Arugula 101: How to Plant, Care for, and Harvest

Arugula, by H. Zell

Arugula: Origin and Interesting Facts

Arugula, also known as rocket or roquette, is a leafy green that has been enjoyed for centuries in Mediterranean cuisine. It has a peppery, slightly bitter flavor that makes it a popular addition to salads, pizzas, and pastas.

The origin of arugula can be traced back to ancient Rome and Greece, where it was considered an aphrodisiac. It was also believed to have medicinal properties, such as improving digestion and reducing inflammation.

Arugula is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which includes other popular vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. It is a cool-weather crop that prefers temperatures between 60-65°F (15-18°C) and can be grown year-round in mild climates.

This leafy green is low in calories but packed with nutrition. It is a good source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as folate, calcium, and iron. Additionally, it contains antioxidants that can help protect against cellular damage and inflammation in the body.

Interestingly, arugula was also the first plant to be grown in space by NASA in 2014. The seeds were sent to the International Space Station, where they were grown in a special chamber under LED lights. The experiment aimed to study the effects of microgravity on plant growth and the potential for growing fresh food in space.

Arugula is a flavorful and nutritious leafy green with a rich history and interesting facts. Whether enjoyed in a salad or used as a pizza topping, it’s a versatile and healthy addition to any meal.

Choosing the Right Varieties for Your Garden

When it comes to arugula, there are a variety of options to choose from, each with their own unique flavor and texture. Some of the most popular varieties include wild arugula, roquette, and astro.

Before choosing your variety, consider the climate and growing conditions of your garden. Some types, like wild arugula, can handle cooler temperatures and are more adaptable to different soil types, while others, like roquette, prefer warmer weather and well-draining soil.

Another factor to consider is the time of year you plan to plant. Some arugula varieties, such as astro, are better suited for fall and winter planting, while others, like wild arugula, can be planted throughout the year.

When selecting your arugula seeds, pay attention to the recommended planting depth and spacing. Seeds should be planted about ¼ inch deep and spaced about 6 inches apart. For those using the metric system, that’s approximately 0.6 cm deep and 15 cm apart.

By selecting the right arugula variety for your garden and paying attention to planting depth and spacing, you’ll be on your way to a successful harvest.

Preparing the Soil for Arugula Planting

The quality of the soil is crucial to the success of your arugula plants. Before planting, you need to ensure that the soil is fertile and well-draining. Arugula grows best in loamy soil, which is a combination of sand, silt, and clay in the right proportions.

To prepare the soil, start by removing any weeds and debris from the planting area. Then, use a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of about 8-10 inches (20-25 cm). This will aerate the soil, allowing it to hold more water and nutrients.

Next, add organic matter to the soil to improve its structure and fertility. This can include compost, aged manure, or leaf mold. Spread a 2- to 3-inch (5-7.5 cm) layer of organic matter over the top of the soil, then use a garden fork or tiller to work it into the soil to a depth of about 4-6 inches (10-15 cm).

If your soil is acidic, you may need to adjust the pH level. Arugula prefers a slightly acidic soil pH of around 6.0 to 6.5. You can test your soil with a pH test kit, which can be purchased at a garden center or online. If your soil is too acidic, you can add lime to raise the pH level. If it’s too alkaline, you can add sulfur to lower the pH level.

Once you’ve amended the soil, rake it smooth and level it out. Arugula seeds are tiny and need good seed-to-soil contact to germinate, so make sure the soil is firm enough to provide this. You can use a garden roller or your feet to gently press the soil down.

Finally, water the soil thoroughly to help settle it and to provide moisture for the arugula seeds. Make sure the soil stays moist, but not waterlogged, as arugula doesn’t like to be too wet.

By taking the time to prepare the soil properly, you’ll give your arugula plants the best possible start and set them up for healthy growth and a bountiful harvest.

Sowing Arugula Seeds: Best Practices and Tips

Sowing arugula seeds is a process that requires careful attention to detail and proper technique to ensure success. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, there are several best practices and tips you can follow to ensure the best possible outcome for your arugula crop.

Before sowing arugula seeds, it’s essential to choose the right location and soil conditions for optimal growth. Arugula thrives in cool temperatures, so choose a location with partial shade to keep the soil temperature from getting too warm. The soil should be well-draining, loose, and fertile with a pH level between 6.0 and 6.5. You can amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost or aged manure, to provide the necessary nutrients for healthy growth.

