Becky Weeks - Nov 4, 2023
The Ultimate Guide to Growing Arugula: Tips, Companion Plants, and More
If you’re like me, the hardest part of gardening is the patience required. If I plant seeds today, I want to harvest produce tomorrow! While that’s not exactly possible, there's good news for us impatient gardeners—with a little work today, you could be harvesting fresh produce in as little as two weeks! Arugula, also known as roquette or rocket, is a beloved salad green that matures quickly while adding a delightful tang to your favorite dishes. What’s more, this cool-weather crop is easy to grow, making it a fantastic addition to any garden. In this comprehensive guide, we'll explore every aspect of growing arugula, from site preparation to companion plants and even saving seeds.
Types of arugula
Before we begin, it is important to note that there are a few different types of arugula available and each will differ slightly in its flavor profile and growth habit.
Astro Arugula is known for its mild flavor and early harvest readiness, Astro Arugula is a popular choice for those who prefer a less peppery taste. It's an excellent option for salads and pairs well with a variety of other greens.
Rocket Arugula is an early variety of arugula offers tender leaves with a spicy, peppery flavor. It's a favorite among arugula enthusiasts who enjoy a zesty kick in their salads.
Sylvetta (Wild Arugula) is smaller, slower-growing, and boasts a pungent flavor. Its edible yellow flowers set it apart from the more common, white-flowered arugula varieties. Sylvetta is often used in mesclun mixes, adding complexity to salads.
Arugula is a versatile plant that doesn't demand much, making it a perfect choice for both beginner and experienced gardeners. To ensure a successful harvest, choose a well-drained spot with fertile soil. Arugula also thrives in containers or window boxes filled with a compost-based mix.
Arugula's adaptability to various soil types and growing conditions makes it a wonderful addition to any garden. Whether you have a spacious backyard or just a small balcony, you can enjoy the benefits of this flavorful leafy green.
When preparing the site for arugula, consider the following factors:
Soil Conditions:Arugula prefers well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. It thrives in a soil pH range of 6.0 to 7.0. Work some finished compost into the top 3 inches (8 cm) of the soil to improve fertility and ensure that your arugula plants have access to the nutrients they need for healthy growth.
Sunlight: Arugula enjoys full sun but can also tolerate partial shade. If you're planting it in a location with intense summer heat, providing some afternoon shade can help prevent the leaves from turning too bitter too quickly.
Water Requirements: Keep the soil evenly moist but not waterlogged. Arugula appreciates moderate and consistent watering. Ensure the soil stays consistently moist, especially during dry periods, to encourage healthy growth.
Container Gardening: If you have limited space or no access to a garden, don't worry. Arugula is perfectly suited for container gardening. You can plant it in pots or window boxes filled with a compost-based container mix. Just make sure the containers have proper drainage to prevent waterlogging.
Sowing and Growing Arugula
The process of sowing and growing arugula is straightforward, but understanding the details can help you achieve the best results. Arugula is known for its rapid growth, which means you can enjoy fresh leaves in a relatively short time.
Sowing Arugula:You can start arugula by sowing seeds directly outdoors in your garden or get a head start by sowing the seeds in cold frames or hoophouses.
• Direct Sowing: Plant arugula seeds outdoors in spring as soon as the soil is workable. You can make additional plantings every three weeks as long as the cool weather lasts. For a winter harvest, sow the seeds in mid-fall.
• Indoor Starting: Starting arugula indoors with the intention of transplanting is not recommended, however arugula does perform quite well when sown directly into cold frames and high tunnels. Start the seeds late in the fall or early in the spring. Just be sure to provide ample ventilation on warm days.
Spacing: Proper spacing is essential to allow your arugula plants to develop well. In rows, leave about 1 inch (2.5 cm) between plants. If you are growing arugula in beds, aim for a spacing of about 6 inches (15 cm). As the plants grow, thin them progressively to 6 inches (15 cm) to provide adequate space for healthy development.
Germination:Arugula seeds typically germinate within 5-7 days. This rapid germination makes it a satisfying choice for gardeners eager to see the results of their efforts.
Temperature Requirements: Arugula prefers cooler temperatures, with a growing soil temperature range of 50-65°F (10-18°C). It can tolerate light frost, making it an excellent choice for early spring and late fall planting.
Flea beetles pose the greatest threat to arugula, and are known to chew small holes in the leaves.
Diseases, Pests, and Other Challenges
While arugula is relatively trouble-free, it can still face some challenges, such as pests and diseases. Understanding these potential issues and how to address them is crucial for a successful arugula harvest.
Common Pests: Two common pests that may affect your arugula plants are flea beetles and aphids. Flea beetles are small, jumping insects that can cause damage by feeding on the leaves. Aphids are tiny insects that can infest arugula plants, sucking sap from the leaves and causing distortion. To manage these pests, consider using organic pest control methods. Neem oil and insecticidal soap can be effective in controlling aphids. We've had particularly good luck with Safer Insect Killing Soap (no commission earned) for flea beetles. Just be sure to apply regularly until the population is controlled. You can also use row covers to protect young plants or try diatomaceous earth as a natural deterrent.
Heat:Arugula's leaves can turn bitter in hot weather, especially when it experiences long days and high temperatures. To harvest your arugula before it becomes too bitter, it's essential to give your plants fertile soil and keep them well-watered.
If you live in an area with scorching summers, consider growing arugula in the spring and again after the summer's heat breaks. Alternatively, you can overwinter your arugula plants for a winter harvest in milder climates.
Regular Sowings: To ensure a continuous supply of fresh arugula, make frequent sowings, preferably every three weeks. This practice will help you enjoy a steady harvest throughout the growing season.
Baby arugula is usually ready to harvest in just 2-3 weeks.
