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from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Awesome Arugula

Arugula

A spring-planted crop of arugula, growing at our display gardens in Burlington, VT.

Simply a bowl of arugula

Once you’ve cultivated a taste for arugula, you’ll probably want to eat it as often as possible, dressed very simply.

Arugula (Eruca sativa) is a non-heading, peppery green, also known as rocket or roquette. Popular in Italian cuisine, it’s been cultivated since Greek and Roman times. Usually eaten raw in salads, it can also be made into pesto, sprinkled on a just-cooked pizza or be tossed into hot pasta.

The smell of arugula leaves can be a bit “skunky” (many people feel the same way about arugula as they do about cilantro) but as I’ve come to love the taste of it, I have come to love its smell as well. Hot weather makes the leaves get spicier. It also makes the plants go to seed pretty quickly. When arugula does start to flower, the plant stops producing new leaves and it’s time for the compost pile.

Arugula leaves are very perishable — —they bruise easily and get limp fast – so they’re a perfect crop for the home gardener.

There are many different varieties of arugula and the look, texture and taste of the leaves varies a lot. In my experience, the “wilder” strains are the spiciest. They have longer, thinner, darker green leaves that are deeply cut with sharply pointed ends. The paler, domesticated arugula has thinner, more paddle-like leaves. Apollo is a good example of the latter type. Its leaves are relatively mild and great for arugula-only salads with goat cheese, toasted pine nuts and pears. Last year I bought Apollo from Seed Savers Exchange, but I see it’s also available from Gourmet Seed International. Another arugula I’ve grown is Runway, which is deeper green and has more jagged leaves, but is still quite mild in taste.

It’s rare to see arugula plants for sale in a nursery. That’s because it’s best to grow it from seed yourself. In early spring I sow arugula right in a garden bed, but I have also had good luck growing it in 4×6″ fiber pots. Once the seedlings have two to four leaves, I transplant little clumps of three to five plants into the garden. This works especially well in late summer when soil in the garden beds can be too hot and dry for good germination. Cover the bed with shade cloth and water frequently until the plants get established.

I must admit that I often have trouble growing arugula in the spring. Our weather usually goes from cold to hot in the span of about three weeks, and before I have time to make a salad, the plants go to seed. It helps to choose a relatively cool part of the garden where the plants will get a little shade. As a fall crop, it can’t be beat. Last year I covered my arugula with Garden Quilt in mid-October and was still picking it for salads a month later!

16 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    February 23, 2008    

    I planted the first crop of arugula with the seeds you gave me and what I ended up with were lace curtains courtesy of flea beetles. What did I do wrong?

  2. February 23, 2008    

    Try starting your arugula seeds under a polyester row cover. I find flea beetles are mainly an early summer a problem as the weather begins to get hot and seedlings get stressed by the sun and dryness. A row cover will keep the little arugula plants cooler — protected from the stress of hot sun.

    You might also try starting the seeds in little pots and transplanting into the garden (again under fabric). I’ve had my best arugula success with fall crops, started under shade netting in early August. No flea beetles then!

  3. Anonymous
    March 12, 2008    

    I am growing arugula from seed in my basement (New Jersey) can I put it out into a cold frame in March Or April?

  4. March 12, 2008    

    Arugula is very cold hardy once it has acclimated. The tricky part with transplants is helping them make the transition to cool temps and bright sunlight after living indoors.

    If it were me, I’d put the whole flat of seedlings into the coldframe for a few hours each day, gradually building up to a full day of sun exposure and overnight temperatures. After a week of coddling, they should be toughen up and ready to plant into your coldframe.

  5. Anonymous
    July 3, 2008    

    Question: is one supposed to cut the flowers off of a container grown arugula plant?

  6. July 3, 2008    

    As with spinach, lettuce and most other salad greens, arugula is not a plant that can be expected to produce all season long. That’s why one needs to sow successive crops to ensure a continuous harvest of tender greens.

