Arugula is a super easy little green to grow. Each plant produces for months and gives you so many yummy leaves (assuming you like the peppery kick). Arugula is related to broccoli, kale, and radishes, so you know these greens are good for you. And of course, the ones you grow yourself will be fresher and taste so much better than the ones from the store.
Here’s your complete guide to growing your very own organic arugula greens.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I earn a small profit when you click on the link and purchase my recommendations. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Thanks for supporting my small business!
THE BEST TIME TO PLANT ARUGULA
Arugula thrives best in cool weather, when the temps are above freezing but below 75°F or so. That being said, arugula is actually pretty cold- and heat-tolerant. Mature plants can hang in there during a light freeze and even when temps are soaring over 95°F. That means that most of us can grow arugula for a significant portion of the year.
You can begin planting arugula as soon as your soil is workable in the spring. You don’t have to wait until your last frost date, though it is a good idea to cover arugula seedlings with frost cloth or an old blanket if you do get another freeze.
You can continue planting arugula throughout the spring, summer, and fall, though if the temperature is regularly above 90°F, you might hold off until it cools down a bit or cover your planting area with shade cloth.
How Late Can I Plant Arugula?
You can continue planting arugula by seed until about 4 to 6 weeks before your first frost date of the fall. That way, you’ll have time for these fast little plants to grow and give you at least 1 or 2 good leaf harvests before a heavy freeze takes them out. Those of us in a warmer climate can often grow and harvest arugula throughout our mild winters as long as we protect the plants from the occasional freeze.
THE BEST PLACE TO GROW ARUGULA
Arugula has a pretty shallow root system, so it can easily be grown in containers, pots, and grow bags that are at least 6 inches deep. Just make sure that whatever container you choose has at least one good drainage hole so that arugula doesn’t have to sit in water for too long. (Check out some quick buying options for containers in our Amazon Shop.)
Fill your container with a mix of organic potting soil and compost—this is, by the way, the perfect soil combo for all your salad greens. (I really love the Ocean Forest potting soil from FoxFarm.)
If you have a raised garden bed filled with well-drained soil, arugula will be very pleased to grow there.
How Much Sun Does Arugula Need?
You don’t need to prioritize sunlight when you’re picking a spot for these little leafy greens. They grow well in full sun and partial shade; they’ll even produce leaves for you—just at a much slower rate—with only about 4 hours of sunlight a day. Some afternoon shade during the summer heat is definitely ideal.
HOW TO SOW ARUGULA SEEDS
Direct sowing arugula seeds in the garden is your best (and least expensive) option.
Is Arugula Hard to Grow from Seed?
Arugula grows super fast from seed, and seeds germinate reliably. Since they grow so quickly, it’s much better to start your own arugula plants from seed than to buy little arugula starts from the store or nursery. Plants that never had to undergo the stress of a move will quickly catch up to transplants. So save your money for larger plants, and grab a little packet of arugula seeds (these are my favorite).
Follow these five steps to direct sow your arugula seeds.
Step One: Prepare the Soil
Add a 2″- to 3″-thick layer of fresh compost to the top of the planting area. Smooth the soil surface with your hand or a trowel to remove any little hills and valleys. (These seeds are tiny, so you don’t want them slipping and sliding all over the place.)
Step Two: Sow the Seeds
You have two options for how you sow the seeds. If you’d like your plants to grow very close together and you plan to harvest leaves frequently, you can scatter the seeds over the soil by pinching some seeds and rubbing your fingers together to release them.
Do your best to disperse them throughout the planting area. I aim for about 16 plants every square foot. (If you have too many pop up, you can just pinch a couple tiny stems to remove the extras. Enjoy them as arugula microgreens!)
If you’d like to space your plants out properly and allow them to grow larger, then you can space each seed about 4 inches apart. Plant in staggered rows.
Step Three: Cover the Seeds
Arugula seeds are so tiny that they don’t really need to be buried. Press them down with your hand to ensure they have good soil contact, and then sprinkle a light layer of soil or compost over them.
Step Four: Water Them In
Use a soft setting on your hose to water the seeds in well (a hard spray could displace them). You should begin to see little arugula sprouts emerge in 6 to 10 days.
