Arugula is one of the most popular crops to grow for both chefs and for the farmer’s market.
You can sell it on its own and/or put it into salad mixes.
There are a few varieties of Arugula you can choose to grow.
- Astro (winter)
It might take some experimenting to figure out which varieties appeal to your customers as well as are good for your climate.
Arugula grows quickly and is frost-hardy. It can survive temperatures as low as 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius).
Very fertile soils grow the best arugula, so try and turn in leguminous cover crops or compost to provide adequate nutrition before planting.
Arugula is best grown for early and late harvests. In the summer its taste tends to become a bit sharp and less desirable for your customers.
However, if you choose to grow arugula throughout the summer (it is a high demand item), try and grow it in a cool, dark location in the garden or under shade cloth.
Providing enough water during hot weather can help prevent bitter flavours and excess pungency.
You can transplant or direct seed arugula.
Transplanting is recommended if you grow very intensively, such as 5 rows, 6 inches apart, spaced every 1 ¼”).
Arugula is in your garden for about 45 days, this includes 2 cuttings of the same plant.
Transplanting gives the crop some extra weeks to finish up.
For example, if you have 4 weeks between the end of one crop and the arugula transplants going in, you can sow a cover crop like buckwheat to add organic matter and smother weeds.
In Spring, you can sow in flats in a greenhouse or indoors to get an early start. They can be transplanted at 4-5 weeks of age, about a month before your last frost date.
In Summer, you can make an outside nursery bed, sow at about 3 or 4 seeds per inch, and cover with a row cover.
Arugula is generally ready to be transplanted two weeks after sowing.
The seedlings emerge in as little as three days in summer temperatures.
Using outdoor seedbeds for summer sowing makes it easier to keep plants watered.
For the fall crop, outdoor planting is in the last week of June and repeat a week later for insurance (first week of July).
The last date for sowing arugula is about three months before the first fall frost date in your climate.
To minimize transplant shock, water the plants well an hour before transplanting, get them in the ground as quickly as possible and water again,
Shade cloth or row cover will help keep the breezes and strong sun off the plants.
Start Spring planting as early as the first week of March for greenhouse production and the third week of March for field production under poly low tunnels.
At this point, start succession planting based on crop development, which is usually two plantings about 2 weeks apart.
From May until September, plant every single week.
As the days get longer, increase the frequency of plantings but decrease the number of beds that you plant.
In springtime with arugula, you may get over three cuts per bed. In summer, you may only get two or one.
Arugula is relatively shallow-rooted and needs plenty of water to grow pleasant-tasting leaves.
One inch of water per week is enough, except during very hot weather when two inches will work better.
Drip irrigation saves water and reduces disease and weed pressure.
Alternatively, overhead irrigation can be cheaper and easier to set up for crops that will be harvested quickly. They also can wash off aphids and could be all the control measures you need for that pest.
Arugula Pests and Diseases
There are a few pests that enjoy the peppery taste of arugula as much as we do, such as:
- Harlequin bug: Try to pick and kill as many as possible in the spring, and again when you plant out fall brassicas. These may or may not be common in your grow zone.
- Flea Beetles: You can use Spinosad, an enzyme produced by a natural soil organism to get rid of these pests.
- Hb nematodes will also control them.
- Neem oil can work as well.
- Some honourable mentions go to garlic spray, Miller’s Hot Sauce, kaolin, and white sticky traps which have all been said to work.
- You can also catch them in a vacuum cleaner.
- Aphids: These are more of a problem in the cooler weather of early spring before their predators have arrived in high enough numbers.
- Insecticidal soaps can be used in the meantime.
- Row covers will keep caterpillars off plants.
- If these fail, you can use Bacillus thuringensis (Bt) to kill them. Bt degrades rapidly in sunlight so is best used early evening or early morning.
- Fortunately, caterpillars have many natural enemies, such as paper wasps and Cotesia glomerata which is a parasite.
- Slugs: These can be best caught at night with a flashlight and disposed of.
- Grasshoppers: These can be a problem for your plants. Row covers can help keep them off your arugula.
- In hot weather, use a net fabric with small holes rather than a row cover, as airflow is better and it heats less.
Diseases are not so much of a problem with arugula as it is such a fast turnaround crop. If some happen to get sick, just pull them out and move on.
Arugula is good for growing as a baby crop. This allows you to cut it short and get as much of the shape of the leaf as possible without too much stem.
During the summer months, this means cutting it really young and getting a smaller yield.
In hot weather, arugula needs to be cut early because it will bolt very quickly. This may mean harvesting it before your main harvest day.
By mid-May, a freshly cut bed of arugula will regenerate in one week.
If cut on a Thursday, it should be ready to cut again next Thursday.
During the colder months, it regenerates more slowly, in about 10-14 days.
To maintain steady weekly production, harvest on a Monday one week, then on Thursday or Friday the next week. This will give your plants more days to grow.
Once you have multiple beds growing, you have fewer gaps in production from different succession plantings.
After harvest, get the crops to the shade and into a cooler as soon as you can to prevent any heat damage such as wilting.
If you have any arugula tips or strategies to add, please feel free to comment down below!
Kathy & Jon
your friendly neighbourhood growers