Although arugula is not a really fussy plant, it does demand cool weather. Soil should be fertile – add lots of well-rotted leaves, aged manure or compost – but must drain well. Sow the tiny seeds outdoors as soon as the last expected frost date arrives. Plant 1/4 inch deep and thin to an eight inch spacing. Plant more in late summer for fall harvest.
Think Young and Tender
Arugula tastes best when you use only the youngest and most tender leaves. Succession planting is key to ensuring you have young plants coming along. You can harvest the thinnings to eat as well, so don’t hesitate to plant thickly. Once summer’s heat hits, arugula will send up a flower stalk and become bitter. However, the flowers are also edible and taste good, so you can harvest them as well.
Any arugula variety should be good for eating. However, if you want plants that come true to type, save seeds only from open-pollinated varieties.
- Astro – open-pollinated, milder-tasting than most arugula.
- Sylvetta – open-pollinated, takes some heat.
- Even’ Star – cold-hardy, with an extra-spicy taste.
- Rucola Selvatica – open-pollinated, the original garden arugula, more pungent and slower-growing than most.
- Wild Child – hybrid from Italy.
Harvesting Arugula for Greens
Like many other greens, arugula lends itself well to cut and come again harvesting. You can start harvesting as soon as the plants are six inches tall, which may be as little as three weeks for fast-maturing varieties. Trim the smaller, tender leaves about an inch above the ground. Use a sharp knife or scissors. This method often gives you the tastiest leaves.
Harvesting Whole Arugula Plants
Once the weather gets warm, you might be better off harvesting arugula as whole plants for freezer storage. Pull the plant by grasping close to the roots. Lift with a slight twisting motion. Wash thoroughly, blanch for two minutes in boiling water and then cool quickly in ice water. Pat off excess moisture, package and freeze.
Harvesting for Flowers and Seed
Arugula flowers are pretty and white; they taste a bit like radishes. Once summer’s heat hits, let your plants flower and harvest flowers or developing seed pods to eat. Allow a few plants go on to develop seedpods. Let the pods dry on the plant until a few start to open. Cut the remaining pods off with scissors. Crush the pods over paper to obtain the seeds.