Step Five: Repeat
For a steady supply of leaves at their best flavor, I recommend sowing more arugula seeds every couple of weeks until the weather is no longer ideal. This is called succession planting. (If you run out of room for new plants, remove older plants that are no longer productive.)
HOW TO CARE FOR ARUGULA
The two most important tasks to keep arugula happy are consistent watering and protecting the leaves from pests and weather. I don’t really fertilize arugula; their time in the garden is so short that the compost added at planting is usually enough. If your leaves are looking a little yellow or the plants are growing slowly, sprinkle some worm castings around the plants or apply a fertilizer high in nitrogen, such as MicroLife’s Ocean Harvest or Fox Farms Grow Big. You can reapply every 2 to 4 weeks during the growing season.
Water Arugula Regularly
The peppery flavor of the leaves can become unpleasant if the plants don’t receive adequate water. Keep the soil moist for your baby arugula plants. Once your leafy greens are more established, water deeply when the soil feels dry 1″ down. If you’re growing in a raised bed, consider adding a drip irrigation system. Otherwise, make sure to aim your water at the roots of the plant instead of the leaves to prevent disease when you’re using a hose or watering can.
Protect Arugula from Pests
Garden pests that appreciate the peppery kick of arugula include caterpillars, aphids, flea beetles, and more. I know my arugula plants fall prey to cabbage loopers in late summer when they’re most stressed by the heat.
If you’re able to cover your entire planting area with row covers or garden mesh cloth to deny access to pests from day one, that’s ideal. Otherwise, keep an eye out for signs of pests, like holes in your arugula leaves. Prune any pest-affected leaves.
If a caterpillar or slug issue gets out of hand (in other words, there are too many for you to remove by hand), use organic measures like B.t spray (bacillus thuringiensis) to handle them. For aphids, try insecticidal soap or bio insecticide. (Learn more about dealing with aphids.)
Protect Arugula from Weather
I recommend covering your plants with shade cloth when the weather rises above 85°F (or move your container to a shadier spot). You can also protect them from light freezes by covering them with frost cloth or old blankets. These are simple measures to take to prolong the time you have with your arugula plants.
How Long Does it Take to Grow Arugula from Seed?
They don’t call this plant rocket for nothing. Arugula typically germinates within a week or two. Beyond that, the time to harvest really just depends on how large you’d like the leaves to be. Young leaves (considered “baby” leaves at the grocery store) are ready 3 to 4 weeks after sowing seeds (basically warp speed in the gardening world). The plant should reach maturity within 6 weeks.
HOW TO HARVEST ARUGULA
Remember that you’ll need to begin harvesting leaves sooner rather than later if you’ve planted arugula close together. You might also prefer the leaves when they’re only 3 to 4 inches long, so that’s another reason to get out there and take leaf harvests frequently!
There are two different ways to harvest arugula:
- The Cut-and-Come-Again Method – You can cut the older, outer leaves of the plant and leave the younger leaves in the center to continue growing. This method means you can return to harvest fresh leaves from the same plant next week, but it’s the most time intensive.
- The Easiest Way – You can harvest all of the leaves from the plant by grasping a handful of leaves and cutting horizontally, leaving about 1 to 2 inches of stem near the base of the plant. Like the first method, this is a cut-and-come-again way to harvest, but you’ll have to give the plant a couple of weeks to regrow its leaves. You’ll get perhaps three more harvests from the same plant this way.
At the end of the growing season, you can also just cut the entire plant at the base and enjoy all the leaves. I like to leave a couple plants in the garden to produce arugula flowers (really pretty, small white flowers). That way, I can collect the seed heads and have free seeds for next year.
Does Arugula Regrow After Cutting?
If you harvest by taking individual leaves from each plant, you’ll get a continual harvest every week from the same plants. Harvesting that way actually encourages the plant to grow more leaves. Plants should also regrow if you harvest by cutting off the top, but you do have to be careful to leave 1 to 2 inches of stem near the base of the plant.
HOW TO ENJOY HOMEGROWN ARUGULA
Arugula leaves are great in salads, wraps, and sandwiches. They make yummy pizza toppers and can be tossed in pesto to add a little kick. If you harvest leaves that are too peppery, try wilting them in a pan with some balsamic vinegar and then add them to pasta.
You can grow a bunch of arugula in a small space in practically no time at all. I hope this helps you grow your own delicious arugula leaves! Let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.