Spicy, pungent arugula is the perfect addition to a salad, soup, or stir-fry. It's definitely a seasonal vegetable; arugula is best grown in spring or fall (winter for those gardeners in mild climates.) Hot weather causes arugula to turn bitter and bolt very quickly.
However, if you're growing it in cool weather, arugula is a pretty easy vegetable to grow in your garden. It rewarding to grow a vegetable that adds such pizazz to your meal.
Where to Grow Arugula
Arugula grows best in cool weather, so is the perfect early spring or fall crop for many of us. In warmer climates, grow arugula as a winter crop.
You can grow arugula just about anywhere in the garden. It does well in traditional garden beds, in containers, or mixed into a flower border. It grows best in full sun, but will be happy with some shade, especially as the weather starts to heat up. It isn't overly fussy regarding soil, but will grow best in rich, well-drained soil. For best results, amend the soil with compost or composted manure before planting.
Arugula should be sown directly into your garden as early as possible in the spring. As soon as you're able to work the soil, sow some arugula seeds. They won't be bothered by a few frosts, and you'll get a jump on the season. It's also possible to overwinter arugula by planting it in the fall and growing it under a low tunnel or cold frame all winter long. It won't grow much during the winter, but you will definitely get an earlier crop in the spring this way.
Sow arugula seeds six to eight inches apart, and barely cover the seeds with a sprinkling of soil. Arugula germinates in approximately one week, usually less than that.
How to Grow Organic Arugula
One key to growing delicious arugula is to keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged. Letting the soil dry out can result in bitter (rather than peppery) greens. Water when the top inch of soil is dry, and mulch with two to three inches of shredded leaves or grass clippings to help maintain soil moisture.
Be sure to weed regularly around your arugula plants. Early in the season, the weeds can overtake the small seedlings.
If you've planted your arugula in soil amended with compost, you won't need to worry about fertilizing it. However, if you're concerned that your plants might need extra nutrients (the leaves are yellowing, or the plant just doesn't seem to be growing) go ahead and give it a foliar feed of compost tea or fish emulsion.
Pests and Problems
The most common problem you'll face when growing arugula are flea beetles. If they've been a problem in your garden, it would be a good idea to cover your arugula with a floating row cover to keep the beetles off of your crop. If you're already seeing flea beetles, consider installing a sticky trap in the bed to trap these pests.
Aside from the flea beetles, the other problem you'll face is bolting. Warm weather can make your arugula bolt (and turn horribly bitter) in no time. The best way to avoid this is to plant as early as possible in the spring, and also sow a fall crop. To extend your spring crop into summer, consider creating some shade for your arugula by installing a shade cloth or growing it under a lattice frame. This won't eliminate bolting, but it will likely extend your harvest time a bit.
You can either harvest arugula by pulling up the entire plant, or by snipping individual outer leaves from your plants as you need them. I prefer the second method, because I don't use a lot of arugula at a time; I generally just add a few leaves to a salad for a little zing. You will get a longer harvest time by snipping individual leaves.
Arugula is easy to grow, and a terrific addition to salads and side dishes. Consider growing at least a container of this tasty green in your garden this season.