A peppery salad leaf, arugula (Eruca Sativa), aka rocket or eruca, is the perfect addition to a vegetable garden and is ideal for adding some ‘zing’ to many summer salads.
Part of the brassica family, arugula is hardy and quick and easy to grow. It can be grown in pots or in the garden and also does well in greenhouses, in conservatories or on windowsills – in fact, it will happily grow almost anywhere it has some sun! Another advantage of growing arugula is that bees are huge fans of its flowers, making it a great addition to an eco-conscious garden.
While your arugula plant will need to be kept moist and fed weekly, it isn’t too hard to grow, and its fast growth and plentiful harvest make it an excellent introduction to growing salad leaves for even novice or young gardeners.
As well as the regular arugula that we all know and love, there are several varieties you might like to try out:
- Wild Arugula shows a different leaf type and is much stronger in taste. This means your leaves will go further, but it isn’t ideal for more delicate dishes.
- Skyrocket is a fast-growing type of wild rocket and more fragrant than the regular kind.
- Apollo is a good all-rounder, with a great, well-rounded taste.
- Runway is also a good, easy, and fast to grow variety
There is also a new variety called Pegasus Seeds, which grows very quickly and is ideal for hot and dry conditions.
How to Grow Arugula
Rocket is best grown from seed, and can be grown in containers, raised beds, or as companion plants in and around your garden. Read on for step-by-step instructions plus tips on how to grow arugula best like a pro.
Is it easy to grow Arugula?
Yes! Growing arugula is easy. This plant is a great introduction to growing salad leaves for novice and young gardeners. You can also easily grow rocket indoors.
What conditions do you need to grow Arugula?
Arugula is generally a low maintenance plant, preferring a rich, well-drained soil and full or partial sun. Soil should be prepared before planting with compost and mulch. A nitrogen-rich liquid feed may be used weekly, to help boost growth and keep flea beetles at bay.
In the height of summer, too much sun can cause the leaves to turn bitter in taste and tough to eat. To avoid this, consider planting it in pots or containers which can be moved. Alternatively, you could consider growing it as a companion plant to taller plants, which can help provide some cover in the heat of summer.
Remember, if you are growing rocket indoors you need to place it somewhere sunny!
When should you plant Arugula?
Arugula seeds may be started out in a greenhouse or conservatory in very early spring. Then new seeds should be planted out every fortnight to ensure a regular supply of leaves. If growing outdoors, sow from mid-spring in a site that receives partial or full sun. Fall and winter crops can be grown in a greenhouse or indoors by planting seeds in early Fall.
How to grow Arugula: step-by-step instructions
Growing Argula is pretty simple. Let’s get started:
- Preparation – Buy some arugula seeds (widely available) and choose your planting spot. You’ll want to choose a sunny spot, ideally with rich soil.
- Planting – Arugula should be planted in rows 6″ apart, with around 3″ between each seed in the row. Continue planting out thorough the Spring and Summer and even into early Fall for a continuous supply.
- Care – Water freshly planted seeds with a gentle mist or spray. Drench them thoroughly and then keep the soil moist but not saturated through the growing time. Keep the area well weeded, and thin and de-flower plants regularly to prevent any from running to seed.
- Harvest – When harvesting, do not pick leaves from just one plant. Instead, pick a few leaves from each plant to help ensure young, tender leaves are always available. Aim to harvest only when you need it – arugula does not keep well.
Other Growing tips
Get the best results possible by following these additional tips:
- Thin out seedlings as they grow, to allow adequate space to grow and to prevent the plants from running to seed.
- Water carefully – a lack of water will lead to your arugula developing an unpleasant bitter taste. However, overwatering will dilute the naturally peppery taste of arugula plants.
- Watch out for flea beetles, a pest that has a taste for arugula. The best way to counter them is to try and grow the plants under fleece until they are well established and can outgrow the nuisance. As this is a plant that goes directly from garden to plate, the use of pesticides is best avoided.
- To ensure the plants keep from going to seed, pinch out arugula flowers as the appear.
- Any plants that do go to seed may be picked and dried out with the seed heads facing downwards. Once dry, shake them out and store the arugula seeds in an airtight container for use the following year.
- Older and younger arugula leaves taste different. Typically most people prefer younger leaves; try them and see the difference for yourself then harvest accordingly.
Arugula is a ‘cut and come again’ crop – meaning you snip off what you need and leave the rest of the plants be until you next need some. Your plants should be good to harvest from four weeks after sowing.
Arugula is very popular in Italian cookery, where the dressed leaves are eaten as a salad, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. Older, larger leaves may also be cooked in a soup or used to garnish many meat and vegetable dishes; they also make an interesting alternative to spinach. It is also a key ingredient in green pesto, where it is combined with olive oil, parmesan, garlic, and pine nuts.
Arugula flowers can also be used as a pretty edible garnish. The rocket leaves are a great source of vitamins A and C and potassium and are also high in sulforaphane, a compound often used for detoxiying.
Arugula is best picked at the time of eating and does not like to be stored, but may, at a push, be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days in a salad drawer. Regular picking ensures leaves stay at their best, in terms of taste. Freshly made pesto may be stored in lidded jars in the refrigerator for up to a week.