Growing Arugula

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growing arugula in the garden

arugula transplants newly planted in the garden

Set out young arugula plants 12 to 18 inches apart.

Long popular in France and Italy, the leaves of arugula provide a spicy zap when added to a salad. This is the same plant sold in cellophane bags in the grocery store and usually labelled ‘baby arugula.’ However, we think that by growing arugula yourself, you’ll experience much more (and better) flavor. You decide! You can also saute or steam the leaves like spinach or other leafy greens. Plants look a little like dandelions, but are bigger and more open. Leaves grow best in cool weather. Leafy plants grow 6 to 12 inches tall while in the harvest stage.

In the Garden

Arugula (Eruca vesicaria) is a green with zip. Sometimes called rocket or roquette, arugula should be planted in the garden in early spring or fall. It will grow in a rosette about a foot wide and equally tall. Like leaf lettuce, mustard, or collards, arugula stretches skyward in hot weather, blooming and setting seeds. You can pull it up when plant start to send up a bloom stalk from the center, or you can continue harvesting the leaves until they taste too strong. Some gardeners cut the plants back to get another harvest as it tries to grow back. The bloom stalks may grow 24 to 36 inches tall and have little white flowers on top. These are edible and look pretty in a salad. Flowering signals that the season is ending for arugula and you can replace it with a warm weather crop, unless you want to try cutting it back and eating it just a little longer.

Soil, Planting, and Care

Arugula grows fast. Set plants in the sunny garden in early spring for spring harvest or late summer for fall harvest. Plants prefer the cooler days of spring or fall. Like any leafy green, arugula requires a rich soil to make its best growth. Before planting, add compost to the soil. Then apply a timed-release fertilizer at the rate directed on the label for lettuce or other leafy greens, or fertilze with Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food. Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart.

Troubleshooting

arugula plant growing white flowers

As arugula flowers in late spring to early summer, the flavor of the leaves becomes much more intense.

When flowering begins in late spring or early summer, the flavor becomes more intense. At some point it may be stronger than you like, which means its time to take it out and wait for the next cool season to plant (early spring or fall).

Harvest and Storage

larger arugula plants growing in the garden

As arugula plants grow larger, their taste gets stronger, more peppery.

Pick only the outer leaves, so the plant remains intact and usable for weeks to come. This cut-and-come again harvest keeps the plant yielding lots of leaves until the plants flower. Harvest often to encourage new growth.

Uses

arugula leaves harvested in basket

Harvest arugula leaves often to add peppery flavor to salads.

Arugula is considered a vegetable when it is cooked and eaten like spinach, or it can be used more sparingly as an herb to flavor a salad, meat, or pasta sauce. It is not for those who prefer mild flavor like that of an Iceberg lettuce salad; it calls for an adventuresome palate. Try the leaves in some of our arugula recipes. Add arugula flowers to salads in late spring or summer as the plants grow a tall bloom. At this point the leaves may be more pungent than you like, but try them just in case.

FAQs

When is the best time to plant arugula?

Arugula is a cool-season annual, meaning that it is good in spring or fall. Plant in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. Like any herb or vegetable that needs to grow green leaves, arugula will benefit from compost and/or fertilizer. Water when the soil gets dry. Then all you need to do is enjoy its distinctive, seasonal flavor.

Do you have any suggestions for harvesting and using arugula?

Harvest the outer leaves while the plant is still growing in a tight rosette close to the ground. Blend them with mild-flavored lettuces. Once arugula begins to bloom, the flavor can grow stronger. That’s when you need to add other greens and fresh herbs such as dill, basil, and thyme to flavor your salads. Introduce newcomers to tender leaves picked from young plants.

How do I keep the flavor of arugula from growing so strong?

Young arugula tastes milder, and larger, more mature arugula tastes stronger. There are two ways to approach your problem. First, you can plant arugula every couple of weeks to ensure a continuous supply of mild but flavorful young leaves. On the other hand, you can harvest more leaves, so the plant needs to continually replace the old with new. Either way, you will need to replant periodically. Remember, arugula is like lettuce. It flowers in hot weather, so unless you live where the summer is cool, you will only have homegrown arugula in spring and fall.

12 thoughts on “Growing Arugula

  1. Last year I had small flies all over my arugula, eating holes in all the leaves. I’ve discovered them again in my indoor pots – I am going to pour strong bleach water into all my indoor plants before tipping the soil out and bleaching the containers and starting again. But what do I do if I get the same flies this year? I suspect they are living in the soil.

    • Hi Lori,
      You may have fungal gnats. Fungal gnats live and breed in the potting media, living on organic mattuer like decaying plant material. They thrive in moist environments. To break their life cycle, let the container potting media dry – at least the top couple of inches. Colorado State Uiveristy Extension has a great publication on Fungus Gnats as Houseplant and Indoor Pests with great information on these pests. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. Hi, thank you for all the great tips. I was wondering if you could help me. Two of my arugula sprouts have purple dots, and they seem to be spreading to the point where one leaf is almost entirely purple. I tried to do Internet search to figure out if I should worry about it, but no one mentions anything purple. Do you have any idea what it might be? I am starting to think that maybe I got some other seeds mixed in and they are not even arugulas. They are still very little so I can’t quite tell. :)

    -Anna

    • Hello Anna,
      I am not sure what variety of arugula you have planted, but some varieties have purple stems. Phosphorus deficiencies also show up as purpling of leaves when missing in starter soils. If this is the case, it will usually straighten out once the veggie is planted into nutrient rich soil. I hope all goes well with your seedlings. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. I just purchased several small arugula plants and planted them in my backyard garden. Its been about 2 weeks and all 4 of the plants have a long stem with a white flower. The plants are tiny with only about 5 leaves, what do I do about the long stems and flowers? How can this symbolize that the plant is done when it hasn’t even grown enough to harvest? Your help is appreciated. Thanks in NJ.

    • Hello Elizabeth,
      I would try cutting the stems and flowers off to continue getting a harvest – the flowers are edible too! Cool season veggies send up flowers in response to temperatures even when they have not produced all the leafy greens we like. Bouts of warmer weather after cool nights will trigger this. Arugula may become stronger after it has started sending up flowers, but some like the strong flavor. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. If you like arugula, you’ll love it in scrambled eggs with your favorite cheese! Just toss it in at the end of cooking time and let it wilt a little. Of course, home grown eggs make it even better!

  5. I also chop it into stir fries, omelettes, soups, and stews. It retains best flavor and texture when you add it near the end of cooking. I like to chop it and toss it onto finished dishes for a zippy garnish. It also makes a fabulous sandwich add-on! BLT’s are great with it!

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