Arugula is a dark green leafy vegetable used in salads. Depending on size of the leaf at harvest, arugula’s flavor can range from nutty and tangy to having a slightly bitter, mustardy flavor. It can be used fresh in salads, atop pizzas, or even sautéed lightly and mixed with mushrooms and onions for a side dish. Like many other leafy green vegetables, arugula grows best in cooler weather.
Arugula can be grown in a wide range of soil types. Loose loamy fertile soils are best, with good water holding capacity and good drainage. Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.0.
Loosen up the top six inches of soil and work in a two inch layer of compost. Rake smooth to remove clumps.
When to Plant
Depending on how often you want to harvest, sow your seed every one to three weeks, from early to mid spring. Except in zone 4 and colder areas, arugula doesn’t grow well in the summer months, and heat can make the leaves inedible because of the exceedingly bitter flavor. You can begin sowing seed again in August. In zones 5 and 6, you’ll probably want to make use of a cold frame for winter harvest, and in zones 7 and warmer, you can sow directly into the garden. In fact, in mild-winter areas such as Florida, you can sow through April for a continuous harvest.
How to Plant
For regular spacing, sow seeds about 1 inch apart in rows about 6 inches apart. Your seed should be about 1/4 of an inch deep. You can also sow seeds lightly in a band 2 to 4 inches wide if you plan on harvesting regularly. Eventual spacing should be 6 to 8 inches, but you can thin out the plants by harvesting. Keep the soil moist (but not soaking wet), as a constant supply of moisture keeps the leaves from tasting bitter.
Leaves will be ready for harvesting within a few weeks of sowing. You can begin pinching off the outer leaves about 40 days after the emergence of the sprouts, when they’re about 3 inches long. Avoid the tender inner leaves as they’re needed by the plant for proper growth and nutrition.
Sample the flavor of the leaves often to make sure they’re still edible. Once the flavor turns, pull the plant out and sow more seed, or allow the plant to bolt and go to seed. Once the plant bolts, it’s no longer edible.
Leaf miners can be a problem for any leafy plant. The larvae of this pest make tunnels inside the leaves, causing dead, brown patches. You can either remove the leaves or squish the larvae inside the leaf with your fingers.
Flea beetles may also be attracted to arugula. You may want to cover the plants with a crop cover after sowing.