We grow arugula year-round in our garden. And this flavorful leafy salad green has become one of our favorites.
Homegrown arugula packs a wonderfully peppery flavor that store-bought produce comes nowhere near to delivering. And this combination of lots of flavors and being relatively easy to grow makes arugula an ideal choice for home gardeners.
Today, we will focus on arugula (Eruca vesicaria subsp. sativa), an annual and the most common variety of arugula. There is, however, also a wild arugula variety (perennial) named Wall-rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) that is more heat tolerant, slower growing, and with a less intense mild flavor.
Arugula is an ideal vegetable to grow when you have limited space. Arugula packs a strong peppery flavor and you will find that a little goes a long way. And these are the types of herbs and vegetables we should grow with limited space. Other herbs and vegetables with lots of character and flavor include cilantro/coriander, dill, basil, horseradish, garlic, chives, lemongrass and shallots to mention but a few.
Arugula is a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae) and is most often grown as an annual. Arugula is also called rocket, including variations such as roquette.
- How to plant arugula seeds
- Where should I plant arugula seedlings?
- How to care for arugula plants
- How and when to harvest arugula
- How to grow arugula for continual harvest
How to plant arugula seeds
Start planting seeds in starter pots indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost or directly outdoors (in situ) 1-2 weeks before the last frost.
Arugula is a cool-weather plant and will thrive in the shoulder or cool seasons of early spring and fall. Arugula will grow well in temperatures around 10-18 Celsius (50-65 Fahrenheit).
Arugula plants tend to get stressed, bolt, and set flowers prematurely during warm weather. When the plant bolts, the growth of new tender leaves will stop, and the existing leaves turn bitter.
Sow in moist, well-drained soil with a spacing of approximately 3 cm / 1 inch between seeds. Plant seeds about 0,5 cm (1/4 inch) deep. As seedlings emerge, thin seedlings for plants to grow approximately 15 cm / 6 inches apart.
If planting in rows, space rows approximately 40 cm / 15 inches apart.
Arugula plants develop shallow root systems why it is crucial to water to keep the soil at a consistent moisture for your plants to grow and thrive. Bottom watering the pots is another technique to help ensure the soil absorbs enough moisture.
Arugula seeds have a high germination rate, and results of 80% or more are not unusual. Germination starts between 5 – 15 days to complete.
Where should I plant arugula seedlings?
We grow arugula in raised garden beds, pots, containers, and ebb-and-flow hydroponic grow systems. Here are 4 tried and tested ways to grow arugula at home – indoors and outdoors.
1. How to grow arugula in your vegetable garden
Avoid growing arugula in direct sunlight. Arugula is a cool season plant and prefers half shade to full sun exposure. Choose a spot in your vegetable garden that is at least in partial shade.
Arugula is a fast-growing plant ideal for planting in-between rows of slower-growing plants in the Brassicaceae family, like broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
This is another reason why we love growing arugula. Arugula does not need direct sun to grow like many other plants, including tomatoes, chilies, basil, Padron peppers, etc.
2. How to grow arugula in pots and containers
You can, of course, continue to grow arugula in pots or containers to be placed indoors or outside. As the arugula roots grow shallow, the pot does not have to be deep.
But remember that pots need a certain depth and volume of soil to retain moisture and not dry out too quickly.
If you grow arugula in pots (or containers), ensure they have adequate drainage holes.
3. How to grow arugula in raised garden beds
You can also plant arugula in raised beds in your garden. It is essential to maintain a good and even moisture level for arugula to grow and thrive.
Remember to water more often, as raised garden beds dry out more quickly than a ground-level vegetable garden.
4. How to grow arugula hydroponically
Arugula grows well in hydroponic systems, including Ebb and Flow systems and Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems.
We have had success pre-germinating arugula in rock wool cubes and directly in DWC net pots using LECA as a medium.
Read our beginner’s guide to hydroponics to learn how to grow arugula and other herbs and vegetables using water as a medium in the article DIY Hydroponics for beginners.
How to care for arugula plants
Arugula develops a shallow root system, and you must keep the soil moist.
Avoid getting water on the leaves when watering, as wet leaves will increase the risk of attracting pests and diseases.
Instead, water at the base of the plant or, when possible, bottom water your pots and containers. Avoid planting too densely as it makes caring for the plant more difficult.
Use garden fabric when planting arugula
You should use protective garden fabric from day 1 when you grow arugula outdoors.
Cover your crops with garden fabric (or row covers) to protect against the sun and heat and pests and insects attracted to cabbage-type plants. Simply drape the cover over your plants or use a simple wood or plastic tube structure to support the netting.
The netting looks like tulle, and the material can be bought at garden centers or any fabric store to save money. The cover will protect against sun and insects and wind, heat, dry outs, and cold on frosty mornings early in the year.
Covered adequately with garden fabric, our plants have survived freezing temperatures for short periods.
Water and nutrition help arugula grow
Arugula needs nutrition and frequent watering to grow and deliver a good harvest. There are slow-growing varieties of arugula, but the most common and popular types grow fast.
You want to stimulate fast growth as it helps develop the characteristic peppery flavor and a crisp texture.
Mulching with fresh grass clippings or other organic compost materials is a good alternative as it adds nutrition while helping to retain soil moisture.
If you succession grow arugula, you must fertilize in-between each batch you plant, or you will end up with poor growth and tired-looking yellow leaves.
How and when to harvest arugula
Arugula is a popular leafy vegetable that should be harvested continually. Arugula takes 25-30 days to develop, and leaves are harvested from outside-in.
You should harvest the outer leaves from outside-in to protect the newer younger leaves as they emerge.
Another method is to simply grab the plant and cut a bunch of leaves using a sharp knife or scissors.
Harvesting arugula for cut and regrow
Harvesting arugula leaves for cut and regrow will work, but you will experience a diminishing rate of return with fewer and fewer leaves to harvest. As we succession sow arugula, we rarely harvest with re-growth in mind.
The first stage of harvesting will actually take place when you thin out the weaker seedlings as they develop. These delicate leaves are delicacies and are sold as baby arugula in grocery stores.
How to grow arugula for continual harvest
You can grow arugula indoors year-round in soil and hydroponic grow systems.
Plant arugula seeds outdoors from January to June and then again from August to December. This effectively means that the growing season extends for the entire year, with the exception of the month of July when the weather is too hot.
Seeds will germinate at temperatures as low as 5 Celsius (41 F), and the plant will even survive mild frosts if protected.
You can plant arugula every 2-3 weeks outdoors throughout the year as long as you use protective covering during the colder periods of the year.
How to harvest arugula seed pods
To harvest your own seeds, allow the plant to flower and collect the seed pods as they develop.