10 Reasons To Grow Nasturtiums With Vegetables
Are you considering growing nasturtiums with your vegetables this season, but aren't sure if you should? Not only can you grow them together, but there's actually benefits to doing so! In this article, suburban homesteader and gardening expert Merideth Cohrs walks through 11 reasons to plant vegetables and nasturtiums together this season.
Nasturtiums were the first flowering plant I learned to add to my vegetable garden. Not only do they have gorgeous edible flowers, they make incredible companion plants for pretty much every vegetable you can think of growing. These orange flowers have a variety of different uses, and can help diversify just about any garden.
Nasturtiums attract a host of pollinators and predatory insects that feast on pests. They can also enhance the flavor of some vegetables when planted nearby. They are also edible, and have a variety of different uses outside of acting as a natural pest repellent.
Beyond the very practical help they provide in a vegetable garden, nasturtiums are a bright, cheerful, prolific blooming flower. They are incredibly easy to grow, making them a great choice for kids and beginner gardeners alike. Let’s look at some of the best reasons to grow nasturtiums in your veggie patch!
- 1 What are Nasturtiums?
- 2 Growing Nasturtiums with Vegetables
- 2.1 Deters Some Pests and ‘Traps’ Others
- 2.2 Eco-Friendly Bug Repellent
- 2.3 Attracts Pollinators & Predatory Insects
- 2.4 Beneficial Companion Plant
- 2.5 Adds Visual Interest to your Garden
- 2.6 Living Mulch, Ground Cover, and Compost
- 2.7 Prevents Invasive Weeds
- 2.8 Easy to Grow
- 2.9 Prolific and Long Flowering
- 2.10 Nasturtiums Are Edible
- 3 Final Thoughts
Nasturtium plants are best known for their cheerfully bright yellow, orange, pink, and red flowers. They are grown as annual flowers in most areas, although they can grow as herbaceous perennials (meaning they die to the ground in the fall but grow again in the spring) in warmer climates. Native to the Andes Mountains, nasturtiums have been widely cultivated as an ornamental flowering plant and edible herb.
There are over 80 species of nasturtiums, but the one most commonly known and loved is the garden nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). These colorful flowers grow quickly and easily, and thrive in the poorest of soils. Nasturtiums don’t need a whole lot of attention after planting, which is why they are such an easy choice for the home gardener.
You can choose between trailing (or climbing) and bushing nasturtiums depending on how you want to use them in your garden. Trailing varieties have larger blooms and leaves, although they don’t produce as many flowers as bushing varieties.
They look amazing in hanging baskets, as sprawling ground cover in garden beds, or climbing up a trellis. Bushing varieties, on the other hand, grow in a compact manner that is more easily contained. This makes them ideal for containers, edging in a raised bed, or strategic companion planting throughout your garden.
Growing Nasturtiums with Vegetables
If you have heard that nasturtiums are beneficial to your garden, but you’re not sure why, keep reading! Nasturtiums are an obvious choice for companion planting with virtually every vegetable. Not only are they beautiful to look at, they bring tangible benefits to your garden. Let’s talk about the top reasons why you should choose to grow nasturtiums in your vegetable garden this year.
Deters Some Pests and ‘Traps’ Others
As someone who plants vegetables primarily on my deck, space is something I cannot waste on superfluous plants. Everything I plant has a purpose – from my core vegetables, to the herbs and flowers I choose as companions. This allows me to create an environment of biodiversity that enables my vegetables to stay healthy and thrive while naturally keeping down the pest population.
Keeping down that pest population is probably the first reason you would choose to plant nasturtiums in your vegetable garden. These flowering plants are interesting because they can help do that in two ways: through deterrence, and by ‘trapping’.
For either methodology, you want to ensure that you plant your nasturtiums several weeks ahead of your vegetable crop to allow them to get large enough to make a difference.
