Nasturtium – Tropaeolum majus

Nasturtiums look very pretty spilling from hanging baskets or window-boxes, or growing as ground cover in tubs with other summer-flowering plants.

The various varieties and hybrids have been popular for many years. Flowers are mainly bright shades of orange, yellow or red, but they may also be pale with red or orange streaking. The exact colour can vary a great deal, even within the same variety— nasturtiums have a habit of hybridizing on their own.

The leaves are like small round shields and are completely smooth. They are carried on thin stalks 10-15cm (4-6in) long and can completely obscure their container.

The flowers are followed by round, grooved seeds, or fruit, which germinate very easily. The following year, plants may appear in the most unexpected places. However it is easy to restrict their spread.

In one season, the stems can reach a length of over 3m (loft), but in tubs or window-boxes they will only grow to half this length. The dwarf variety ‘Tom Thumb’ does not have trailing stems and grows to a maximum height of 30cm (12in).Nasturtium - Tropaeolum majus

In its natural habitat in the Andes Mountains of South America, the Nasturtium is a climbing plant that covers large areas as it threads it way up and down the trunks of trees.

An edible plant Nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible, as are the seeds. The flowers make a pretty addition to salads. The leaves have a spicy flavour and can be used in salads or in sandwiches. Eat both leaves and flowers when they are young. Seeds can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers in sauces or relishes, or as a garnish. If you have used an insecticide or fungicide on or near your plants, do not eat them.


Some 90 varieties of Nasturtium are native to Central and South America. Although Tropaeolum motifs is by far the most widely grown, others are grown occasionally. A few varieties have extremely showy flowers but these are rare, perhaps because they need a cool, homid climate throughout the year. Nevertheless, they are worth trying to grow if seeds are available.

T. peregrinum, the Canary Bird Vine, is an annual native to Peru and Ecuador. It has frilly yellow flowers and is a rapid climber. T. speciosum, the Flame Creeper, has brilliant vermilion flowers. T. tricolor, which comes from Chile, is a slender vine with small yellow, red or purple flowers.

Pests And Diseases

Aphids, particularly blackfly, tend to gather on the stems just under the leaves and flowers. Treatment: The best defence is to spray or wash the plant with lukewarm water.

Caterpillars also find the Nasturtium very tasty, including caterpillars that attack cabbage plants. These hungry little creatures will rapidly reduce the leaves to skeletons.

Treatment: Pick them off individually.

Mildew can be a problem for plants grown in very warm, dry conditions. It produces white floury deposits on leaves and the bases of flowers. Treatment: Spray with water or, in severe cases, use a fungicide.


This is a very easy annual that will thrive in conditions that other plants find difficult. Grow them where they will get as much light as possible.

Tropaeolum majus English: A drop of dew cupped...

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  • Potting: Nasturtiums will grow in any type of potting mixture, but flower best in a rather starved, well-drained mixture. Do not transplant once seedlings are set out.
  • Water generously until the plants have made luxuriant growth. If they become too dry they may stop growing.
  • Feeding: Feed Nasturtiums sparingly—overfeeding will result in lots of leaves but few flowers.


  • Light: These plants love light and sunshine but they will also grow well in a lightly shaded position.
  • Temperature: Normal summer temperatures are quite suitable.

Buying Tips

  • You can buy seeds from any seed merchant. Garden centres and nurseries may also sell trays of seedlings for planting out in late spring and early summer.
  • If you buy seedlings make certain they are not suffering from any infestations or are otherwise weakened.
  • Most nasturtiums are grown as annuals and die in the autumn.

One of the most popular summer-flowering plants, the Nasturtium is adaptable, vigorous and easy to grow and is a delightful plant for window-boxes, tubs and hanging baskets.

Growing Nasturtiums as Hardy climbers

A frost-hardy climber is the flame creeper (T. speciosum). This member of the nasturtium family has striking red flowers in the summer months, followed by rather handsome, bright blue fruits nestling among the deep red remnants of the outer parts of the flowers, the calyces.

This lovely plant enjoys having its head in full sun but its roots in shade. It climbs to a height of 3m/10ft and is useful for covering fences, walls or dead trees. It is herbaceous, dying back to take a well-earned rest in winter.

T. tuberosum, ‘Ken Aslet’ is another handsome member of the nasturtium group of plants, with small red and orange trumpet-shaped flowers flourishing from mid-summer to autumn. It grows from tubers, as it name suggests, so although it is not frost-hardy, its tubers may be dug up and stored for next year. It is a particularly useful plant in exposed or coastal areas, as it will cheerfully put up with wind and salt sprays.

Several other varieties will climb, including T. majus ‘Tall Mixed’ and T. peltophorum ‘Spitfire’. These two varieties look lovely cascading down dry banks or swarming over un-sightly constructions.

This group is dominated by the T. majus ‘Gleam’ hybrids. The colours available include bright red, orange and yellow and may be bought as mix-tures or in single colours.

These are the nasturtiums most suitable for use in hanging baskets or to trail over the front of window boxes and containers. Their bright colours and handsome leaves bring a cheerful, informal look to your garden or patio. They have double flowers and will grow to about 30-45cm/l-l’/2ft.

Bedding plants

All nasturtiums suitable for bedding plants are varieties of T. majus. ‘Empress of India’ grows to a height of 20cnV8in and is vigorous and bushy in habit. Its dark crimson flowers give a fine show between early summer and autumn.

The ‘Jewel’ series of nasturtiums are particularly useful as bedding plants because their semi-double flowers are held in plain view above the leaves. This is not always the case, and in many varieties the flowers can be hidden by exuberant foliage.

Another compact dwarf variety is ‘Whirlybird’: once again the flowers are held proudly above the foliage. The ‘Whirlybird’ series can be bought in mixed or single colours; all have simple, single flowers. ‘Peach Melba’ is another popular variety; it has pale yellow flowers blotched with scarlet. Like ‘Jewel’ and ‘Whirlybird’, this variety grows to about 30cm/1ft.

Simple needs

Most varieties of nasturtiums are really easy to please. The majority actually prefer poor soil, which means you are spared the trouble of preparing a special bed for them. All they require is a little elbow room and good drainage.

Propagation is simple, too. Annuals grow from seed, and basal cuttings can be taken from herbaceous varieties. Some grow from tubers and may be divided.

For T. majus varieties simply sow the seed in spring where the plants are to flower and keep the ground moist until the seedlings are established. If you want early colour, you can germinate your seeds in gentle heat during late winter and plant out when all threat of frost has passed.

Blackfly is the most likely pest; in fact, blackfiy heaven is probably full of broad beans underplanted with nasturtiums. They can be controlled by spraying with an insecticide, but dousing them with soapy water is better – if a little less effective — if you want to encourage other, less destructive insects, like butterflies, into your garden.


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