Your step by step guide to growing arugula. Everything you need to know for growing Arugula, from compact container gardens to backyards bounties.
To help, we've put together this illustrated how-to video to guide you through growing lots (and lots!) of arugula. Or if you prefer to read through the details, please scroll down for all the fun.
Oh Arugula, how we love you so! Also commonly known as Rocket (English), Roquette (French) or Rucola (Italian), arugula is a leafy green with a tart, bitter, peppery taste.
Arugula is one of the most popular salad greens in many parts of the world with is yummy peppery tasting notes a welcomed addition to many cooked dishes.
In today’s guide to growing Arugula, I’m going to cover:
Glossary of arugula terms and varieties
Caring for arugula
Watering and Weeding
Mulching and/or Fertilizer
Growing structure options
Transplanting best practices
Companion Plants do’s and don’ts
Common problems and their solutions
Potential arugula pests and what to do about them
Most common diseases and deal with them
Harvesting and storing arugula
This is going to be fun!
First up, a few terms and types. The team and I have compiled a list of terms and varieties that you’ll want to know about.
Also called succession planting, this is when you stagger the planting of a crop. You plant your crop in smaller amounts, but you do so more frequently! Arugula should be planted successively every 2 weeks for a continual harvest, until it becomes too warm or too cold.
It’s all in the name! When harvesting arugula, if you cut above the root system, the plant will continue to produce new growth. It’s a plant that keeps on giving!
When it comes to Arugula Varieties, there are two primary types of arugula, wild Italian arugula (Eruca selvatica) and common arugula (Eruca sativa). Within these categories, there are a few different varieties for you to choose from.
This variety produces leaves that are rounded at the top and lobed toward the bottom. It typically matures in 38 days, and has a milder flavor than other varieties.
This type has deeply lobed leaves with red veins. This variety doesn’t have a bitter taste, even when mature.
Smaller in size and shaped like a spoon, these green leaves have a strong flavor that resembles horseradish
This variety is darker green in color, with white to light yellow veins. It’s deeply lobed and grows straighter than other varieties, making it nice to harvest. Like Sylvetta it’s slow growing, taking 51 days to reach maturity and 35 to be ready for harvest as baby arugula. Bonus: this variety resists Downy Mildew!
FIVE IMPORTANT THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN GETTING STARTED
Though it can be transplanted, arugula is happiest when directly sown from a seed state.
The ideal soil temperature for your arugula to germinate is between 40-55°F.
Arugula’s minimum air temperature tolerance is 28°F, while its maximum tolerance is 75°F. Keep in mind too that established plants can actually withstand frost!
You’ll want to grow your arugula in soil that can retain moisture, has good drainage, and has a fairly neutral pH - between 6 and 7. This crop requires full sun in cool temperatures, but when growing in warm temperatures, it will need some shade (just like us!).
If starting your seeds indoors, arugula plants will do really well in north-facing windows!
CARING FOR YOUR ARUGULA
Once you’re ready to plant, find a good spot with rich, well-draining soil. Preferably, in a spot in full sun - though partial shade works too.
Loosen the top 8 inches (20cm) or so of soil, then mix in some compost and an organic fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Once this is done, level out the top with a rake.
When sowing your seeds, keep them 2 inches (5cm) apart in rows that are about 4 inches (10cm) apart. Your seeds should be planted at a depth of a quarter to a half inch – with just a thin layer of soil covering them.
One of the many things that make arugula easy to grow is that it can be grown in the backyard garden soil, a planter, raised bed or even a small pot on a window edge - as long as they have a minimum soil depth of 6-8 inches (20 cm) depending on the variety. It's a VERY easy edible plant to grow at home.
WATERING AND WEEDING
Arugula is fast-growing, so because of that, it needs a lot of water. Directly after sowing or transplanting, make sure you give your plants a nice drink. Then, keep the soil moist
throughout the growing period. It’s best to water in the morning because this gives the water some time to soak into your soil without being evaporated too quickly.
Make sure to thin your seedlings just so that they can reach that ideal spacing of 2 inches apart in rows that are 4 inches apart. Don’t stress too much though, this doesn’t have to be perfect!
You’ll also want to weed your plants frequently. This limits any competition, lowers the risk of pests, and makes harvesting a lot easier!
Because there are quite a few pests that can threaten arugula, you can cover it with insect netting after planting. Make sure to properly secure all the edges, as this will help reduce the risk of insect attacks.
MULCHING AND/OR FERTILIZER
You’ll want to use a complete natural fertilizer (one that has nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium) when preparing your garden bed for planting/transplanting.
Arugula's short growth period means you won’t need to keep applying it And since it it grows quite densely, it also doesn’t need mulching – so you can mulch less and munch more! ;)
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
Direct sowing of arugula seed is best, in whichever medium you choose (a garden bed, raised bed, container, etc.). Arugula doesn’t typically transplant well, and it’s a time-consuming process for how dense arugula is planted.
If you do choose to transplant, here’s what you should do:
STEP 1: Start your seedlings indoors about 4-6 weeks before the last frost. Keep in mind that most arugula varieties are in fact frost tolerant!
STEP 2: Plant your seeds indoors in trays, with 3 seeds per cell to ensure high germination success. Then, thin to just one plant per cell before transplanting, keeping only the healthiest seedlings.
STEP 3: Grow your arugula seedlings on a sunny window and keep their soil moist.
