Arugula is an amazing source of vitamins A, C, and K. Over the years, these peppery, tart-tasting leaves have become a signature part of Italian cuisine. In a salad, bright green arugula leaves are a perfect addition for an added punch of flavor. And if you’re growing arugula at home, you’ll be able to have a constant supply!
Historians believe that arugula was once referred to as “oroth”, a green leaf that was referenced in the Old Testament of the Bible. Indeed, this lovely plant was grown throughout the Mediterranean region during Roman times.
Also popular during the Middle Ages in Britain, it was then referred to as rocket or garden rocket. The French called it roquette, possibly inspiring the name of rocket.
It’s a fascinating plant, and we think you’ll love growing and consuming these greens!
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Quick Care Guide
Growing arugula is surprisingly simple in the cool months of the year. Source: JasonUnbound
|Common Name(s)||Garden rocket, rocket salad, rugula, colewort, rucola, roquette|
|Scientific Name||Eruca vesicaria or Eruca sativa|
|Days to Harvest||40-60 days|
|Light||Full sun to partial shade|
|Water:||Even, consistent moisture|
|Soil||Humus-rich, well draining soil|
|Fertilizer||Once to twice per growing season|
|Pests||Flea beetles and aphids|
|Diseases||Downy mildew, bacterial leaf spot, damping off|
All About Arugula
Eruca vesicaria is the botanical name for arugula. At one point, it was also referred to as Eruca sativa. In fact, there are close to 40 different botanical names which have been used over time to refer to it. But if this seems confusing, you can also refer to it as garden rocket, roquette, colewort, rugula, rucola, or even just arugula.
Its origins are in the Mediterranean, stretching from Turkey, Syria and Lebanon on the eastern edge all the way west to Portugal and Morocco. A member of the Brassicaceae plant family, it shares its genetics with other cruciferous vegetables ranging from kale to cabbage, mustard to broccoli. Leaning more towards the mustard side of the family, these salad greens have exploded into the international marketplace.
This leafy annual often stays around a foot to two feet tall, although it can range anywhere from 8” to nearly 40” in height. The leaves are pinnate and often are 2-3” long, attached to slender stems. They’re often described as being like a longer, narrower lettuce leaf. Rocket produces inflorescences of white flowers with purplish veins running through them. As the flowers go to seed, they form long, tight seed pods.
Both the leaves and the flowers are eaten. The seeds can also be eaten, but are often pressed to make taramira oil instead.
Some sources claim that arugula was said to be an aphrodisiac by the Romans. It’s rumored to have been disallowed in monastery gardens because of this claim. However, lettuce was supposed to soothe one’s passions, and thus arugula was often blended into mixed salads so that it couldn’t inflame someone too much!
Aphrodisiac or not, this vitamin-packed green is assuredly a popular fixture in Italian cuisine and has claimed popularity worldwide as well.
Baby rocket can be harvested when very young, or allowed to grow to maturity. Source: bmevans80
There’s no question that you’ll want to give a good start to your arugula. How to grow it follows below!
When To Plant
For most growers, two seasons are ideal to grow arugula. Plant arugula seeds as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring for an early-year crop. When it dies back in summer, wait for the weather to cool and replant in the fall for a second harvest. As soon as the soil begins to freeze, it will die back again, so harvest before frosty conditions come.
If you want a continual harvest, sow seeds every 2-3 weeks throughout the season to have a never ending supply of fresh leaves to eat.
Where To Plant
You’ll need an area of the yard which is protected from extreme heat or cold, but that gets at least partial sun. This plant is forgiving of somewhat shady conditions as long as there’s bright ambient light, but won’t perform well in scorching heat, so pick your location accordingly.
Container growing is also an option. In fact, growing it in containers allows you to move your plant to optimize its placement depending on your local weather conditions. It will grow well both indoors and out as long as it has enough bright light.
How To Plant
Sow seeds about ¼” deep and about an inch apart. If planting multiple rows, space rows at least 10 inches apart for good outward development and to allow ample room for healthy root development.
