Nasturtium: planting and caring for

Nasturtium: planting and caring for

Origin and Distribution

The great nasturtium (bot. Tropaeolum majus) comes from Central and South America, where it grows wild mainly in Brazil and Peru, but also in Chile and Bolivia. It is probably the best-known representative of the nasturtium family of around 90 species (bot. Tropaeolaceae), whereby the garden form used in this country is a hybrid. The wild form is considered a medicinal plant in its homeland because of its antibacterial ingredients, which is why it was named “Medicinal Plant of the Year” in 2013.

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The nasturtium is a climbing plant that, thanks to its long, leafy tendrils, is wonderfully suitable as a privacy screen and for greening pergolas and garden fences. The plant grows reliably and quickly on any climbing aid - both in height and in width. Plant the species directly in the bed or in a flower box (€ 13.18 at Amazon *) or a tub, whereby the different colored varieties can be used to create pretty arrangements on the balcony or in the flower bed. A planting in a raised bed on the terrace in which you have installed a climbing aid, for example, looks particularly pretty - this way your favorite place in the garden is given a green privacy screen. Planted without climbing aid,The large nasturtium also cuts a fine figure in hanging baskets - with drooping shoots - or as a ground cover. But be careful: the plants take every opportunity to climb!

You can also plant the medicinal and kitchen plants in the vegetable patch to ward off pests and diseases, especially in crops with longer-growing crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, celery, radish, beans, peas, cucumber or fennel. In addition, planting apple and peach trees as well as in rose beds counteracts lice infestation.

Use as a culinary herb and medicinal plant

The indigenous people of South America have been using nasturtiums as a remedy for many centuries. The infusion should help especially with colds, bronchitis and urinary tract infections, but excessive consumption can quickly irritate the gastrointestinal area due to the hot substances it contains. For this reason, you should only use the hot and spicy tasting leaves and flowers of the plant sparingly in the kitchen, for example for salads, sauces or herb butter. The nasturtium also tastes great as a topping on bread. On the other hand, still closed flower buds and unripe fruits can be placed in herb vinegar and used as a tasty caper substitute. Furthermore, a brew made from fresh leaves and flowers can be used for hair care, for example as a conditioner for fragrant hair.

Appearance and stature

In its South American homeland, the nasturtium grows for several years. With us, on the other hand, the plant does not survive the cold and wet winters, which is why it dies when the first frost arrives. However, your seeds usually survive the cold season without any problems, so that next spring new plants germinate in the same place. The great nasturtium grows crawling and forms long tendrils that can reach lengths of three to five meters. Therefore, the species is very suitable as a ground cover, but strives up at every opportunity. The plant forms round, thin stems on which the leaves and flowers stand upright at a height of about 20 centimeters.


The large, shield-shaped leaves of the large nasturtium have a smooth edge and are light to dark green in color, depending on the variety. The nine clearly recognizable leaf veins, which radiate out from the center, are also characteristic. Another typical feature of this species is the so-called lotus effect, in which water that hits the leaves simply rolls off. The hot and spicy tasting leaves can be used fresh and raw as seasoning herbs and taste, for example, finely cut in herb butter, quark or salad. Young and light leaves have a much milder taste than older and darker leaves.

Blossoms and flowering period

The nasturtium owes its name to the nasturtium monks, whose robes with the pointed hoods resemble the large, conspicuous flowers with the pronounced spur. The calyxes are mostly bright red, orange or yellow in color and can also be monochrome or patterned. They appear between July and October and appear decoratively as single flowers on the long tendrils. The flowers also have a sharp aroma reminiscent of the taste of mustard, but are somewhat milder than the leaves. They are very suitable for decorating salads or desserts, but be careful: There are catchy tunes to hide inside that you certainly don't want to eat with. Shake the flowers carefully after picking them, and the animals will fall out. Pollination is carried out by insects,who find the nasturtium very attractive as a food crop.


After flowering, the great nasturtium forms solitary fissure fruits that are quite large and that are also edible as false capers when unripe. When fully ripe, you can dry and grind them - they make a slightly spicy seasoning powder for soups, sauces and stews. Be careful with outdoor cultivation in the garden: nasturtiums like to sow themselves - even though the plant is not winter hardy - so that next spring you may well be surprised with numerous seedlings.