STEP 4: Transplant your arugula about 8 weeks after sowing indoors, keeping in mind their preferred soil and air temperature conditions.
STEP 5: Amend your soil just as you would for direct sowing, using compost and fertilizer.
STEP 6: Space your plants 2 “ (5cm) apart, in close rows that are 4” (10 cm) apart.
COMPANION PLANTS DO’S AND DON’TS Companion plants:
Arugula does very well when grown with allium plants like onion and garlic. These alliums tend to be very aromatic and mask arugula’s scent, protecting it from pests.
Herbs like dill, sage, mint, thyme and chamomile also make good companions for arugula for that same reason. Their strong scents either mask that of arugula, or they attract beneficial predatory insects that will control any pests.
Note: Rosemary is also beneficial as a companion plant, but it prefers dryer conditions than arugula. What you could do is put some potted rosemary in the garden with your arugula, but since there are so many other beneficial herbs to use, this probably won’t be necessary.
Celery grows in the same cool, moist conditions as arugula, so it also makes for a good companion.
Want more options? Arugula can be grown with carrots, beets, cucumbers and bush beans to conserve space in your garden. Bush beans also fix nitrogen in the soil and offer some added nutrition! Plants like lettuce and spinach are good companions too, because they shade arugula while keeping the soil cool and moist. Adversarial Plants (good to avoid)
Arugula is part of the brassica family, so typically, it doesn’t do well with members of the nightshade family. These plants are heavy feeders and prefer slightly acidic soil conditions, which won’t benefit your arugula.
Eggplant, peppers, potatoes (not including sweet potato), and tomatoes are ones to avoid.
COMMON PROBLEMS AND THEIR SOLUTIONS. There are a number of pests and diseases that can potentially harm your arugula. Not to worry – we’ve listed them below, as well as how to either avoid or fix the problem! MOST COMMON PESTS APHIDS:
The Green Peach Aphid and Potato aphid are both threats to your arugula. Aphids cause the wilting and discoloration of leaves by feeding on the plant’s sap.
They are a potential threat at any point in the growing season, but they rarely cause actual damage because of arugula’s short growing time.
However, aphids are a contamination risk, so be sure to thoroughly wash your harvested arugula before you eat it!
They like to hang out on the undersides of leaves the most, so make sure to check for them here.
To be safe, it’s best to plant successive crops in different garden beds. That way, you can avoid the spread of aphids in case they happen to be present.
Feed on a plant’s leaves, creating holes that expand as the plant grows. If enough damage is done, it can kill your plant entirely. In order to prevent flea beetle outbreaks, you’ll want to rotate successive plantings.
Also, don’t plant in the same soil that other members of the brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) have been planted in within the last 2-3 years.
You can also use insect netting directly after planting – just be sure to properly secure it in the ground around the edges.
It’s also important to disturb the soil after your final harvest!
These are small dark flies with a triangular yellow marking.
Their larvae penetrate through your plants, feeding on the inside. As the larvae feed, they create tunnels that get larger as they grow, damaging leaves and leaving plants vulnerable to disease.
Parasitic wasps are natural predators of leafminers, so they can be used to manage leafminers, while insecticidal soaps are also helpful.
To avoid outbreaks, avoid planting your arugula near cotton or alfalfa, as these pests can migrate from other host fields.
Soils should also be plowed under immediately after harvest if your crops are infected.
Crickets aren’t typically a big concern with arugula, but large swarms can damage an entire crop, so it’s always best to be cautious.
Crickets feed at night and hide during the day, making it hard to identify them at first. As well, crickets will feed on arugula plants when they’ve just sprouted and are very vulnerable.
Typically, you can prevent these pests by using drip watering instead of overhead watering.
MOST COMMON DISEASES Thankfully, Arugula’s short growing season protects it from most fungal and bacterial diseases, as neither has enough time to grow or spread before harvest. However, there is some potential for disease when growing arugula, especially in humid climates.
DOWNY MILDEW: This fungal disease thrives in cool, humid climates, and grows on the leaves of your arugula as a grey/white mold. Leaves will also have brown lesions and may eventually dehydrate and drop.
BLACK ROT: This bacterial disease grows in hot, humid climates, but can be introduced into a garden through infected seed. It attacks your plant’s leaves, and can spread from insect injuries.
Black rot is very distinctive, causing yellow/orange lesions to grow on leaves that eventually dry out and drop.
An infection can cause wilting, stunted growth, and may even cause your plant to die.
Finally, it's time to reap the rewards of your crop. Time to HARVEST!
One of the great thing about arugula is that you don’t have to wait for your crop to fully mature before harvesting!
You can start harvesting your arugula about 20-27 days after planting, when leaves are about 4-6 inches long. At this stage, your plant is considered baby arugula! These young leaves taste much better, and they’re a delicious addition to salads.
If you prefer to wait, though, mature leaves take about 40-50 days to be harvest-ready. These leaves can be quite bitter, and often have a less desirable texture. You won’t want to add mature leaves to your salad – but they are great for cooking! Regrowth can be also be harvested after your initial harvest.
Arugula also produces edible flowers, which make a nice garnish or salad addition. When harvesting your arugula, make sure you do so in cool weather or in the morning. Any leaves that are harvested in the heat can get a bitter taste to them.
Simply keep your harvested leaves refrigerated, and enjoy!