- Author: Ardis Neilsen
- Editor: Noni Todd
By Ardis Neilsen UCCE Master Gardener
Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Arugula
Common Name: arugula or rocket
Scientific Name: Eruca vesicaria
Planting Area: USDA 3-11
Size:width - 5 to 12 inches, height - 4 to 18 inches
Growing Season: annual, fall and spring
Exposure: full sun, partial shade in hotter climates
Water Needs: regular watering
Arugula, a Mediterranean native plant, is a tasty salad green which continues to grow in popularity. Eaten raw or cooked, arugula's mild peppery, nutty taste is addictive to many, but intensely disliked by others.
Arugula's lobed leaves are loaded with vitamins A, C, K and folate plus multiple minerals.
Ancient Egyptians and Romans used arugula leaves and seed oil for medicinal purposes and as an aphrodisiac. For a short time, European monasteries would not allow arugula to be grown onsite due to its alleged side effects. Arugula seed oil continues to be used today for medicinal and cosmetic applications.
Whether propagated by seed or nursery seedlings,this cool season plant grows best during spring and fall.
Start planting seeds one week before the last frost is expected to occur. Even if planted in February, arugula seeds will germinate in 40-degree Fahrenheit soil. Arugula grows best in nutrient-rich, slightly acidic soil (pH 6- 7), well-drained loamy soil.
Seeds should be planted 1/4 inch deep and covered with moistened soil. Germination occurs in ten days. After seedlings emerge, thin to six inches apart.For a continual harvest, sow seeds every three weeks until summer heat intensifies, or frost occurs, which stops growth. Arugula will tolerate a light freeze but grows best when temperatures range from 45 to 70 degrees.
Arugula varietals differ in flavor and appearance. Depending on the variety, harvest occurs in four to seven weeks. Nursery seedlings can be harvested as soon as 10 days. To harvest, cut young leaves at two to three inches long when they are most tender and sweet. For continued plant growth, cut the outer leaves at the plant's base, leaving the crown intact. Second and third growth cycles can occur with proper maintenance.
Regular watering is recommended for optimum flavor. Water as soon as the top inch of soil feels dry. Plants will bolt without consistent watering. Arugula can grow well in arid climates if enough water is provided.
Arugula needs six hours of direct sunlight or partial shade in warmer climates. Arugula is a small plant with a shallow root system and grows well in containers, which allows for moving plants out of direct sun to extend their growing season.