When sowing seeds, it’s best to do so in early spring or late summer when temperatures are cooler. Arugula seeds should be sown about ¼ inch (0.6 cm) deep and 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart in rows spaced 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) apart. Be sure to water the soil before and after sowing the seeds to ensure the soil is moist, but not waterlogged.

Once the seeds are sown, cover the soil with a light layer of straw or mulch to keep the soil moist and cool. Arugula seeds usually germinate within 7-10 days, and you can expect to see seedlings emerge from the soil within two weeks.

As the plants grow, be sure to keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, and fertilize the plants with a balanced, organic fertilizer every 4-6 weeks. It’s also essential to thin out the seedlings to allow for proper spacing and airflow between plants. Thin the seedlings to 3-6 inches (7.6-15 cm) apart, depending on the variety of arugula you are growing.

In addition to proper spacing, arugula also benefits from regular harvesting. When the leaves are 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) long, you can begin to harvest them by cutting them off at the base of the stem. Regular harvesting encourages new growth and prevents the plants from bolting or becoming bitter.

In summary, sowing seeds requires attention to detail and proper technique. Choose the right location and soil conditions, sow the seeds in early spring or late summer, water the soil before and after sowing, and cover the soil with a light layer of straw or mulch. Keep the soil moist, thin the seedlings, and harvest the leaves regularly for best results. By following these best practices and tips, you can enjoy a healthy and bountiful crop.

Watering and Fertilizing Arugula

Proper watering and fertilization are essential for the growth and health of arugula plants. In this chapter, we will cover the best practices and tips for watering and fertilizing your arugula plants.


Arugula plants need consistent moisture, but they do not tolerate waterlogged soil. Overwatering can cause root rot and other diseases. To avoid this, you should water your arugula plants deeply and infrequently. Water the plants when the top 1-2 inches of soil is dry. The frequency of watering depends on various factors, such as temperature, humidity, and soil type. As a general rule of thumb, arugula plants need about an inch of water per week. However, you should adjust the amount and frequency of watering based on the plant’s needs.

It is also crucial to water the arugula plants at the base and avoid getting the leaves wet. Wet leaves can promote the growth of fungi and other diseases. Additionally, watering in the morning is preferable to watering in the evening. Watering in the morning allows the leaves to dry quickly, reducing the risk of disease.


Arugula plants are light feeders, and they do not require heavy fertilization. However, they do benefit from periodic fertilization. Before planting, you can incorporate compost or well-rotted manure into the soil to improve soil fertility. Once the plants start growing, you can fertilize them with a balanced fertilizer, such as a 10-10-10 or 5-5-5 fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer according to the package instructions. Be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can lead to excessive leaf growth and reduced flavor.

Another option for fertilizing arugula plants is to use organic fertilizers, such as fish emulsion or seaweed extract. These fertilizers provide nutrients in a slow-release form and also improve soil health. You can apply organic fertilizers every two to three weeks during the growing season.

Watering and fertilizing are crucial aspects of growing healthy and tasty arugula plants. Remember to water your plants deeply and infrequently, and avoid overwatering. Fertilize your plants periodically with a balanced fertilizer or organic fertilizers, and be careful not to over-fertilize. By following these best practices, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of fresh and flavorful arugula.

Companion planting with Arugula

Companion planting is a popular gardening technique where different plants are grown in close proximity to each other for mutual benefit. Arugula is a great plant for companion planting as it helps to repel pests, attracts beneficial insects, and improves soil health. Here are some plants that arugula can be grown alongside:

  1. Tomatoes: Arugula can be planted alongside tomatoes to repel pests like aphids, whiteflies, and tomato hornworms. Arugula also attracts predatory insects like ladybugs, which feed on pests that harm tomato plants.
  2. Cucumbers: Arugula is a great companion plant for cucumbers because it helps to repel cucumber beetles. Additionally, arugula’s deep roots help to aerate the soil, improving soil health for the cucumber plants.
  3. Beans: Arugula and beans can be grown together because arugula’s deep roots can help to loosen the soil, making it easier for bean plants to grow. Arugula can also help to repel pests like bean beetles.
  4. Brassicas: Arugula is a member of the brassica family, which includes plants like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. Planting arugula alongside these plants can help to repel pests like cabbage worms and flea beetles.
  5. Herbs: Arugula can be planted alongside herbs like basil, dill, and cilantro. These herbs can attract beneficial insects like bees and hoverflies, which can help to pollinate arugula and improve its overall health.

