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Spice up your garden with nasturtiums

Submitted photo While it’s a flower used to add color to gardens, nasturtiums also are edible.

Among the various palettes of colors decorating our gardens is the nasturtium, which thrives in the sun but will tolerate some shade.

One of the two types is the trailing nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus), which can be encouraged to climb a trellis or fence. The second type, (Tropaeolum minus), is the one usually seen growing along edges of gardens and walkways, producing multicolored flowers throughout the summer, into fall.

Their peltate, or shield-shaped leaves, are light green and can become quite large, up to 4 inches across, resembling lily pads. The University of Wisconsin describes a funnel-shaped nectar spur on the back of each leaf, with the plant producing three segmented fruits with a single large seed.

This annual will self-seed, dropping each seed into the soil and replanting itself. At this time, seeds can be collected for planting next spring. Nasturtiums do not like to be moved once planted but soaking them for 24 hours can speed up germination.

Deadheading encourages blooming, and they will continue to bloom until the first frost. Although not known as a pollinator plant, I have seen bees visiting them. Some of the various hues produced are red, yellow, orange and cream, and some may be multicolored.

Native to South and Central America and Mexico, it grows best in sunny, well-drained soil but also will thrive in a shady location; however, it will not bloom as often. It grows well in planters and hanging baskets but needs to be trimmed occasionally.

Seeds should be sown one-half inch deep and 10-12 inches apart. Nasturtiums have few pests, but they are not immune to aphids and the cabbage worm. Leafminers leave a white trail on the leaves, but it will not affect the growth or health of the plant.

This decorative plant is more than just a “pretty face.” Each part can be used in salads, eggs and seafood dishes. As one of the more popular wild edibles, the leaves, flowers, seeds and stems can all be eaten. The taste has been compared to arugula.

The genus of this plant is from the watercress family and is used for its spicy taste. Keeping the plants watered reduces a strong taste, and, if the plant becomes stressed through hot weather, the taste will become more pronounced.

Recognizing their beauty, the renowned artist Claude Monet used them as a border in Giverny, France.

If you plant nasturtiums in your garden, you will benefit from a lovely flower that is both beautiful and delicious.

To learn more about this plant, go to: https://go.osu.edu/nasturtium.

Kane Shipka is an Ohio State University Extension Master Gardener Volunteer in Mahoning County.

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