The nasturtium is not poisonous, but can even be used as a herb and medicinal herb instead. However, this does not apply to all species in the genus, which in turn may not necessarily be poisonous, but are nonetheless not edible. Only Tropaeolum majus and Tropaeolum tuberosum are traditionally used as food plants.

Which location is suitable?

The nasturtium is one of the sun-loving summer bloomers and thrives best in a protected, sunny location in the bed or on the balcony. The light irradiation has a direct influence on the luminosity of its flower colors as well as on the number of flowers: the more sunny it is, the more flowers it forms - in addition, they get the stronger colors, while specimens cultivated in partial shade and shade mainly have leaves and only a few, flowers that remain pale.

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Soil / substrate

The nasturtium also develops many leaves but only a few flowers in nutrient-rich soil. Put them in a moderately humus rich soil, if possible with a higher proportion of loam and / or sand. This should be well-drained because the plant - like so many - does not tolerate waterlogging. Use a humus-based potting soil or potting soil as a substrate for a pot culture, which you can thin out with a little sand.

Sowing / pulling forward

In our flower beds, the nasturtiums, which are only annual, usually sown themselves. In addition, you can prefer the plants on the windowsill between February and April, which works best as follows:

  • Let the seeds soak in warm water for a few hours
  • Fill seed pots (€ 14.90 at Amazon *) with nutrient-poor substrate
  • Put the pea-sized seeds two to three centimeters deep
  • cover with soil - dark germs
  • Maintain in a bright, but not directly sunny place at room temperature
  • Keep the substrate evenly moist
  • tense air (cover with foil or similar) promotes germination
  • Germination occurs after two to three weeks
  • Plant out in the bed from the end of May after the last late frosts

Pre-grown nasturtiums will bloom faster, but from May onwards you can also plant the seeds directly in the bed or in the planter. The plants grow very quickly, so pulling them forward is not absolutely necessary. Sowing is possible until the end of June.

Pour nasturtiums

The water requirement of the nasturtium depends specifically on its location: the sunnier and warmer the plant, the more water it needs - especially since the species evaporates a lot of moisture due to the large leaf mass and therefore has a very high water requirement from the outset. You should therefore water potted plants daily in the summer months, provided it is dry and not raining. If there is a lack of water, the plant immediately lets the leaves hang. Also, always pour from below and never over the flowers, as they will then fall off.

Fertilize nasturtiums properly

Fertilization should also be avoided with potted plants, as an excess of nutrients only stimulates leaf growth - at the expense of the abundance of flowers.

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Cut nasturtiums correctly

Too long tendrils and dead shoots can be cut off with sharp and clean scissors. In particular, removing the flowers extends the flowering time, so that you can enjoy the bright colors well into autumn. To obtain seeds, simply leave a few flowers on the plant and harvest the ripe fruits in autumn.

Propagate nasturtiums

In early autumn, you can cut cuttings that will take root very quickly. However, you have to overwinter them and only plant them out the following spring.

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Frost-free, but cool wintering (for example in an unheated winter garden) of the non-winter-hardy nasturtiums is basically possible, but it makes little sense due to the uncomplicated cultivation of the plant. Care during the winter months is more time-consuming than annual re-sowing, especially since pests and diseases tend to nestle during the winter.

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Diseases and pests

With its mustard oils, the great nasturtium defends itself very successfully against many fungi and pests, which is why you can plant it in the flower and vegetable patch as a preventive measure. Nonetheless, the plant is popular with aphids (and keep the animals away from the roses, for example) and the great cabbage white butterfly, which likes to lay its eggs on the leaves. A caterpillar infestation shows itself through the typical feeding marks.


Yellow leaves are normal if they only appear sporadically and are simply plucked off. If, on the other hand, the discoloration occurs more intensely, this is often an indication of too much or too little water.

Species and varieties

There are around 90 different species of the nasturtium genus, with only five species being cultivated as ornamental plants. The different varieties of the small nasturtium (bot. Tropaeolum minor) are particularly suitable for growing in balcony boxes and pots, as they are only about 30 centimeters high and have a rather bushy growth. Tropaeolum majus, the great nasturtium, is the well-known edible species. However, it develops up to three meters long tendrils and should therefore be given a place in the garden. At this point we will introduce you to other species and their varieties in more detail.

