How to Grow Awesome Arugula (or Remarkable Rocket!) For Longer

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Whether you call it arugula or rocket, Eruca vesicaria or its close cousins deserve a place in your garden. Delicious, nutritious and easy to grow, arugula can grown from seed to baby greens in only a month. The plants are equally at home in garden beds, containers or hydroponic systems, and in some places wild strains can be foraged as edible weeds.

Modern eaters developed a taste for arugula in the last two decades, but the savory, slightly peppery leaves have been enjoyed by humans for thousands of years. The ancient Romans regarded arugula leaves dipped in oil and salt as an aphrodisiac, and arugula’s association with sex kept it banned from medieval monasteries. Meanwhile arugula gained wide acceptance in folk medicine from Europe to India, for valid reasons. In addition to an abundance of vitamins C and K, arugula is loaded with minerals and antioxidants known for their impact on cancer, stomach ulcers, and organ health.

Arugula flowers are edible too

Types of Arugula

The common names of arugula and rocket encompass three species. All three types of arugula are cool-season crops that grow best in spring and fall.

Native to the Mediterranean region, the plant known variously as roquette, garden rocket, salad rocket, or Italian arugula (Eruca vesicaria ssp sativa or just Eruca sativa) grows into a rosette of broad, strappy leaves, followed by loose clusters of edible white flowers. The most productive type of arugula you can grow, garden rocket matures almost too quickly in the spring, when days are getting longer and warmer. Autumn crops stand much longer without bolting, and plants often survive winter with protection from animals.

Wild arugula packs a peppery punch

Native to Eurasia and often called wild arugula, perennial wall-rocket (Diplotaxis tenufolia) has smaller, more finely cut leaves, and the plants bloom yellow rather than white. New varieties selected for uniformity and disease resistance like Bellezia and red-variegated Dragon's Fire are among the great new wild arugula cultivars, which you can grow in a garden or better yet, in containers.

A common weed in the western Mediterranean, annual white rocket (Diplotaxis erucoides) is listed as ‘Wasabi arugula’ in seed catalogs because of its strong peppery bite. Wasabi arugula is a short-lived presence in the spring garden because of its propensity to bolt, but can be a big-flavor addition to the autumn salad garden.

Arugula often grows better in the fall

Succession Planting with Arugula

All types of arugula are fast, fleeting crops during the first half of summer, when any type of stress (drought, heat, nutrition) combined with lengthening days trigger even young plants to stop growing leaves and concentrate on a tall flowering stalk instead. This process, called bolting, is why it’s important to make several sowings of arugula in spring, three weeks apart. You can make two sowings later in the season, as well. Because arugula is such an outstanding autumn crop, I plant some two months before my first fall frost date, and more three weeks later.

There is little reason to start arugula indoors because the seeds are very willing germinators, often appearing within 5 days after planting. You can eat tiny seedlings as you thin them, or transplant the extras to a new location, or to containers.

Harvest arugula leaf by leaf, or use scissors to snip off baby arugula just above the plants’ crowns. New leaves will quickly replace the old ones.

Growing arugula in containers helps keep the leaves clean of soil

Growing Arugula in Containers

Arugula has a small root system, so it is an excellent candidate for containers. In spring and summer, arugula grown in containers is less likely to be bothered by flea beetles, which make numerous small holes in arugula leaves. The leaves of container-grown plants also stay nice and clean since there is so little soil to splash about.

As one of my last acts of the gardening year, I rescue a few arugula garden volunteers by transplanting them to containers to bring indoors. Stationed in a sunny south-facing window, the plants will continue to grow for several weeks, or well into the winter with the help of supplemental lights.

Saving arugula seeds is easy if you snip off mature seed pods to let them finish drying indoors

Saving Arugula Seeds

You can turn arugula’s propensity to bolt in your favor by allowing a few plants to bloom and produce seeds. Saving arugula seeds is easy, though the plants often need staking to keep the seed-bearing branches high and dry. Mature seed pods eventually turn from green to brown and shed their seeds. I snip off the seed-bearing branches as they are ready, let them finish drying indoors in a box, and collect enough arugula seeds to replant and share the following year.

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Show Comments


"Maybe I have waited too long, but I don't see any pods on my arugula rocket plant. I let it just keep growing and I have about 50 very long stems with yellow flowers on the ends. I thought that maybe the seeds were in the dried flowers. I don't see any pods on the stems, just long spindly stems. "
Gayle on Sunday 22 October 2023
"Gayle, if your plant is blooming yellow, it is the perennial wall rocket, Diplotaxia tenuifolia, which has a different type of seed pod, very long and slender. If there are flowers on stem tips, there should be seed pods lower down on the stem. Could they be getting nabbed by something? "
Barbara Pleasant on Sunday 22 October 2023

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