The Kitchen Garden A to Z: Arugula

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The Kitchen Garden A to Z: Arugula

It’s known as rocket to the Brits, but this peppery green’s fancy Italian-American name puts it at the front of the alphabet (at least in my garden). It’s fitting that I start my Kitchen Garden A to Z series with arugula because it’s a great way to get started growing your own food.

Even if it’s the dead of winter where you live, you can plant arugula now because it grows so well in a pot on the windowsill. It’s also one of the first crops you can plant in the garden in the spring. In my Zone 5, you can plant the seeds indoors in March and transplant the young plants to the garden in April.

Read on to learn how to grow arugula and how to make great meals with food raised in your own backyard – or on your kitchen windowsill. Then keep reading the series as I work my way through my entire kitchen garden, A to Z.

Arugula in the garden

Arugula in the Garden

Like most other leafy greens, arugula thrives in cooler weather and is best planted in the early spring or in the fall. For a continuous supply, plant a new row every three weeks. It will be ready to pick in about 35-45 days.

My favorite variety is Apollo, which is ready to harvest in about 40 days and can be trimmed back 3-5 times for an extended harvest. Other varieties include Roquette, which is ready even earlier, and Sylvetta, which is smaller, slower growing, and slower to bolt (go to seed).

Planting arugula: 

  • Arugula can be planted year round in containers. Use potting soils and select pots that have drain holes. A good rule of (green) thumb is to plant roughly one seed per square-inch of soil surface, distributing the seeds evenly.
  • In the garden, plant in early spring or late fall in a sunny, well-drained spot. If your space is limited, save your prime garden spots for something else and plant in partially shaded areas. This cool weather crop does well in partial shade, especially as the weather warms.
  • In a grid-based garden (as opposed to planting in tidy rows), distribute roughly nine seeds per each square-foot of soil surface.
  • Make sure to keep plants watered regularly, especially in hot weather.

Harvesting arugula: Pick the whole plant, especially if you planted the seeds too closely together (thin back the plants to 4-6 inches apart), or harvest the outer leaves near the base to spur regrowth.

As the plant matures, the leaves become bitter. Once the plant bolts and begins to flower, pull it to make room for something else. Or leave it in place. The flowers are pretty (and make a nice garnish for food), and arugula will reseed itself, saving you work next spring.

Arugula flowers in a bouquet

Yellow arugula flowers combine with chard, kale and petunias in a kitchen garden bouquet

Tip: Once the hot days of summer come round, start planting arugula in a pot so you can keep it out of the heat, which will help prevent bitterness. I grow it in a pot on my screen porch during summer.

Arugula in a colander

Arugula in the Kitchen

In salads: Young arugula leaves are great in salad, especially when you add a sweet element, like oranges, use a honey-based dressing, or mix in a milder green.

Healthy eating tip: Snip a few arugula leaves from your windowsill pot and stir them into a purchased bean or pasta salad for an easy and healthy lunch. A one ounce serving of raw arugula contains only seven calories and is a good source of vitamins A, C, K, and folate.

Salad of arugula, orange and feta

Salad of arugula, orange and feta dressed with honey balsamic vinaigrette.

In sandwiches: The green’s robust flavor holds up well in a sandwich. Arugula and roast beef is one classic combination. Since I eat a lot of egg sandwiches around here, I love to tuck in a few of the peppery leaves between the egg and the toast.

Arugula and egg sandwich

Open-faced egg sandwich on wheat with arugula leaves, radish butter and a Parmesan crisp.

Cooking with arugula: If arugula becomes overgrown, it is best cooked to mellow its sharp bitter flavor. I like to sauté chopped greens in olive oil and garlic until they are wilted and then use them as a bruschetta topping with grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese. I also like to stir chopped leaves into homemade soup right before serving to add a bright, herbaceous bite to the broth.

Here’s another great way to use overgrown arugula greens – as a taco filling!