Days to germination: 4 to 8 days
Days to harvest: 30 to 40 days
Light requirements: Full sun or partial shade
Water requirements: Frequent and regular watering
Soil: Loose and fertile
Container: Well suited for container growing
Arugula is one of the many greens that are popular is salads, and it has a very distinctive flavor. It’s very peppery, and usually used rather sparingly for added flavor rather than as the main leafy green in a salad. It’s also known as Rocket, or even Rocquette.
Though not a perennial, arugula seeds itself very well so you can just let a few plants go to seed in order to produce a patch of plants that returns each year without any new planting.
Arugula is a very healthy green, and the leaves are filled with calcium, folic acid, magnesium, iron and vitamins C and A. You can eat arugula leaves either raw or cooked, and you can even add the flowers to dishes for that same zesty flavor.
Starting from Seed
Arugula can go out fairly early in the spring, but you can start seedlings indoors if you prefer though they don’t actually require the “head start”.
Fill your seedling trays with loose soil, and cover your seeds with just a light sprinkling of soil or even leave them on the surface. They need light to germinate so you don’t want to bury them too deeply. Keep them moist until they sprout.
Arugula plants are bit bigger than common greens like lettuce and will reach a height of around 3 feet. Keep that in mind so you don’t accidentally shade any other low-growing plants nearby. If you keep the leaves picked, they may not grow to this size.
Your seeds can go out into the garden as soon as the spring weather warms the soil enough that you can dig. Arugula seeds will germinate just fine in cold soil and are not bothered by a few frosts. Seedlings should be kept indoors until about a month before your last frost date because they are a bit more sensitive.
Your arugula should be planted where it will get plenty of sun, but some shade is fine (particularly in the hotter months). Dig your soil well to loosen it up, and mix in some compost too.
For spacing, keep your plants 14 to 16 inches apart. If you are sowing your seeds into the garden, you can sow more closely than that and thin out after they have sprouted. You can wait until the plants have a few leaves developed before thinning so you can actually use the pulled plants rather than wasting them.
Because you will be harvesting your arugula while the plants are fairly young, you should plan on sowing several successive crops so that you have fresh arugula through the summer. Start a new batch of seeds every week or two, and you’ll have a fairly steady supply of greens.
Arugula is fast-growing and isn’t really threatened by weeds though you should try to keep your garden as weed-free as possible to reduce the insect population.
As the hot weather arrives, your plants run the risk of over-heating and going to seed (also known as bolting). Once they do so, their leaves will be too bitter and strong tasting to eat. When its hot out, water more often and try to put up some shade to keep your plants from bolting. If you plant your greens near taller growing plants, they will slowly get more shade through the season without any extra work.
If the heat of summer puts all your plants to seed, you can continue your arugula crop by putting more seeds out a little later in the season. Arugula does very well in cooler fall weather. It can handle a light frost, so you should be able to keep growing it right until the end of fall.
If you don’t want your plants to seed themselves, you should snip off the flowers before they dry and develop into seed pods. They are extremely fertile plants if you leave them be.
Arugula can thrive with little problem in pots, around 6 inches deep and across for each plant. As the weather warms up, you can move them from a sunny location into a more shaded one to keep them from seeding too soon. Water them frequently since potted soil does dry out faster than soil in the garden.
Not only does arugula grow well in pots, it can also thrive as a potted plant indoors. Your pots can be in a sunny window, but it’s not really necessary since they prefer cooler weather. A south-facing window may actually be too sunny for arugula.
Pests and Diseases
Because of the pungent nature of the leaves, arugula is one of those plants that is seldom bothered by insect pests. Of course that doesn’t mean you can leave your plants unsupervised all summer.
Several insects that like cabbages are also found on arugula plants, with cabbageworms being the worst. They are green caterpillars that can eat a large amount of leaf in a short period of time, so keep an eye out. Pick them off when you see them, and treat your plants with a natural insecticide. If you do spray, don’t harvest any leaves for a few days and wash them well before use.
Harvest and Storage
You will want to pick your arugula leaves while they are small and young. The larger leaves are too tough and bitter for use, even if you pick them before the plants go to seed. You can cut individual leaves and let the rest of the plant keep growing, as long as you don’t strip too many leaves off at once.
Alternatively, you can cut back the entire plant when it is about 4 to 5 inches high and use your arugula in a bunch.
Once picked, you’ll want to use your arugula leaves quickly. The best way to keep them fresh is to keep unwashed leaves in a plastic bag along with piece of paper towel to absorb any extra moisture in the bag. Arugula can be kept this way for about a week, maybe 10 days.