Harvest and Storage
Arugula is known for its rapid growth, and you'll be able to start harvesting its leaves when they reach about 2 to 3 inches in length. This typically occurs two to three weeks after the plants germinate. Here's how to harvest and store your arugula:
Harvesting: You can choose to harvest individual leaves or entire plants. For the best flavor, pick the leaves when they are young and tender. The leaves retain their good taste until the plant starts to bolt. Don't forget that arugula flowers are also edible, so consider letting some plants blossom and adding the flowers to your salads for a unique touch.
Storage: To keep your arugula fresh, store it in the refrigerator. Place the harvested leaves in a plastic bag or container with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Stored this way, arugula can last for several days, allowing you to enjoy its fresh, peppery flavor.
Can you eat arugula seed pods?
Did you know that virtually all parts of the arugula plant are edible? The immature seed pods have a crisp, radish-like flavor and make a great garnish for salads. They can also be pickled much like asparagus or capers. Even the seeds themselves can be eaten. In fact, mature arugula seeds are frequently used in Indian and Persian cuisine where they are traditionally known as "Gargeer".
Other greens, like spinach, lettuce, and chard, make excellent companions for arugula and their flavor profiles are complementary when used in spring mixes.
Companion planting can significantly benefit your arugula crop. Here are some plants that pair well with arugula and how they can help each other:
Bush Beans: Bush beans fix nitrogen in the soil and provide shade, which can protect arugula from harsh sun rays and prevent soil moisture evaporation.
Alliums (Onions, Garlic, Chives): Members of the allium family deter pests like aphids and cabbage whitefly while adding delicious flavor to your dishes.
Swiss Chard: When planted alongside arugula, Swiss chard can be harvested young alongside the spicy arugula greens or allowed to grow larger, providing shade for the arugula. Both plants also share a preference for well-moistened soil.
Spinach: Spinach and arugula have similar growing needs, making them perfect companions in the garden. They both thrive in cool soil with ample moisture.
Lettuce: Lettuce is another cool-weather companion plant that can provide shade for arugula as it grows. The flavors of these two greens complement each other nicely in salads. Lettuce varieties come in a range of colors and textures, making your garden visually appealing and flavorful.
Carrots: Carrots are excellent companion plants for arugula, providing much-needed shade from the greens. This helps prevent the arugula from bolting early, which can be frustrating for gardeners.
Beets: When paired with arugula, beets offer several advantages. Their roots grow underground, so they won't compete with your arugula for nutrients. Additionally, the leafy tops of the beets provide shade for the arugula and help retain soil moisture. Beets and arugula are truly a winning team, offering countless advantages for your garden.
Cucumbers: Cucumbers and arugula may seem like an odd pairing, but they make great companion plants. Cucumbers can provide shade for arugula, which is especially important during hot summer months when arugula can wilt and bolt quickly. The cucumber leaves will help shield the delicate arugula leaves from the scorching sun, keeping them happy and healthy.
Herbs (Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Basil, Dill): Various herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme, basil, and dill, can act as natural pest repellents for your arugula crops. These herbs not only add flavor to your dishes but also keep common pests at bay. In addition, some of these herbs can attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings, which help maintain a healthy and vibrant garden.
Borage: Borage is an excellent companion plant for arugula, providing essential shade during hot summer months and acting as a natural flea beetle deterrent. Additionally, borage's beautiful flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden, creating a harmonious and thriving ecosystem.
Saving arugula seeds allows you to maintain a sustainable source for future plantings and experiment with different arugula varieties. To successfully save arugula seeds, it's essential to understand its reproductive characteristics and the processes involved.
Arugula Seed Basics: Arugula is an outbreeding annual, which means it bolts to seed quickly during warm days. It's important to note that while arugula is somewhat frost-hardy, it does not survive hard freezes. This makes it an ideal choice for regions with milder winters.
Reproductive Biology: Arugula flowers are self-sterile and require the assistance of insects for cross-pollination. Although arugula does not cross with any other genus or species within the Brassicaceae family, different arugula varieties can cross with one another. To ensure seed purity, it's recommended to isolate arugula varieties by at least half a mile.
Pollination: For successful pollination, consider the presence of pollinators such as bees in your garden. Bees play a crucial role in ensuring that the arugula flowers are properly pollinated, which leads to the development of seeds. Once the flowers have been pollinated, the plant will produce seed pods.
Harvesting Seeds: To harvest arugula seeds, wait for the seed pods to mature and dry on the plant. The pods will turn brown and brittle when they are ready to be harvested. Carefully collect the dried seed pods and store them in a cool, dry place.
Seed Longevity: Arugula seeds can remain viable for approximately five years when stored under suitable conditions. To maintain seed viability, store them in a cool, dry location away from moisture and direct sunlight.
In conclusion, arugula is a versatile and rewarding addition to your garden. With proper site preparation, sowing, and companion planting, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of this tangy green throughout the year. Remember to save seeds for future plantings, and experiment with companion plants to create a thriving and diverse garden. Whether you're a novice gardener or a seasoned pro, arugula is a must-have in your home garden.
This comprehensive guide provides all the information you need to successfully grow arugula, from planting the seeds to enjoying a fresh, homegrown salad. In just a few weeks, you could be harvesting fresh arugula from your own patio or garden. Now, let’s get growing!
Becky Weeks, Ph.D.
Geneticist, Gardener, Founder of Thresh Seed Co.
Becky is a geneticist with a passion for gardening. Prior to starting Thresh Seed Co., she spent fifteen years researching plant genetics and development, later applying those principles to aid in the breeding of commercial corn and soybean varieties. She lives on a farm in Iowa with her husband and three children, where she enjoys growing just about anything and experimenting with the breeding of new vegetable varieties.