Did you know that nasturtium flowers symbolize patriotism? Leaving the symbolism aside, the nasturtium is scientifically called Tropaeolum and received its common name for the oil it produces, which resembles watercress. The name means ‘nose-tweaker’ or ‘nose-twister’. The plant is characterized by bright and intense flowers, as well as rounded leaves in the shape of a shield. Even though it is native to South and Central America, it can grow wherever its needs are met. Today we are going to have a look at how to grow nasturtium by yourself in your backyard and what to use the flowers and leaves for.
1. Choose the Right Variety
The variety you should choose depends on what you expect or need from this plant, as well as how much space you have available in your backyard. Here you have a couple of varieties to choose from:
- Salmon Baby – It is appreciated for its orange-pink hue, so it fits perfectly a green garden.
- Peach Melba – It presents orange flowers complete with orange-red centers; many people like to grow it because they add it to salads.
- Dwarf nasturtium – This is a small bush variety, suitable for small spaces. It comes in a variety of flower shades, plus it’s easy to control.
- Indian Cress – The Indian Cress species is a trailing grower so you can use it for a large garden. Most people love it for the orange, yellow, and red shades. The best part about it is that it flowers all summer. When it grows, you can train it up a fence. Alternatively, you can learn how to build a bamboo trellis by yourself, or try other DIY garden trellis ideas.
2. Start the Seeds Indoors
Usually, nasturtiums are started indoors, which makes it possible for them to flower as soon as they can in spring. They generally flower after the last frost passed. Here is how to start nasturtium seeds indoors:
- Start the seeds 4 – 6 weeks before the final spring frost;
- Plant each of the seeds in a peat pot. From there, you can transplant them directly into the ground, so you won’t disturb the roots. Make sure you use seed substrate and not potting soil.
- Ensure you keep the seeds next to a bright window. The peat should also be moist all the time.
- After the last frost of the spring has passed, plant the seedlings into the ground.
3. Choose the Right Planting Spot
If you know how to grow nasturtium correctly, you must know that they love full sun. However, they still need some protection from the summer heat in the middle of the day. They require low maintenance so they’re great for growing in stark spots in your garden or in places that need some cover-up. You can also decide to grow them in a container, which won’t affect their growing processes with anything. Alternatively, you can choose to grow them in hanging baskets.
4. Take Care of the Soil
In general, nasturtiums love well-drained, loose soil. You shouldn’t use fertilizer since they don’t like growing in a rich soil. If the soil is too nutritious, the plants will produce more leaves instead of flowers. At the same time, avoid planting them in an area that presents wet, heavy clay soil.
5. Sow or Transplant the Seeds
After the last frost, you can start sowing or transplanting the nasturtium seeds. If you decide to sow them, you need to plant them a ½ inch deep into the soil, as well as 10 inches apart. However, if you’ll go for the second option, store them in the peat seed starters and then move them into the ground. In this way, you avoid doing any root damage to the plants. It’s important that the planting bed remains moist.
If you want to help the seeds germinate faster, nick or soak them in warm water and keep them like that overnight. The seeds that are directly sown usually sprout in 7 – 10 days.
6. Grow from Cuttings
Though people prefer to learn how to grow nasturtium from seeds, you can also propagate them from cuttings. The cuttings should be taken from a section of the stem with short internodes. Trim off the leaves found in the lower area. It’s better to cut them, not to pull them off. You also need to use some rooting hormones.
Put the cuttings in a moist medium, for example, clean sand or perlite. Make sure you are keeping the medium moist all the time. In 2 – 3 weeks, you will notice that roots form at the buried nodes. Take the rooted cutting and place it straight into the garden. Alternatively, you can also transplant it to a pot filled with standard potting mix. Here’s a short clip that illustrates one way of learning how to grow nasturtium from cuttings:
Caring for Nasturtiums
7. Only Water When the Soil Is Dry
Nasturtiums generally like poor soil and little water. Contrary to the general opinion, if you give them plenty of fresh water and fertilizer, they will die. However, when you see the soil drying out, it’s a sign you should water them. Ideally, you need to water them deeply a couple of times a week.
To check if the soil is dry, press a finger into the soil. If it feels dusty and dry, water the plants. If it’s still moist below the surface, wait a couple of days more. Another useful tip on how to grow nasturtium correctly is to water the flowers around the roots, not from above. Do this in the morning to allow the plants to dry out before nightfall. If they are too moist at night, the nasturtiums can grow mold.
8. Weed the Area
When learning how to grow nasturtium in your own backyard, it’s important to know that, before flowering, they look just like weeds. A useful trick is to mark the planting site with a small label, so you won’t pull up the seedlings by accident. Next, keep the garden weed-free. If you don’t, the nasturtium will have to compete with them for the nutrients and water in the soil.
Pests and Possible Diseases
9. Keep Pests at Bay
The most common pests you can encounter when learning how to grow nasturtium are:
- Cucumber beetles;
- Flea beetles;
- Cabbage butterflies;
- Other common pests.
If you notice the plant has bugs, a quick and effective solution is to pick the bugs off one by one and put them into soapy water. Alternatively, you can start spraying the nasturtiums with water or use a soapy water solution to wipe them to keep pests at bay. Never use insecticides if you want to use the nasturtium for cooking!
When deciding on how to grow nasturtium, many gardeners go for placing them on the borders of the garden in the idea of keeping pests away from their crops (eggplant, squash, cabbage, etc.) However, you should still check the plant for pests every week and remove anything that shouldn’t be there. Another good idea is to use a ring of diatomaceous or copper earth around your seedlings to keep slugs at bay.
10. Cut Dead or Faded Flowers
It’s ideal to cut off any dead or faded flowers to encourage healthy new growth. This is a step you should take often if you want to have your plants flower as much as possible. In case you decided to grow nasturtium in a container, you need to trim it back occasionally during the growing season.
Harvesting and Using Nasturtium
11. Harvest the Flowers and Leaves
Throughout the growing season, you can start harvesting both flowers and leaves. With a simple pair of scissors, you can snip off whatever parts you need. However, don’t take too much of them from just one plant. Keep in mind that these plants have a strong taste, so you only need a little to flavor your food.
If you want to store and use them later, you should dry and keep them in a paper envelope. Place the envelope in a cool, dark place.
12. Use them to Cook
Salads and garnishes are the most preferred use for nasturtiums. The petals and leaves offer a peppery taste that goes great with a huge array of dishes. For example, you can add leaves and petals to a mixed green salad. Ideally, you should pair them with other sweeter greens, such as spinach, to complement the peppery flavor. Vegetarian sandwiches or potato or egg salads are great companions for tasting nasturtium too. Whole flowers can be added as garnishes for pasta, salads, and even desserts such as cupcakes.
Anyone can learn how to grow nasturtium, this great versatile plant, in their own backyard and garden. Besides being very colorful with its big flowers, you can safely add them to any salad or dish when you want to enjoy its peppery taste. Make sure you don’t use any insecticides if you plan on cooking with nasturtium. Finally, you should consider planting them in your own backyard since they require little maintenance in time and they can grow freely in any corner of your backyard you’ve been ignoring.
Image source: depositphotos.com
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