Arugula (Rocket) Plant Profile

Harvesting Arugula
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Arugula is one of those vegetables people either love or hate. It tends to have a musky odor and taste that can put off some people, while others find its peppery bite very refreshing. Don't feel bad if you aren't fond of arugula; you are in good company. Julia Child loathed it.

How to Grow Arugula
Botanical Name Eruca vesicaria
Common Name Arugula, rocket, roquette
Plant Type Edible annual plant
Mature Size 12 inches wide by 12 inches tall
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Humus-rich, well-draining
Soil pH 6.0 to 7.0
Bloom Time Late spring, early summer
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zone 3 to 11
Native Area Mediterranean region

How to Grow Arugula

Arugula is a fast-growing, cool season green. It is perfect for the early spring garden, but can also be planted in the late summer for a fall harvest.

You can find seedlings of arugula, but it is usually started from seed. You can start seed indoors four to six weeks before your last frost date, but arugula seed can handle chilly soil, and you might want to wait and direct seed one to two weeks before your last frost date. Succession plant a new batch every couple of weeks, to prolong your harvest and take advantage of its short season.

Light

As long as the temperatures stay cool, full sun is the best exposure. As the weather warms, it appreciates partial shade, especially in the afternoon.

Soil

Arugula isn't a picky plant, so it will grow in most types of soil. However, it needs well-draining but moist soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0.

Water

The biggest maintenance chore is keeping your arugula well watered. Regular water will keep plants from bolting too quickly.

Temperature and Humidity

Arugula likes cool weather — 45 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal — but it can be damaged or stressed by frost or snow. Keep the row covers handy and protect your plants if extreme weather is predicted.

If you are surprised with a sudden heat wave, try to shade the plants, in addition to keeping them watered. Plant later seedings in the shade of taller plants, like tomatoes and beans.

Varieties of Arugula

  • 'Apollo': A Dutch heirloom with smooth, oval leaves and a milder flavor. It holds up fairly well in heat. (40 to 45 days)
  • 'Astro II:' Another milder arugula that matures early. (35 to 38 days)
  • 'Olive Leaf': Also known as 'Rucola Selvatica A Foglia Di Oliva,' a wild, Italian type. Intense flavor, but not overpowering. (45 to 50 days)
  • 'Sylvetta': Has narrow, spicy leaves. Slow to bolt. (45 to 50 days)

Harvesting

You can start harvesting young leaves when they are about 3 inches long. Harvest just a few outer leaves as a cut and come again variety and allow the rosette to continue growing. Mature plants can be harvested as a head, just above the soil line. Depending on the weather, they may re-sprout and fill back in.

Once the plants send up flower stalks, the leaves tend to turn bitter. Don't be too quick to yank out the plants. The flowers pack a lot of flavor without the heat of the leaves.

Young leaves are very tender and are best eaten fresh, in salads or on sandwiches. Older leaves are also great fresh, and they make nice additions to stir-fries, egg dishes or soups. They should be added toward the end of cooking.

The fragile flowers can be tossed on top of salads or soups, sprinkled on sandwiches, even added to drinks.

Growing from Seeds

Start by scattering the seeds over prepared soil, then press them down firmly. The seeds are small and should barely be covered with soil. As the seeds germinate and begin to grow, thin the seedlings to 4 to 6 inches apart. You can use the thinned seedlings on salads or other culinary applications.

Common Pests and Diseases

Being a brassica, arugula has a host of pests that love it. Luckily it has a short growing season, and it is out of the garden by the time the insects start flying in. If you find it to be necessary, place row cover tunnels over the plantings. Slugs do the most damage, but be on the lookout for eggs of cabbage worms, cabbage loopers, and the diamondback moth, as well as aphids and flea beetles.