Once germination occurs, thin out the seedlings. Keep arugula plants 4 inches apart if growing for young leaves, 6” if going for mature leaves or seeds.
It is possible to broadcast-sow arugula, with or without other greens, to create a thick and lush bed to harvest from. This technique works best for leaf lettuces, mustards, or other related plants. Be sure to harvest from these beds regularly to allow for more plant development.
Starting seeds in advance and transplanting young plants out is not impossible, but may be tricky. It’s easier to sow where you plan to have your arugula growing.
A raised bed provides an excellent location for growing arugula. Source: faeanna
So now that you know how planting arugula works, what conditions do you need to grow arugula in your garden for the best spring or fall harvest? Let’s discuss what your plants will need.
Sun and Temperature
Full sun to partial shade is best when you grow arugula. Six to seven hours of daily sunlight is required for them to grow. They can accept indirect, but bright lighting in lieu of direct full sun, making them an excellent choice for some of your partially-shaded garden areas.
A cool weather plant, arugula greens develop best in temperatures ranging between 45-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the weather in the garden reaches the 80’s or higher, it will frequently bolt to flower and seed production. Once it produces seed, the plant dies off.
Arugula is tolerant to mild frosts, but can become damaged and die back in true freezing conditions. If you’re in a mild climate, you may be able to grow it all winter long to have a constant supply.
Water & Humidity
Even, consistent moisture is best to grow arugula. Water the plants in the morning, as this allows plenty of time for leaf surfaces to dry out in the sun. Mulching the garden can also help conserve soil moisture and reduce watering frequency. A drip irrigation system or soaker hose underneath the mulch can make watering easy.
Your arugula will grow well in tower gardens, containers, or directly in beds. Source: Bekathwia
Humus-rich, well-draining soil is what your plants will prefer. However, they’re tolerant of a wide range of garden soil types as long as they retain moisture.
If you have sandy soil, amend it heavily with compost and horse manure or cow manure to provide extra moisture retention. Worm castings can also be applied for additional moisture retention.
Hard-packed clay should be broken up by a lot of compost or manure as well. This will reduce the likelihood that it will become hard and prevent easy root development.
The pH level for your arugula should be neutral, with a 6.0-7.0 range considered ideal. But they will tolerate slight acidity to slight alkalinity as well.
Provide a balanced fertilizer for your arugula plants to ensure they have what they need to develop healthy young leaves. A dry granular formula can be applied once or twice during the growing season (whether spring or fall). Alternately, use diluted liquid fertilizers at the base of the plant as needed to keep the greens healthy.
Arugula doesn’t need pruning, as you’ll be harvesting it regularly to eat it! But if you do end up with too much to eat, pinch off any yellowing leaf material. Make sure that your older plants have a space between them, at least a few inches apart, to allow for good airflow around them. If they’re clustered too closely together, you may encounter various plant disease issues.
At the end of the growing season, your plants will die back due to either heat in the summer or freezing conditions in the winter. At those times, remove the plants and prepare the bed for a different crop, or cover-crop it until it’s time to plant again.
Arugula seeds from unreliable sources may be carriers of some fungal diseases. Be sure to purchase seeds from reliable sources or that have been treated with fungicides. This prevents those fungal issues from spreading to your soil.
Since this is a plant that usually only thrives in a mild climate, it’s best to start from seed. While it is theoretically possible to grow arugula from just the base and roots of the plant, the arugula will be stressed from the loss of its leaves and will often bolt to flowering. Instead of taking cuttings, plant seeds 1-2 inches apart.
Harvesting and Storing
Popular in salads, arugula has a slightly peppery, tangy flavor. Source: avrene
Now you’ve got an abundance of healthy young leaves. So how do you harvest these arugula leaves and keep them fresh? Let’s discuss that!
Whether you’re going for a spring or fall harvest, you’ll use the same methods for harvesting. Try to harvest a third of each plant or less if you want to use a cut-and-come-again method to extend that plant’s productivity for a longer period of time. A younger and smaller leaf will be softer and more tender than the older ones.
