasturtium repel?

    When used as a companion in a vegetable garden, nasturtium repels whiteflies, squash bugs, aphids, several beetles species, and cabbage loopers. It protects itself, as well as other plants, by emitting an airborne phytochemical that deters these bugs.

  • How long do nasturtium plants live?

    In most climates, nasturtiums are considered an annual and only last for one growing season. That said, healthy plants can reseed themselves without intervention and come back year after year.