Mature nasturtiums are brilliant at confusing certain pests. Their natural peppery odor can mask the scent of your vegetables and cause many pests to simply overlook them. Cucumbers, squash, and other gourds can become virtually invisible to certain beetles, worms, and whiteflies. If these pests can’t find your veggies, they can’t wreak havoc on them!
You can also use nasturtiums as a sacrificial trap plant. The same smell that deters some pests, really attracts others. They are an excellent choice for keeping pests like aphids away from tomatoes, beans, and brassicas.
Instead of infesting your core vegetable crop, they’ll feast on the nasturtiums. Once you note that the plant is heavily infested, just remove and dispose of it (do not compost).
Eco-Friendly Bug Repellent
In addition to repelling pests by simply being planted nearby, you can use nasturtiums as an organic bug spray throughout your garden! Simply take a cup of nasturtium flowers and leaves and place them in 4 cups of boiling water.
Cover the bowl or pot and allow it to steep for about 20-30 minutes. Strain out the nasturtiums (and compost them directly in your garden!), pour in a sprayer, and your bug spray is ready for use! Spray fruit trees, vegetables, grass, and ornamental plants to keep many common pests away. Repeat this as often as you like during the growing season.
Attracts Pollinators & Predatory Insects
In my experience, natural predatory insects are the best defense against pests. Ladybugs, spiders, parasitic wasps, hoverflies, lacewings, and dragonflies all love to feast on the bugs that want to feast on your vegetables.
Invite them into your garden by planting nasturtiums! The sweet nectar in the flowers attracts a host of pollinators and predatory insects. You’ll be feeding the bees while also creating an inviting home for the good kind of insects.
Another benefit is pollination. Once the pollinators are attracted to your garden, they will be far more inclined to help pollinate your other vegetables as well. Although tomatoes and peppers are self pollinating, other vegetables like squash, cucumbers, and eggplant are not. They require pollinators to move pollen between the male and female flowers.
Without them, your vegetables will produce beautiful flowers but no fruit. I actually had to hand pollinate my squash plants with a small paint brush in my first garden because we had no pollinators around.
Beneficial Companion Plant
Companion planting isn’t all about pest control. Nasturtiums planted with cucumbers help improve the vegetable’s flavor, vigor, and growth rate. When planted near tomatoes and peppers, they can be instrumental in warding off fungal diseases.
Because they make excellent ground cover, nasturtiums prevent water from splashing back on the low-hanging tomato and pepper leaves. This prevents fungal diseases spreading from the soil to your vegetables.
Adds Visual Interest to your Garden
A vegetable garden doesn’t have to be all business. I, for one, enjoy being in my garden more frequently when it’s visually beautiful. Variations on height, color, and plant type can add immense appeal. Gone are the days of sterile rows of singular plants!
Instead, we can choose to add vibrant spots of color to our vegetable gardens and plants in a way that encourages natural biodiversity.
Nasturtiums have to be one of the most cheerful flowers to have in your garden. The bright colored flowers bloom prolifically during the summer and fall months and the foliage ranges from gorgeous dark green to variegated white and green. Between bushing and trailing varieties, you can introduce nasturtiums into many places in your garden for increased visual interest.
Living Mulch, Ground Cover, and Compost
Nasturtiums – both bushing and trailing varieties – grow vigorously, have profuse leaf growth, and flower continuously throughout the growing season. All of this contributes to the creation of natural ground cover and living mulch. Trailing varieties, especially, spread throughout the empty spaces of your garden.
This prevents weeds, discourages water splashback on your vegetables, encourages water retention in the soil, and helps keep the soil temperature more consistent, even in the heat of the afternoon. You will not need to place additional mulch in your vegetable garden where nasturtiums have spread. Let nature do the work for you!
Because of their profuse growth and high vitamin and mineral content, nasturtiums also make an excellent compost component. During the growing season, you can chop up parts of plants that have gotten too vigorous and spread them throughout your garden.
At the end of your season, allow the plants to break down and decompose naturally. You can then turn them under the soil before your first freeze and allow them to rejuvenate the soil for next spring.