    Hot weather speeds up arugula’s urge to flower and the leaves also become bitter. To extend the life of the plant in your container, you can cut off the flower stalk and even try cutting the entire plant back (use a knife or scissors) so it is no more than about 1″ high. This might force it to put out some new growth, but I think you’d have a much tastier and more reliable harvest of leaves by starting a few new plants from seed.

    By the way, you can eat those arugula flowers — they’re very spicy!

  7. Anonymous
    July 15, 2008    

    I grew arugula for the first time and noticed that it was very leggy, not a whole lot of leaves on it, why is that?

  8. July 16, 2008    

    Hi. When plants are leggy it usually means they aren’t receiving enough sunlight. Like other greens, arugula likes full sun — not hot sun, but at least 6 or 8 hours of full sun every day.
    Young plants should not be crowded as this can create competition for light and reduce air circulation. If you sow too thickly, thin the young seedlings so they’re no less than an inch apart. This is a good spacing if you’re eating baby arugula. If you want the plants to get larger, double the space between plants to 2 inches.

  9. July 26, 2008    

    QUESTION: What do you do with arugula once it’s gone to seed? Can it be salvaged and tended to come back to leaves or should it be dug back into the soil or should it all be composted?

  10. July 27, 2008    

    Hi.
    Like other annuals, when arugula is spent, it’s time to pull it out and put it in the compost pile. Once an annual has gone into seed production, its job is done. Seeds are the way an annual lives on into the future.

    To keep yourself in fresh, tender arugula leaves from early spring through fall, make a habit of planting some new seeds every two weeks or so throughout the growing season. I do this with all my greens. All it takes is a little patch no more than 2 feet square. Use a spot where you’ve pulled out something else. Be sure to loosen the soil and add some compost and organic fertilizer to replace the soil nutrients the previous crop will have absorbed. Water these little patches every day until the plants emerge and get a set of true leaves. Most salad greens appreciate a little shade during the summer months. Yous can use other plants provide that shade, or cover the bed with some shade netting.

  11. Anonymous
    May 26, 2010    

    Is it safe to eat arugula that has been infested with flea beetles. I know it doesn’t look as appetizing, but we love it. I’m not sure if we’re actually eating the little bugs, or eggs and if it’s very healthy??

  12. May 26, 2010    

    Hi there,
    Flea beetles do seem to love arugula. Though they do compromise the look of the leaves, they don’t compromise the flavor. So rinse the leaves with water and eat them up! Flea beetles are most problematic in hot, dry, sunny weather. Arugula that’s grown in cooler weather (in early spring or in the fall)or under shade netting (product number 38-556 on gardeners.com)won’t be as susceptible to flea beetle damage.

  13. June 23, 2010    

    My arugula came back as a perennial. Everywhere I had it planted last year, I got new growth in the spring. I live in Spokane, WA.

  14. June 23, 2010    

    Wow. Lucky you!
    -Kathy

  15. March 14, 2011    

    My arugula is everywhere and because I’m in SD, it’s all spicy and a bit bitter. My husband’s not crazy about it.
    It has taken over my garden! I even found it in the front an side yard which means it traveled over my house and planted itself.
    I am currently pulling up most of it and chopping it into my compost. I hope it helps to make good soil. This year, I plan to cut it while it’s young and tender and hopefully not quite so spicy or bitter.
    Here’s to the best garden ever this year! ;-) <3

  16. ivan
    August 6, 2013    

    Years ago I sold lots of arugula to our Canadian produce customers but never tried it. When I moved to NE Louisiana I planted what was described as Rocket variety. It did fine as an all winter survivor and was not too strong tasting so I saved some seed figuring to plant again in the fall. It came back early summer volunteer with a massive sprouting. But what was a fairly mild OK tasting thing turned real skunky when it got warm. I’d as soon eat toad stools as what they became. They seem to have taken over the original spot. I look forward to being able to eat them again this winter.

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