Ask a Question forum: Why are my nasturtiums unhappy?

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Name: ilona
Lovell, Maine (Western ME near (Zone 5a)
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MissiveMaven
Jul 17, 2017 8:13 AM CST
I have two pots of 4 nasturtium plants each on a deck in full sun. When I first got them (in early June) they were quite happy, but lately they are not thriving. Each pot contains an Empress of India, Jewel mix, and two other plants of unknown cultivar (purchased at a farmer's market). All of them were purchased as seedlings. Initially they got happier after I planted them in pots, but then there was a decline.

I'm in zone 5a, western Maine near the mountains. It has been an average to cool summer (highs varying from upper 60s to low 80s, lows in the mid-50s to mid-60s) though unusually wet. A couple of times for real downpours I hauled those giant pots into the porch because I feared the nasturtiums were getting too wet. So are they too wet? Too dry?? The leaves have been yellowing and some have been drying to brown and dying. So that makes me think the plant might have been too dry or the soil too well-drained? They also get a ton of sun, and the dark blue pots get quite hot, so I've been wondering if they're just cooking and frying in too much sun also.

I know nasturtium favor poor soil, so they are planted in poor and very well drained soil, lots of sand at the bottom. Is the soil possibly *too* poor? I'm stumped! Thanks for any help. They bring the hummingbirds so I especially love them!

(I do dead-head them, but haven't done so in the past two days so pardon the dead blossoms.)
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Jul 17, 2017 8:26 AM CST
Welcome!

Are they planted in soil from the garden? It does not work well in pots, so is not the best thing to use. Also having sand at the bottom with finer textured medium above it impedes drainage rather than helps it (I know, doesn't sound right but it's true). So it's hard to say whether they are over or under- watered. Also are there any drainage holes in the pots?

If it's not water related, they look rather "hungry". Have they been fertilized with anything? If the pot is filled mostly with sand the plants may just not be getting sufficient nutrients, even for nasturtiums. Sorry to ask so many questions but solving plant problems is usually a process of elimination of all possibilities.
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Frillylily
Jul 17, 2017 8:28 AM CST
I think it looks like too much sun.
Name: Sandy B.
Ford River, Michigan UP (Zone 4b)
(Zone 4b-maybe 5a)
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Weedwhacker
Jul 17, 2017 8:34 AM CST
I posted an answer to the same question in the "containers" forum -- but I agree with too much sun, lack of nutrients, and probably too much water. Specifically -- do the pots have drainage holes?
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Name: ilona
Lovell, Maine (Western ME near (Zone 5a)
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MissiveMaven
Jul 17, 2017 9:22 AM CST
Thanks for your answers! Sorry to have neglected this essential - yes, the pots have one large drainage hole in the middle each. I never, ever, ever plant anything in a pot without a drainage hole (thanks to disasters from years ago). After our large rains it is clear they are draining out the bottom from the wet spots below.

I had not realized sand could actually impede drainage. Wow. Thank you for that education. It is sand and rocks at the bottom, but more sand than rocks. I have been sticking my finger in the top of the soil and then at the drainage hole in the bottom, and the soil at the top usually feels dry (except after the multitudinous rains) and the soil/sand in the hole at the bottom usually feels not completely dry but not at all wet.

The soil is a mixture of soil from the garden, a tiny bit of "organic potting soil," and some dirt from our land. The latter is probably on the acidic side thanks to a profusion of white pine trees and their needles. I also wondered about being nutrient-deficient.

And I love the questions - gardening is a mystery and there are many aspects to be solved. I understand there aren't easy answers and that is part of the fun.

Sorry to post in multiple forums, I shall refrain from doing that in the future. I am coming here from a different online gardening forum where my questions just fell flat and nobody answered anything, and clearly things are more active and involved here.
Thank You!

So - I can try an experiment and move one of the pots back into a shadier area and see if the plants get happier with some shade. Also - they haven't been fertilized with anything, what is an appropriate fertilizer to use? I had read that if you use too much or inappropriate fertilizer on nasturtiums, that could encourage leaf growth instead of blossoms.

Finally, I'm all organic so would be looking only at organic fertilizer options. (We eat the flowers on our salads!) We do have our own compost so I could use that.
Name: Karen
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plantmanager
Jul 17, 2017 9:29 AM CST
I've had nasturtiums every summer in both Arizona and NM. My NM weather is close to yours. For the first time this year mine look very much like yours. They are not thriving, and I haven't changed anything. Mine were hit by some small hail the other day, so that made them look even worse.
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Name: Sue
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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sooby
Jul 17, 2017 9:42 AM CST
Nasturtiums should be able to take full sun in Maine, they generally flower better in sunnier spots. It sounds like your potting mixture could be the problem, when planting in pots garden soil does not work and the sand and rocks beneath it will not provide nutrients. I would just give them a watering with regular All Purpose Miracle Gro or an equivalent and see if there is any improvement. It would be better to pot them in commercial (or home-made without a lot of garden soil) potting mix in future, but it's too late to repot them now. The medium in pots should have the same mixture throughout, no layers. Although sand underneath impedes drainage, that assumes that there is enough water to start with. The medium at the base of a pot is usually wettish unless the pot has got dry, which it sounds like it has. You may need to be watering more, you don't want it to be bone dry. I've found nasturtiums a bit hit and miss, sometimes they do much better than others.
Name: ilona
Lovell, Maine (Western ME near (Zone 5a)
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MissiveMaven
Jul 17, 2017 9:47 AM CST
Thanks, Sooby. I'm not as northerly as you, but I kinda figured the sun in Maine wouldn't be all that strong (I used to live in SW Florida, zone 10 - now THAT was some sun).

The whole point of putting them in the pots was to get the hummingbirds closer to the windows and porch so we could watch them, and that was a very successful venture as long as the plant was blooming happily.

I appreciate the lessons learned for next year's potted nasturtiums, and I'll research some organic equivalents to Miracle-Gro for some fertilization.

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