OK, we’ll admit it, we’re not big on traditional bedding plants like pansies, geraniums or chrysanthemums. We can’t say why, though maybe it’s because they pop up on porches everywhere out here in the desert Southwest once the intense summer heat gives way to cool nights. You can’t walk into a grocery store or plant nursery without wading through them. Sure, they are colorful and look nice but they offer no surprise, no fun.
This is when we remember Nasturtiums, the happy plant with varieties that mound and vine and with flowers you can eat. Now that’s fun. Nasturtiums are related to mustard and garden cress and are known for their peppery bite. You’ll often find them mixed into gourmet salad blends at high-end food markets.
So while our neighbors up and down the street plop the traditional stuff in their pots, we go around pushing the big, nut-like nasturtium seeds into every empty pot of soil or ground that we can find because we know, come early spring, our reward will be great – and our salads will be tasty and beautiful.
How to plant: Grab a packet of seeds. Fill a pot with good potting soil or work your garden bed soil to loosen it up, this isn’t a fussy plant so there’s not a lot of soil amending needed. Plant seeds no more than 1/2 inch deep, cover with soil and then gently water. It’s best to keep the seedlings moist for about the first week until seedlings emerge to about 2 inches high – yes, they are fast growers! Then pull back on your watering. In some areas you may want to cover your seedlings with some netting to keep the birds from stealing your bounty. Please don’t waste fertilizer on these plants, it will make them grow lots of leaves but fewer flowers.
Nasturtiums come in three varieties: dwarf, semi-trailing and single flower, and good quality seeds companies – like Botanical Interests and Renee’s Garden – will give you information on that. Customer favorites here at Southwest Gardener are the Whirlybird and Empress of India from Renee’s Garden and Mahogany from Botanical Interests, but there are all kinds that are beautiful. We stock lots at the shop.