When companion planting with arugula, it’s important to choose plants that have similar growing conditions and water requirements. Additionally, it’s important to rotate crops regularly to prevent soil-borne diseases and maintain soil health. By practicing companion planting, you can create a healthy and thriving garden ecosystem.

Managing Pests and Diseases in Arugula

Arugula, like any other vegetable, is susceptible to pests and diseases. As a gardener, it’s important to stay vigilant and take steps to prevent or manage these issues to ensure a healthy and productive crop.

One of the most common pests in arugula is flea beetles, which can cause damage to the leaves. To prevent flea beetles, you can use row covers or sticky traps. You can also plant arugula with companion plants such as garlic, onions, or herbs like basil or rosemary, which can help to repel flea beetles.

Another pest that can be problematic is the aphid. These tiny insects can quickly multiply and cause stunted growth or even death of the plant. You can control aphids by washing the leaves with a strong stream of water or using insecticidal soap.

Powdery mildew is a common fungal disease that affects arugula. It appears as a white, powdery coating on the leaves, and can cause the plant to become weakened and stunted. To prevent powdery mildew, ensure adequate air circulation by planting arugula in a well-spaced area. If powdery mildew does appear, you can treat it with a fungicide.

Downy mildew is another fungal disease that can affect arugula. It causes yellowing of the leaves, and can eventually kill the plant. To prevent downy mildew, avoid overwatering and ensure good air circulation. If you do notice signs of downy mildew, remove any infected plants and avoid planting in the same spot for at least a year.

Other pests and diseases that can affect arugula include slugs, snails, and bacterial leaf spot. Slugs and snails can be controlled by handpicking or using baits. Bacterial leaf spot can be managed by removing infected leaves and using copper fungicides.

In summary, pests and diseases are a common challenge when growing arugula. However, by staying vigilant, taking preventative measures, and knowing how to manage any issues that do arise, you can enjoy a healthy and productive crop.

Harvesting: When and How to Pick the Leaves

Arugula is a tasty, peppery green that is easy to grow and even easier to harvest. Harvesting arugula at the right time is crucial to ensure the best flavor and quality of the leaves. Here’s a guide on when and how to harvest your arugula crop.

When to Harvest Arugula

Arugula is ready to harvest when the leaves are about 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) long. At this stage, the leaves are still tender and have a mild, peppery taste. If you wait too long to harvest, the leaves will become larger, tougher, and more bitter in flavor.

It’s also important to note that arugula is a cool-season crop, meaning it grows best in spring or fall when temperatures are cooler. If you’re growing arugula in the summer, you’ll need to harvest it earlier to prevent the leaves from becoming too tough.

How to Harvest Arugula

To harvest arugula, simply grab a handful of leaves and use a sharp pair of scissors or garden shears to cut the leaves about 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) above the soil line. It’s best to harvest the outer leaves first, leaving the center leaves to continue growing.

If you’re harvesting arugula for the first time, start by picking a small amount of leaves to see how they taste. You can always come back and harvest more later.

It’s important to note that arugula is a cut-and-come-again crop, meaning it will continue to grow and produce new leaves after each harvest. To encourage regrowth, make sure to water your plants regularly and fertilize them with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer.

In conclusion, harvesting arugula is a simple process that can be done with a sharp pair of scissors or garden shears. Harvest your arugula when the leaves are about 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) long for the best flavor and quality. And remember, arugula is a cut-and-come-again crop, so you can enjoy multiple harvests throughout the growing season.

Storing and Preserving Arugula: Tips for Keeping It Fresh

If you have grown or bought fresh arugula, it’s important to store it correctly to maintain its freshness and quality for as long as possible. Here are some tips for keeping arugula fresh:

  1. Rinse and dry the arugula thoroughly before storing it. Any excess moisture can cause the leaves to wilt and become slimy.
  2. Wrap the arugula in a clean, dry kitchen towel or paper towel. This will absorb any remaining moisture and keep the leaves dry.
  3. Place the wrapped arugula in a plastic bag, leaving some air in the bag to prevent the leaves from getting crushed. Alternatively, you can use an airtight container.
  4. Store the arugula in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer, where the temperature and humidity levels are optimal for leafy greens. The ideal temperature range is between 34°F and 40°F (1°C and 4°C).
  5. Check the arugula regularly and remove any wilted or damaged leaves, as they can cause the other leaves to spoil more quickly.
  6. Try to use the arugula within a week of harvesting or purchasing it for the best flavor and texture. Arugula has a relatively short shelf life, so it’s best to eat it as soon as possible.
  7. You can also preserve arugula by freezing it. Blanch the leaves for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then immediately transfer them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Dry the leaves thoroughly and pack them into airtight containers or freezer bags. Frozen arugula can be stored for up to 8 months and is best used in cooked dishes such as soups, stews, and sauces.

