Learn how to grow arugula, a delicious, nutritious green leafy annual vegetable that can be used in salads or cooked as a side dish.

What is Arugula

Arugula is a peppery leafy green vegetable with a mild taste and spicy bite. Its flavor comes from its seeds, which have a hint of nuttiness. Like other salad greens, arugula can be grown year-round in most climates. It’s easy to grow with a low-maintenance plant that doesn’t require much attention and tastes excellent on salads, pizza, pasta, and sandwiches.

arugula leaves fresh picked 1

Why is arugula called a rocket in Europe?

In European history, the word “rocket” describes the specialty and delicacy of wild plants growing in the Mediterranean region.
Arugula, actually called roquette in France, is an edible vegetable from the brassica family of plants, and the garden rocket is an English version of that French word. It is also known as rucola in Italy and radicchio in Spain.

How to Grow Arugula

Growing your own arugula is a great way to add variety to your meals and a healthy alternative to the salad greens you can buy in stores. When you grow your own vegetable, you can choose the types you like best and control the number of nutrients and pesticide residues you eat. Growing it, in your own garden is simple, and you don’t need much to start. All you need is some seeds and a little space to grow them in.
You can start growing by planting seeds direct in your garden. If you don’t have a garden, you can begin to grow arugula indoors and later put pots or containers on the balcony.

When and how to plant 

You can grow arugula year-round, but it is most successful to plant it in spring and fall. In the summertime, leaves become more bitter cause hot temperatures trigger flowering. Flowers are edible, too, and many people love that spicy kick, peppery flavor. The best time to start sowing seeds is in early spring.

When planting, keep in mind that arugula loves the direct sunlight but, during the summer, will tolerate light shade. It is also a frost-tolerant plant and will grow well in cooler climates as long as temperatures don’t drop below freezing. You can plant arugula in containers or pots and transplant the seedlings when they reach 3 inches tall. You can make new plantings every 2 weeks until fall or a month before the first frost for a continuous arugula supply.

baby arugula direct seeded

Sow seed

You can sow arugula seed directly where it will be planted outdoors, about 2 weeks before the last frost date in spring. You can also start planting seeds indoors for about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date. After germination, which happens in 4 to 10 days, it’s essential to keep the soil slightly moist but not wet, avoid watering the seedlings directly. When the ground has reached 4.5°C (40°F), you can transplant them to their final positions. Space them 6 inches apart and 15 inches between rows. Arranging the plants slightly off-center to the sun’s direction will help them stay upright. Once established, the plants can be cut back to maintain the desired shape and size.

Soil and watering 

Arugula can be grown in most soils as long as the soil is well-drained. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, and don’t let the ground get too cold. A soil pH of 6.1–6.7 is ideal but will tolerate various conditions. To help keep the soil from turning acidic, add compost, manure, or a lime-based fertilizer.

Although arugula can grow in almost any soil type, it performs best when grown in a well-drained garden bed.
For optimal growth, arugula should be watered daily or every other day. A good time to water is right after sunrise, while the soil is still damp. Wait until the evening, and the leaves will absorb the moisture.

Arugula needs about twice as much watering as lettuce. Watering once every two days should suffice, but you will need to water more often in dry climates. Remember to keep the soil consistently moist but not soggy.

growing arugula in containers

Fertilizing

Arugula is not a heavy feeder, so fertilizer should be applied just if there is a problem. Otherwise, leave plants alone until they show signs of a second or third set of leaves. If you notice plants have small leaves and starting to become yellow, the soil is probably not sufficiently amended. In that case, a soil test would be advisable, and you can fertilize with a 10-10-10 balance of organic fertilizer and water regularly.

When and how to harvest

Harvesting arugula is easy because the plant is ready to harvest in 40 days, and you can pick leaves all year long. Cut the stem where the leaf node meets the stem. Then gently pull up the leaf to gather it into a bunch. Cut the plants down at ground level or up to one inch above the soil surface.