You can harvest arugula when it’s very young for baby greens, and they’re a great addition to any salad. As the leaves get older, their flavor is more pronounced and reminiscent of mustard greens with a slightly peppery bite.
If your plant has flowered, the leaves on the plant will tend to be much more bitter. They may also be tough, but they’re still edible if you want to get one last meal from the plant.
Looking to harvest arugula seeds? Wait for the plant to flower and form seed pods. Once those dry out, cut off the pods and keep them somewhere to completely dry out before popping them open to save the seed.
Rinse off your fresh harvest to make sure no garden pests or dirt is on them, and blot all leaf surfaces dry with a paper towel. Then, use a long strip of paper towel and lay your leaves on it, gradually rolling them up into a neat bundle with all the leaves surrounded by towel. Moisture is the enemy when storing any greens, and this reduces the likelihood of condensation forming.
Place your rolled up arugula into a storage bag or container in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Unfortunately, there aren’t viable ways to provide long-term storage for these greens that don’t make them unappetizing or cause them to lose flavor, so stick with fresh.
Arugula flowers look a bit like wildflowers. Source: Tracy27
Like all salad greens, you are likely going to find pests trying to snack on them, or disease issues appearing on leaf surfaces. Let’s talk about any problems you may face!
Most of the non-pest or disease-related issues with arugula revolve around the weather. It’s very much a cool-weather crop, and once the temperature goes up, it will bolt and go to seed very quickly. To get an early-season crop, sow your seeds very early in the spring. They’ll need 40-60 days to become fully mature, but you can begin cut-and-come-again harvesting earlier than that.
The worst pest of arugula for many is the flea beetle. These hungry little pests chew holes in the leaves. Their larvae live in the soil and will gnaw on roots. It’s absolutely essential to prevent these from taking hold in your garden. Neem oil and pyrethrin sprays are effective organic treatments against flea beetles, although pyrethrin seems to be more effective at killing them.
Aphids are the other major issue you’ll encounter. The cabbage aphid, green peach aphid, and potato aphid are all drawn to your growing arugula plants. These garden pests spread disease and suck the moisture out of the plants. Neem oil, pyrethrin, or insecticidal soap are effective control methods.
One of the most common diseases on arugula is downy mildew. This causes yellowish spotting on the upper surfaces of the leaf, with a grey mildew or mold-like substance underneath. It’s easily treated with organic liquid copper fungicide. You can prevent the development of downy mildew with regular applications of neem oil.
When the temperature is warm and there’s a lot of humidity in the air, plants are at risk of developing bacterial leaf spot. Usually a Pseudomonas species, this bacteria has no organic cure available. Treatment if discovered is to remove infected leaves, then spray the remainder of the plant weekly with a liquid copper fungicide to ensure that any remaining spores can’t spread.
Finally, damping off caused by Pythium fungi in the soil can be a real issue for very young arugula plants. Plant in sterile soil when possible so that you aren’t at risk of planting in contaminated soil. If growing arugula in an older bed, pre-treat the seeds and planting area with beneficial mycorrhizae such as MycoStop to reduce the likelihood of the pythium attacking. Remove plants that show signs of damping off. Avoid growing arugula leaves in areas where this has happened previously.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long does arugula take to grow?
A: After germination, arugula can take anywhere from 45-60 days to grow.
Q: Does arugula regrow after cutting?
A: Yes, it can. However, it needs to have some of its leaves left to regrow. If you want to continually harvest from a single plant, take ⅓ or less of the plant at a time. Plants which have had all of the foliage removed may immediately try to go to seed production rather than replenish their leafy greens.
Q: Can you eat arugula after it flowers?
A: Arugula leaves tend to become bitter and a little tough once the plant has flowered. For best flavor and texture, harvest from plants that haven’t flowered. They’re still edible once they’ve flowered, just not as favorable!
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