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Trailing nasturtiums

August 20, 2020
Gold nasturtium flower surrounded by leaves.
Nasturtium leaves have a peltate form

Looking for a plant with attractive pollinator flowers, unique foliage and a long, long training form? Nasturtiums Tropaeolum majus ‘Trailing Mix’ will do the trick! Not all nasturtiums will form a long 6- to 10-foot vine, but if you get the right kind, look out as the stems can get really long! 

Nasturtiums are tropicals and like warm weather

You can start nasturtiums from seed, they grow quickly in warm weather. This spring I planted three plants, each in the center of a porch box on my deck.

Remember the cold nights we had back in May? Yes, frost was predicted. The porch box closest to my house did not get as cold or chilled as the outer boxes, and the nasturtium in the “warm” location grew huge quickly. The other two, especially the farthest out box, almost died, lost leaves, and was chilled and stunted. They finally grew and now look okay, but well behind the un-chilled plant. 

Planters of nasturtiums on a deck with plants draped over the railing.
Nasturtiums from above
Gold and yellow nasturtiums trailing over the deck railing as seen from below.
Nasturtiums from below

Great for containers and draping

Somewhat drought resistant, the plants are good for containers, especially where they can grow and drape over a balcony or up a wall. 

The colorful flowers are edible with a spicy taste and also have a delightful fragrance. The leaves are edible as well and also have a peppery flavor.

Flowers are red, orange, yellow or cream in color, with a long-spurred flower that is attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. The round leaves with the petiole or stem in the middle of the leaf form a peltate, and make the nasturtium leaf quite distinctive and attractive. 

Long vines of orange nasturtiums draping down a wooden arbor.
Trailing nasturtiums can grow to 10 feet in length

A dwarf type of nasturtium is usually the plant you find at garden centers or in seed packets. While it may produce more flowers, it is not going to get to be a very large plant and will not form a vine. 

There is a semi-trailing form with vines to about 2 feet long. But look for a trailing nasturtium in seed catalogues or at garden centers. 

Nasturtiums are known for being a low feeder, and do not need much additional fertilizer. 

The downside: lower or older leaves die quickly and turn yellow and then brown and hang on the plant, giving it a messy look unless you are dead-leafing it daily. 

Also the stems can be brittle and break off, especially with their own weight of foliage and flowers. And the seeds form during the summer and will drop off the plant. 

I have not had self-seeding in my garden, but have read reports of it by other gardeners. You can save your own seed as well. 

For years I have read about the dramatic trailing nasturtiums at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston. One day I hope to see them, but until then, I am watching the hummingbirds on my own nasturtium porch boxes for now. 

Mary H. Meyer, Extension horticulturist

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