That will allow the rocket to continue to grow but ensure the plant will not dry out. Make sure to leave the center of the plant and some leaves attached to keep the plant healthy. The greens should be fresh and crisp and should look bright green and vibrant, and the leaves can be used immediately. After picking and washing can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator in a plastic bag.

growing arugula in garden

Companion plants

Companion planting improves the growth and health of plants by growing them together. Arugula’s ideal companions are cool-season greens like lettuce, spinach, and bush beans. It is also an excellent companion to root vegetables like carrots, beets, onions, and celery. You can also plant it near herbs like dill, chives, mint, rosemary, and thyme, which will repel pests from the your garden.

Avoid planting arugula with strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and potatoes, causing these plants to prefer more acidic soil. Growing them together will result in poor growth for both plants.

Common problems 

While arugula is a fast-growing plant, it is also susceptible to many pests such as aphids, thrips, spider mites, flea beetles, and leafminers. Because these pests can reduce the crop yield, it is best to remove them from the plants.
Downy mildew disease is a fungal disease caused by two types of fungi, downy mildew, and powdery mildew. Both are found on leafy greens, so it would be advisable to wash your greens thoroughly before consuming them.
Bacterial leaf spot is a fungal disease that can infect your vegetables. It is a symptom of a wet leaf that turns red, orange, or brown and can be found anywhere on the plant.

Some facts

  • Arugula is a cool-season annual and is often grown as a cover crop to protect soil from erosion and provide nutrients to soil-building microbes.
  • The leaves are often eaten as a snack. They’re also used in salads and are often paired with tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions.
  • It has been grown for more than 2,000 years and was first cultivated in ancient Rome.
  • It is one of the most popular salad greens in the United States, accounting for about 40 percent of all salad greens sold, but it was pretty unknown till the 1990s.

arugula salad

Conclusion

In conclusion, arugula is a member of the mustard family, along with radishes and turnips, and it is a close relative of the spinach and lettuce families. Arugula is high in iron and calcium and has a mild, peppery flavor. It is best when fresh and young, so look for bunches with bright, vibrant colors. It can be harvested at any time of year but is especially easy to grow in the spring.

Arugula is an excellent source of vitamin K, folate, manganese, magnesium, fiber, and calcium, which gives it the superfood title. It has a slightly bitter taste, making it a perfect complement to tomatoes. To add to its health benefits, arugula contains more antioxidants than broccoli. It also has a high concentration of polyphenols, proven to have anti-inflammatory properties.

Frequently asked questions

Are arugula flowers edible?

Yes, flowers are edible as long as they are picked before the plant goes to seed. If the petals are left on the plant, they will dry out and fall off. Blossoms have a spicy, peppery flavor.

Why does the arugula plant have spines growing all over it?

The leaves of the arugula plant can have a natural defense mechanism that acts as a deterrent to insects and other pests. These spines are actually modified leaves that grow all over the plant. The plant uses its own natural defense system to protect itself from pests and other animals. Spikes grow when the plant reaches maturity and don’t have any soil in the pot left for further expansion. To avoid arugula becoming uneatable, harvest leaves sooner and don’t leave mature leaves to grow after the plant reach maturity.

Is arugula lettuce?

Arugula is not lettuce but a member of the mustard family. It’s often used as a substitute for lettuce in sandwiches and salads. Leaves are mildly peppery in flavor and are used to substitute for basil or cilantro in Mexican, Thai, and other Asian dishes.

Is arugula healthy?

Arugula is often recommended as a part of an overall healthy diet because it contains some of the best nutrients. It is healthy because it includes some of the highest amounts of vitamin C, especially when compared to other greens such as kale, collard greens, and turnip greens. In fact, rocket provides 90% of your daily requirement for vitamin A. Arugula is packed with phytonutrients and antioxidants that help the body fight off infections and diseases, including cancer. It is also a great source of vitamin K and fiber.