Nasturtium has slightly succulent stems and distinctive, rounded green leaves that resemble water lily pads. The flowers have a funnel shape with a short spur off the back, and come in a range of warm colors from creamy yellow to bright red. Some varieties are mounding, some trailing, and some are climbers.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow and work well in both garden beds and containers. Vividly colored blossoms pop against the gray-green foliage for an impressive effect when planted in large groups. Some varieties even have variegated leaves marked with white or cream. The flowers come in a spectrum of colors from creamy white to bold red. Adding the flowers to a salad or other dish for color also adds a light, peppery flavor. The large seeds can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers.
Nasturtium Care Must-Knows
Although there are several species of nasturtium with varying requirements, the most commonly grown annual species do best when directly seeded in well-drained soil, and prefer regular watering. During droughts, they are prone to wilt, but once watered they bounce right back. If you plant nasturtiums in soil too rich in organic matter, the plants become floppy and produce fewer flowers because excess nutrients go to growing new leaves.
Related: Deer-Resistant Annuals
Much like beans in a vegetable bed, nasturtiums fall into a bush or vine category and need to be planted accordingly. Whether you opt for a bush or vine type, nasturtiums grow best in full sun. If planted in part sun, plants may become floppy and open in the center and have fewer blossoms. The bloom best in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall.
Nasturtiums are a beloved old-fashioned plant associated with cottage gardens, but there have been several new developments. Much of nasturtium breeding centered on creating more garden-friendly plants, typically bush-type annuals. There are also many varieties with variegated foliage for layers of interest. Some of the most exciting developments revolve around color: introducing new ones and developing ones that change (e.g., opening light peach and fading to deep red).
More Varieties of Nasturtium
Tropaeolum majus 'Alaska' is a trailing variety to 12 to 15 inches. It offers exciting, white-splashed foliage and striking red, orange, gold, yellow, and salmon flowers.
This selection of Tropaeolum peregrinum offers lots of fringed canary-yellow blooms appear that look almost like butterflies in late spring. It climbs to 15 feet and is perennial in Zones 9-10.
Tropaeolum majus 'Empress of India' bears velvety, crimson-red flowers on a compact, 14-inch-tall plant.
This variety of Tropaeolum majus is a climbing annual to 5 feet tall that has variegated foliage and blooms in red, gold, yellow, cream, or peach.
Tropaeolum majus 'Peach Melba' offers salmon-peach flowers all summer long on compact, 1-foot-tall plants.
Nasturtium Companion Plants
Petunias are failproof favorites for gardeners everywhere. They are vigorous growers and prolific bloomers from midspring through late fall. Color choices are nearly limitless, with some sporting beautiful veining and intriguing colors. Many varieties are sweetly fragrant (sniff blooms in the garden center to be sure.) Some also tout themselves as "weatherproof," which means that the flowers don't close up when water is splashed on them. Wave petunias have made this plant even more popular. Reaching up to 4 feet long, it's great as a groundcover or when cascading from window boxes and pots. All petunias do best and grow more bushy and full if you pinch or cut them back by one- to two-thirds in midsummer.
You can depend on this cottage-garden favorite to fill your garden with color all season long. The simple, daisylike flowers appear in cheery shades on tall stems that are great for cutting. The lacy foliage makes a great backdrop for shorter plants, as well. Cosmos often self-seeds in the garden, so you may only have to plant it once, though the colors can appear muddy or odd in the reseeders. Plant cosmos from seed directly in the ground in spring. Or start from established seedlings. This flower doesn't like fertilizing or conditions that are too rich, which causes the foliage to be large and lush but with fewer blooms. It does best with average moisture but will tolerate drought.
Just as you'd expect from something called French, these marigolds are the fancy ones. French marigolds tend to be frilly and some boast a distinctive "crested eye." They grow roughly 8-12 inches high with a chic, neat, little growth habit and elegant dark green foliage. They do best in full sun with moist, well-drained soil and will flower all summer long. They may reseed, coming back year after year, in spots where they're happy.