January 18, 2006

Arugula is a unique-flavored, leafy green vegetable that has seen a recent surge in popularity. While arugula happens to be one of my favorite salad greens, not everyone is as fond of this distinctly tasting vegetable plant. 

Easy to cultivate and fast growing, the first harvest of nutritious arugula greens can be had just a few short weeks after planting. The tiny seeds are sown thickly in wide bands within rows, or scattered over the surface of a raised bed. An eighth to a quarter inch of soil or compost is all that’s needed to cover these rapidly germinating seeds.

The leafy greens can be allowed to grow without thinning the plants. Once the arugula reaches three to five inches in height you can begin harvesting by cutting with scissors or a sharp knife, about half an inch above the soil level. If you’re careful not to uproot the plants you can nurse several harvests from a single planting of this “cut and come again” crop. If allowed to run to seed, the plants will produce spicy buds and flowers that are edible.

If you’re limited to patio or balcony gardening, arugula is an excellent plant for growing in containers. I’ve even seen arugula seeds grown indoors in jars as sprouts just like you would grow alfalfa sprouts.

Arugula reminds me of cilantro or epazote in that it has a very distinct flavor and aroma when crushed. This is an unusual tasting edible plant that most people tend to either love or hate; like with cilantro there’s no middle ground here. Also like cilantro the strong flavor stands out in salads or other recipes and won’t be disguised or lost among other ingredients.

The most common kitchen use for arugula is in fresh salads, but it’s also cooked in pasta dishes, omletes, soups, and other recipes.

Arugula sometimes goes by the names of Roquette, Rocket, or Rucola. Garden catalogs offer various strains of arugula seeds but I haven’t noticed much difference in the flavor or quality of the different varieties that I’ve grown. The exception being an unusual strain called Selvatica, Sylvetta, or Wild Arugula. The leaves of this variety are deeply lobed and exhibit a stronger, more pungent flavor.

If you’re interested in growing a nutritious leafy green vegetable that’s easy to grow, and can be harvested over an extended growing season, then give arugula a little space in your next garden.

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  • dorie attard

    I love arugula and have grown it ever since we came back from Provence (where I purchased the seeds). I have one little problem – the leaves look like swiss cheese, tiny little holes throughout. If you have a solution I would appreciate hearing from you – otherwise I will continue to eat it anyway. Also I did not know you could cut it and it will continue to grow – thank you for that tip.

    hope you have a solution.


  • Kenny Point

    Dorie, I wouldn’t spray leafy greens like arugula to control insects, but floating row covers would probably work well to keep the pests from ruining the leaves of your arugula plants. Take a look at the entry at the following link for more information on using floating row covers.

  • I have heard much about Arugula but have not grown it… but I will this year. It will be my new crop for the season. Great article.

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  • D.G.

    Can this plant handle repeated freezing temps. or should I cover it when the temp. drops below 40 or so.?
    Thanks, if anyone knows…

  • Kenny Point

    Arugula will withstand repeated frosts without protection, but you should cover it during extremely cold periods if you want to extend the season and keep it growing. There is a hardy variety described as “ice-bred” and sold by Fedco Seeds that can tolerate even more extreme cold and remain in usable condition.

  • David Gestri

    Thank you Kenny Point for your info on Arugula and Cold Weather situations.!. We had approx. 3-4 days of temps. going down to the teens over night and I covered the plants (with the exception of 3 of them) and currently “ALL” of the plants are in Great Shape…I wanted to see if those Three could withstand the frost, etc. and they did better than I thought. Now that we’re Finally getting some rain, the largest of the plants is even Bluming AGAIN. I don’t know exactly which brand of Arugula I planted (other than it was organic) but it is a Hardy one for sure…Thanks again K.P.

  • Paula Morris

    How deep a pot do you need to plant arugula?

  • Paula –
    I would use at least a 6″ pot because these plants grow a pretty good tap root…I just recently pulled a couple of mine from the garden and the roots were pretty lengthly. I would probably go for a 9″ pot just to be sure.
    I cut off the flowers before they blume and just eat them right there and they Continue to flower no matter what -It’s great – they just keep going and going like there’s no tomorrow.

  • I just put some seed of Rucola in my garden from seeds I bring from Germany, I had no experience in gardening but I have good soild here… the problem is the temperature, it can get very hot in summer, I plant them under a tree (not in the roots) to give them some shade during the day, I will keep you informed how it turns out!

    Btw, how long would it take for the seeds to grow into plants? I put them in a small pot to keep track of it and then I will move them to the soil, also put some plants directly in the dirt, but i don’t know how much time to wait to see results.

    Regards and wish me luck!

  • Kenny Point

    Hi Cesar, the arugula should germinate anywhere from a few days to a week depending on the weather and growing conditions. A little shade will help during summer and there are some strains that will tolerate the heat better than others. Good Luck!

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  • Aaron

    Thanks for the great article. I started arugula in a pot about two weeks ago. It sprouted in two days, and rapidly grew to ~2 inch stalks with two leaves at the top. Unfortunately it then stagnated and hasn’t grown much for a week. I’m keeping the soil damp but well drained, and noticed it isn’t taking up as much water as I expected. The temperatures have been pretty normal (highs up to 85, lows down to 50), but could this be a form of bolting (no flowers yet)? Any advice?

  • My advice is… give them time, they have a slow start, my plants are growing fast now, its been 2 months maybe since I plan them, and now thay look big enough to make a salad 🙂

    A new question, how do I get seed from the flowers to get new plants? I want to make them grow into the wild around here 🙂

  • Mike

    Planted arugala in a small garden.
    In addition to leaves, they grew tall stalks about 18″ tall with white flowers.
    Should this be trimmed down to only leaves or allow the tall stem and flowers to remain.

  • Kenny Point

    Mike, if you leave the stalks and flowers the arugula will produce seeds and may even reseed a new crop for you. Either way at this stage leaf production and quality will be declining so you may want to just pull the plants and use the space to grow more arugula or something else.

  • Pat

    I planted arugula plants 3-4 weeks ago and they have grown to 5 or more inches, but are very thin stalks with few leaves. They have started to flower and I removed the blossoms. Should i cut them back to 2-3 inches and harvest leaves?

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