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Ron Finley Teaches Gardening

Nasturtiums (Tropaeolum majus), also called Indian Cress, are a reliable flowering plant native to South America. In addition to livening up your herb garden, this bushy plant's edible flowers and leaves are high in vitamin C and add a spicy, peppery flavor to salads and stir-fries. Pickled nasturtium seed pods even make a wonderful culinary substitute for capers. Nasturtiums are easy to grow in a wide range of soil conditions.

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Ron Finley Teaches GardeningRon Finley Teaches Gardening

Community activist and self-taught gardener Ron Finley shows you how to garden in any space, nurture your plants, and grow your own food.

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5 Common Nasturtium Varieties

Nasturtiums come in various dwarf, trailing, and tall climbing cultivars, so it's important to choose a nasturtium variety that's right for your garden or container.

  1. Alaska Mix: This dwarf ornamental heirloom produces orange, red, and yellow flowers. Its foliage is bushy and variegated, meaning its leaves contain more than one color—in this case, green and cream stripes. The Alaska Mix tolerates poor soil and is a beautiful flower choice for window boxes and hanging baskets.
  2. Canary creeper: This large vine is a trailing type of nasturtium, named for its bright yellow flowers. Canary creepers grow between eight and 12 feet high, and grow best with trellises, fences, pillars, or railings for support.
  3. Empress of India: A compact nasturtium flower that grows only one foot high, the Empress of India features scarlet red flowers that contrast against its unique dark green-and-blue-tinted leaves. The Empress of India is a great companion plant to cabbage since it repels pesky cabbage caterpillars and whiteflies.
  4. Jewel of Africa: This climbing, single-flowered cultivar blooms in yellow, red, and peach-pink flowers. Its green leaves have a dazzling cream variegation that's perfect for decorating a trellis or fence. Jewel of Africa also makes a wonderful groundcover plant.
  5. Peach Melba: A dwarf heirloom variety, Peach Melba produces yellow flowers with vibrant orange or maroon centers. With a maximum spread of only one foot, Peach Melba is ideal for small gardens and containers.

How to Plant Nasturtiums in Your Garden

Planting nasturtium seeds is a straightforward process as long as you follow a few simple guidelines.

  1. Sow seeds after the last spring frost. For the best results, direct-sow nasturtium seeds outdoors. To get an early start, you can plant nasturtium seeds indoors five weeks before the last frost and then transplant the seedlings outdoors. Nasturtium seedlings tend to struggle with transplanting, so make sure you harden them off before moving them to your garden.
  2. Choose a sunny location. Nasturtium plants grow best in full-sun areas. They can tolerate partial shade, but they won't produce as many flowers.
  3. Plant in poor- to average-quality soil. Nasturtiums tolerate most soil types, but fertile soil actually leads to fewer flower blooms and excess foliage. To get more blooms, plant nasturtiums in a well-drained, sandy soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5.
  4. Plant half an inch deep and 10 inches apart. Nasturtium seedlings should begin to sprout in seven to 14 days.
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How to Grow and Care for Nasturtiums

Follow these growing tips to produce dazzling nasturtium blooms for a cut flower arrangement or your next culinary creation.

  1. Water regularly throughout the growing season. Try to keep the soil consistently moist without overwatering. In hot climates, water in the afternoon when the sun is the strongest in order to prevent nasturtium leaves from wilting.
  2. Add a layer of mulch in hot climates. Mulch made of aged compost will keep your soil moist and cool, causing more vigorous flower blooms. In more temperate climates, mulch is generally not necessary.
  3. Refrain from using fertilizer. Since nasturtium plants thrive in poor soils, fertilizer is not helpful, as it may cause a decrease in blooms and an increase in foliage.
  4. Practice pest control. Aphids and leaf miners both commonly plague nasturtium plants. Spray away aphids with a strong stream of water from a garden hose, and remove any leaves affected by leaf miners.
  5. Prevent diseases. To prevent your nasturtiums contracting diseases like leaf spot, bacterial wilt, and verticillium wilt, space your plants far enough apart to provide good air circulation. Make sure to water your plants ground level to avoid wet foliage. If you observe diseased plants, remove them immediately.
  6. Use nasturtiums as a trap crop in your vegetable garden. Since nasturtiums attract aphids, planting nasturtiums in your vegetable garden is a great way to draw aphids away from your vegetables.

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Grow your own food with Ron Finley, the self-described "Gangster Gardener." Get the MasterClass Annual Membership and learn how to cultivate fresh herbs and vegetables, keep your house plants alive, and use compost to make your community - and the world - a better place.

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