Note: If you have planted nasturtiums as a trap plant for aphids, do not compost those plants back into your garden.
Prevents Invasive Weeds
Because trailing varieties of nasturtiums spread so easily throughout your garden, you will discover that you don’t need to weed very often. In fact, once nasturtiums are established, the thick cover of their leaves and flowers will provide enough shade to overcome most weed competition.
This will not only save your knees and back from excessive weeding, but it will also prevent certain pests that are attracted to those weeds from ever entering your garden.
Easy to Grow
Nasturtiums are incredibly easy to grow and are 100% friendly to kids and new gardeners. They aren’t fussy about soil, sun conditions or location, and will pretty much grow anywhere.
Nasturtiums actually thrive a little on neglect so feel free to plant and forget! The ease of growing this plant can be a welcome reprieve in the middle of your growing season while you’re dealing with pest control, daily watering, and vegetable harvesting!
Planting nasturtiums can be a great project for kids too. Give them responsibility over the care and growth of these flowers. They won’t be able to fail and they’ll gain a huge sense of pride every time they see the cheerful flowers in your garden!
Prolific and Long Flowering
Nasturtiums of all varieties are prolific bloomers and you will see flowers throughout the growing season right up until your first frost. The bright, colorful blooms are beautiful to look at and they will attract and feed a host of pollinators until your first frost.
This is important because many pollinator-friendly flowering plants only bloom during certain parts of the growing season. You can feel great knowing that you’ll be feeding the butterflies (and other pollinators of course!) all season long with your nasturtiums!
Nasturtiums Are Edible
You may not know this, but the entire nasturtium plant – flowers, leaves, and seeds – is edible! If you do a quick internet search, you will see gorgeous recipe photos showcasing nasturtiums in salads, spring rolls, tacos, pesto pasta, and more. This is one of my favorite parts of growing nasturtiums – they’re delicious!
Nasturtium leaves will amaze you with their light peppery flavor. They’re rich in vitamin C and can be used in so many food preparations.
Uses in Food Preparation
- Salad Greens. Use whole or chopped in salads. Since the leaves have a peppery bite, you may want to mix them with more mild greens. The flavor pairs really well with goat cheese and fruits.
- Pesto. Similar to arugula, nasturtium leaves make for a really interesting pesto! The bright, peppery flavor adds a unique punch to pasta, bread, or soup. If you are looking for a more classic flavor, mix half basil and half nasturtium leaves.
- Replace Spinach. We often think of kale and swiss chard as good replacements for spinach, but nasturtium greens are as well! You can harvest and use these leaves in any way you would use spinach in soups, pastas, dips, or eggs.
- Replace Grape Leaves. Large nasturtium leaves get as big as grape leaves and can easily be used for dolma (stuffed grape leaves). The peppery bite will only add to the flavor!
Nasturtium flowers taste slightly floral with a mild spicy bite at the end. Rich in vitamins and minerals (vitamins B and C, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, calcium, etc) they make delicate additions to many types of foods.
Uses in Food
- Salad. Use whole flowers or pull the petals apart. You can use as a garnish as well.
- Vinegar. Nasturtium-infused vinegar is peppery and works great in salad dressings or other recipes that benefit from a bright splash of vinegar. It will also have a bright red-orange color that looks great as gifts.
- Salt. Dry the flowers (you can use the leaves for this too), crush, and then mix with sea salt. Not only will it look really pretty, it adds a unique peppery flavor to a dish. You will most likely use this as a finishing salt.
- In Cocktails. Infuse vodka or tequila with nasturtium flowers for a unique take on some classic cocktails.
- Garnish. Flowers will make a gorgeous garnish on appetizers, charcuterie boards, pasta, and pretty much anything else you want to fancy up!
I hope after reading this article, you’re as in love with planting nasturtiums in your vegetable garden as I am. From repelling pests, to attracting pollinators, to adding flavor to your food, there are few flowering plants that are more versatile. Happy planting!