Nasturtiums for Southwest Gardens

Nasturtiums growing an a galvanized tub.
Nasturtiums are excellent growing in containers on the patio. Source: Pixaby

I’m always happy to discover plants I can grow for color and flavor. Imagine my surprise when I discovered nasturtiums are a popular bedding plant that is not only colorful but spicy and edible in salads.

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus) are annuals with distinctive circular leaves and brightly colored flowers 2 to 3 inches across. The five-petaled flowers have a two-inch spur in the back and come in shades of red, orange, yellow, and cream. You can find nasturtiums in two types. The climbing variety will creep up to six feet with coiling leaf stalks or, if planted in a hanging basket, cascade to the ground. The short and bushy dwarf ones are more compact and can be used as bedding plants.

Profile of nasturtiums showing the spurs below the flowers. Source: Pixaby
Look closely at these red nasturtiums and you can see the long spur below the flowers. Source: Pixaby

Growing Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums grow best in full sun and well-drained or sandy soil, conditions many Southwest gardeners have. Just remember to keep nasturtiums well watered if they are to survive during the hot summer months. And don’t bother with fertilizing them. Some gardeners report that when they are fertilized they produce more leaves than flowers, not what most of us want.

Nasturtiums are a cheerful colorful addition to the garden. The one down-side to nasturtiums is their uncanny ability to attract aphids. They must have an irresistible taste to these sucking insects. Gardeners who advocate companion planting techniques have used them as a “bait plant” to lure aphids away from roses and other tender plants. Then they’ll yank out the aphid-covered nasturtiums because they’ve done their job in protecting the other plants. Personally, I’d rather use a liberal application of insecticidal soap or even a sharp spray from the hose to knock out those aphids and save the nasturtiums.

About Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums were discovered in Peru in the sixteenth century and introduced to European gardens via Spain. The botanical name comes from “tropaeum” or trophy. Ancient Greek warriors would hang defeated enemies’ shields and helmets on a pole or tree trunk set up in the battlefield.  Somehow the botanists let their imagination run wild, thinking that the round leaves and bright flowers looked the same.  This association with battle and victory led to the flowers becoming symbols of patriotism and valor.

Closeup of a nasturtium blossom with the shield-shaped leaves.
I can see how the first Europeans to discover this plant thought the leaves looked like shields but the flowers looking like helmets? Not so much. Source: Pixaby

Edible Flowers

Nasturtiums in today’s gardens have a much better use than battle trophies. Besides their colorful display, the flowers, leaves, and unripe seed pods are edible. The flowers have a distinct peppery flavor and are a source of Vitamin C. Try them in a salad or with vegetables sometime for an eye-catching change. The circular leaves taste like peppery watercress. Pickled nasturtium buds can be used in place of capers.

Nasturtium garnish on an open-faced sandwich.
Surprised to see this nasturtium on a lunch plate? This edible flower has a peppery flavor that blends well with red onions and chives. Source: Pixaby

This year try growing some of these South American flowers in your Southwest garden. Not only will you enjoy the look but you will also be able to experiment with their spicy flavor.

Ann McCormick

About the author,

Ann McCormick

If you enjoy herbs and organic gardening, you’ll want to meet Ann McCormick, the Herb ‘n Cowgirl. A life-long gardener, she has devoted her time for the last 20+ years to writing and speaking about her favorite subject. The Herb ‘n Cowgirl also shares her love of herbs and her gardening techniques as a online instructor and media guest. She lives in Fort Worth, TX with her husband of 37 years and an assortment of dogs. To find out more about the Herb ‘n Cowgirl visit her at www.herbncowgirl.com.

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