Great nasturtium (bot.Tropaeolum majus)

The fast-growing species has its home in the forests of Brazil and Peru, but has also been cultivated here for a long time. The greater nasturtium grows bushy or creeping, depending on how it is grown. Without a climbing aid, the plant only grows to around 50 centimeters high, with a climbing facility - such as a wall or fence - it can reach a height of up to three meters under good growth conditions. The different varieties mostly bloom yellow, orange or red. But there are also two- to multi-colored varieties, whereby the flower color usually depends on the weather: in cool temperatures and little sun, the colors remain pale. They only get their luminosity in warm summer temperatures and lots of sunlight. Both the leaves and the flowers of the species are edible,You can also pickle the buds and unripe fruits as false capers. The species is annual and dies at the end of summer, but its seeds overwinter and germinate on their own in the next spring.

Popular varieties are, for example:

  • 'Alaska Mix': multicolored flowers, white variegated leaves
  • 'Colorful jewels': multicolored mix with ruffled flowers
  • 'Cherry Rose': cherry red flowers
  • 'Cream Troika': light yellow flowers with dark spots
  • 'Jewel of Africa': Mixture of different colored flowers
  • 'Salmon': salmon-colored flowers
  • 'Milkmaid': light yellow flowers
  • 'Moonlight': light yellow flowers
  • 'Night and Day': flowers two-tone white and dark red
  • 'Orange Troika': bright orange flowers
  • 'Orchid Flame': yellow-red patterned flowers reminiscent of orchids
  • 'Scarlet Shine': semi-double, bright red flowers
  • 'Variegated Queen': mixed colors with speckled foliage

The subspecies Tropaeolum majus 'Nanum' remains low at around 30 centimeters and does not tend to grow. It is very suitable for pots and other planters on the balcony or terrace.

Small nasturtium (bot.Tropaeolum minor)

The small nasturtium, native to Peru and Ecuador, grows rather bushy and is between 30 and 59 centimeters high. Your instincts do not grow. The flowers, which mostly bloom in yellow and red tones, appear between June and September and adorn sunny to light, partially shaded locations on the balcony or terrace. The plants do not grow in the shade.

Popular varieties are, for example:

  • 'Black Velvet': dark purple flowers with a yellow center
  • 'Garden jewel': mixed colors with bright colors
  • 'Kaiserin Viktoria': velvet red flowers
  • 'Oriental magic': deep red flowers
  • 'Peach Melba': peach colored flowers with a darker center
  • 'Sangria': beautiful, bright red flowers
  • 'Sun carpet': bright yellow flowers
  • 'Tip Top Scarlet': numerous fiery red flowers
  • 'Vesuvius': salmon-colored flowers
  • 'Whirlybird': different colored mixture of red and yellow, semi-double flowers

Canary nasturtium (bot.Tropaeolum peregrinum)

This species, also known as the “canary nasturtium”, comes from Central America and has a good reason for its name: the yellow flowers are characterized by their strikingly large petals that are slit at the edge and therefore look like birds' wings. The perennial species in its home is not hardy and is therefore only cultivated here as an annual. The climbing tendrils are up to two meters high and need a trellis or other climbing aid. The fast-growing climbing plant is suitable for greening pergolas and wire mesh, but can also be grown in hanging baskets, hanging baskets or in pots. A popular variety is the 'golden tendril' with its bright golden yellow flowers.

Tuberous nasturtiums (bot.Tropaeolum tuberosum)

The species, also known as “Mashua”, grows primarily in Peru and Bolivia and serves the local population partly as a source of food, since the tubers of the plant - cooked or roasted - are edible. We rarely cultivate the bulbous nasturtium, but it can be cultivated in a similar way to dahlias: dig up the tubers before the first frost and store them in a dark and cool place to replant them the next spring. The species is a climbing plant whose fast-growing tendrils reach up to four meters high and require a climbing aid.

Tricolor nasturtium (bot. Tropaeolum tricolor)

Tropaeolum tricolor, the three-colored nasturtium or Chilean nasturtium, is a perennial species of the Tropaeolaceae family. The species is endemic to Chile, where it grows in the cloud forest of the coastal mountains of northern Chile at an altitude of 300 to 900 meters and further south in the temperate forests inland. The tubers are hardy to around minus eight degrees Celsius and can withstand a blanket of snow for a short time. The most striking feature of the climbing plant are its numerous - as the name suggests - three-colored flowers in red, yellow and blue.