How to Grow Arugula
Arugula is a plant popular in Europe and it’s getting more and more popular in the US. It has a characteristic peppery, mustardly taste people either love or hate. In case you and you family love arugula, the good news is that you can plant it in your garden so you can have the healthiest, super-tasty arugula for your family. It’s great for salads and it sure adds a special flavor to your meals.
Arugula is great for spicing things up and it’s a great ingredient for salads, pasta, fish, vegetables or stir-fry. It’s important to keep in mind that it wilts very quickly, so it’s best to pick only as much as you can eat in a day.
There are several popular varieties of arugula. The most popular are Italian varieties Selvatica (Eruca selvatica) and Sylvetta (Diplotaxis tenuifolia). These varieties are most commonly referred to as “wild”. These arugula varieties can tolerate heat much better than other varieties, so it’s something to keep in mind. The downside is that they are shorter and slower growing than other varieties.
Another popular variety is Astro (Eruca vesiccaria ssp. sativa) is derived from common arugula and not the wild types. Its taste is milder so it may be suitable for those who don’t like the taste of strong arugula. Its leaves are not as deeply lobed as the wild varieties.
To get the variety you want to grow in your garden, it’s important to always purchase it by its botanical name. This way, you can ensure that you’ll always get the exact variety you want to plant in your garden.
Arugula is easy to sprout from seed, but the problem is that it doesn’t transplant well. It means that you have to sow it directly in the ground outdoors. The best time to do it is as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Arugula is hardy and tolerates some frost, so you don’t have to wait for warm weather to plant it.
Arugula is not a demanding plant so it’s good even for beginner gardeners. You can plant it in any regular garden soil and it will grow without a problem. However, it requires good drainage and it doesn’t like to sit in water.
To sow the seeds, plant them about 1/4 inch deep and 1/2 inch apart. Cover lightly with soil. Make sure that the rows are spaced 8 to 12 inches apart.
Once you have planted the seed, make sure to keep them moist until they germinate. Germination occurs in about 6 to 8 days. You have to thin the growing plants to about 3-4 inches apart. You can use these thinned plants as greens for your salads.
Arugula doesn’t require much care. It grows like a loose leaf lettuce. It should be ready for harvest in about 30 to 45 days. Harvesting is easy. All you need to do is pick one or two leaves per week from each plant. This continuous harvesting will do wonders for your plants and delay bolting.
Eventually, your arugula will put out a flower stalk with white, creamy flowers. This is a sign you should shear the plant to the ground and leave only a few leaves at the bottom. It will give you more greens before it produces another flower. Remember: you can eat flowers, too! They make a great addition to any salad. They have the same characteristic sharp taste as the leaves.
Keep in mind that arugula is a cool weather plant. It bolts when it gets hot and produces its flower stalk. When this happens the leaves become hairy and tough and they are no longer tasty so you should not eat them.
Arugula is a generally healthy plant, but it does have occasional pest problems. Aphids are a common issue. They like to gather on the undersides of the leaves. Another common pest are flea beetles. They eat the leaves and leave them with characteristic “shotgun” holes. To prevent the pest problem, commercially grown arugula is always planted under row covers. This is a good method but it may not be practical for home gardeners. Also, it’s not effective against all pests (it doesn’t prevent aphids but it excludes some of their natural enemies, such as the lady beetle). This is something you should keep in mind. When controlling pests, it’s best to stick to natural, organic insecticides and avoid heavy chemicals.