By following these tips, you can ensure that your arugula stays fresh and flavorful for as long as possible.

Arugula Recipes: Delicious Ways to Use Your Harvest

If you’re looking for ways to enjoy your freshly harvested arugula, you’re in luck! This flavorful green is versatile and can be used in a variety of recipes. Here are a few delicious ideas to inspire you:

  1. Salad with Parmesan and Lemon Dressing

This classic salad is simple yet delicious. Toss your arugula with a lemon and Parmesan dressing for a bright and tangy flavor. Add some sliced almonds or chopped walnuts for crunch.

  1. Pesto

Arugula makes a great pesto! Simply blend it with garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, and pine nuts or walnuts. Serve it with pasta, spread it on bread, or use it as a dip.

  1. Arugula and Goat Cheese Pizza

Arugula and goat cheese are a perfect match. Top your pizza dough with crumbled goat cheese, arugula, and some thinly sliced red onion. Bake until crispy and delicious.

  1. Arugula and Tomato Bruschetta

This simple appetizer is always a crowd-pleaser. Top toasted bread with chopped tomatoes, arugula, garlic, and a drizzle of olive oil. It’s fresh and flavorful.

  1. Arugula and Beet Salad

If you have beets in your garden, try pairing them with arugula. Roast the beets and slice them thinly. Toss them with your arugula and some crumbled goat cheese. Add a balsamic vinaigrette dressing for a sweet and tangy flavor.

These are just a few examples of the many ways you can use your arugula harvest. Whether you’re looking for a salad, a pizza topping, or a dip, arugula can add a fresh and flavorful touch to your dish. Get creative and experiment with different flavors and ingredients to discover your favorite arugula recipe!

Frequently Asked Questions about Growing Arugula

Arugula is a tasty and nutritious green that is relatively easy to grow. However, if you’re new to gardening or just want to learn more about growing arugula, you may have some questions. In this section, we’ll answer some frequently asked questions about growing arugula.

What is the best time to plant arugula?

Arugula is a cool-season crop, so it’s best to plant it in the spring or fall. In warmer climates, it’s better to plant it in the fall, while in cooler climates, it’s better to plant it in the spring. You can also plant arugula in late summer for a fall harvest.

How do I plant arugula seeds?

Arugula seeds are small and should be planted about ¼ to ½ inch (0.6-1.3 cm) deep. Space the seeds about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, and plant them in rows about 6 inches (15 cm) apart. Arugula grows quickly, so you should see sprouts within a week.

How often should I water arugula?

Arugula needs regular watering, especially during dry periods. Water deeply once or twice a week, depending on the weather and soil conditions. Be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to root rot and other problems.

How do I fertilize arugula?

Arugula doesn’t require a lot of fertilizer, but you can use a balanced fertilizer to give it a boost. Apply fertilizer once or twice during the growing season, following the package instructions.

How do I harvest arugula?

Arugula can be harvested when the leaves are about 2-3 inches (5-7.6 cm) long. You can either harvest individual leaves or cut the entire plant about 2 inches (5 cm) above the soil line. Arugula grows quickly, so you can harvest it multiple times throughout the growing season.

How do I store arugula?

Arugula should be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or container. It’s best to use it within a few days of harvest, but it can be stored for up to a week. Rinse the arugula thoroughly before using it.

What pests and diseases should I watch out for?

Arugula is generally resistant to pests and diseases, but you should watch out for flea beetles, aphids, and downy mildew. You can use insecticidal soap or neem oil to control pests, and make sure to plant arugula in well-draining soil to prevent fungal diseases.

Can I grow arugula in containers?

Yes, arugula can be grown in containers, as long as the container is at least 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) deep and has good drainage. Make sure to water regularly and fertilize as needed.

We hope these FAQs have been helpful in answering your questions about growing arugula. With a little bit of care and attention, you can enjoy fresh, homegrown arugula all season long.

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