How To Grow Arugula – This Is “Rocket” Science


So, You Want To Know How To Grow Arugula?

In learning how to grow arugula, it is good to know that “arugula” is an American word for this leafy veggie with a fresh, tangy, peppery flavor.  In British English, it is called, “rocket” – or “garden rocket” – or “roquette” – hence the play on words that “this is rocket science.”  Why the British use the word, “rocket”, is beyond me – since this is actually a variety of arugula – at least in the U.S.A.


Arugula – In Days Gone By

Brought to dinner tables as far back as 600 B.C., arugula was a favorite as a raw salad component.  It was also cooked and stir fried – just like spinach.

Virgil the Roman poet said arugula is an aphrodisiac.

There was a longstanding belief, held mostly by the Romans and Egyptians, that this veggie – which is completely edible – leaves, flowers, seed pods, etc. – was a potent aphrodisiac.  The Roman poet, Virgil, mentioned it in a poem as an “enhancement for sexual delights” (loosely translated).  I guess you could call arugula the predecessor to Viagra!  Men – looking to “stimulate” their wives and mistresses – used to hide a goodly portion of arugula among the lettuce – in salads eaten by their wives and mistresses.  Oh, what a tangled web they failed to weave!

In Saudi Arabia, arugula is highly touted for consumption by newlywed couples.  Wonder why?  Newlyweds?  “Oh, I get the picture!”, says Jim, the Lifelong Gardener – with a sly smirk on his face.  “Uh-huh…”

Because of this widespread belief that arugula could jump start the libido, monks forbade its consumption in the monasteries back in the Middle Ages.  Knowing that monks were famous for meditating en masse, makes me think that controlling lust could have been one of the reasons!

Some Romans, including Pliny, The Elder, saw arugula as an anesthetic to alleviate pain.  And, it actually does work – especially for stomach pain caused from overeating – the leaves are so much easier to digest making it easier on the stomach.


What About Nutrition?

Arugula has great nutritional benefits so less health insurance needed.

Low in calories, carbs, sugar, and fat – and high in fiber and protein – arugula has all the nutritional essentials – vitamins A, B, C, and K – and a host of minerals – calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, etc.

So, some benefits of eating arugula are:

  • Helps create healthy bodies – bones, teeth, eyes, kidneys, lungs, muscles, heart, and nerve functions.
  • Improves the immune system, cell growth, and night vision.
  • Helps blood to clot so blood thinners may not be needed.  NOTE:  Always check with your doctor before stopping any prescribed blood thinner medications.
  • Reduces high blood pressure. This is a biggie for many people!
  • Combats constipation – leading to more regular bowel movements.


Did You Know…

Though arugula has been popular throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia for hundreds of years, it only became a popular veggie in the United States about 30 years ago.

In India, they press arugula seeds into oil called, “taramira” – and, it is used for both medicinal and cosmetic purposes.

Due to arugula’s spiciness and tangy flavor, it is naturally resistant to many pests that will invade other leafy greens.


Eating Arugula

An Italian favorite - raw arugula on pizza.

Besides being a salad ingredient, arugula finds its way into numerous cooked dishes.

Italians add it raw to pizza just prior to serving, as well as adding it to a variety of stovetop or oven pasta dishes.

Slovenians, especially in Goriška and Istria, slather their potatoes with it and boil everything, along with a few spices.  They also like to add arugula to soups.

In Egypt and Turkey – besides eating arugula raw as a side dish – maybe, with a little lemon juice and olive oil – they enhance their seafood dishes with it.

In the good ole U.S. of A., arugula is found in all the above forms – since America is the melting pot of all these communities and cultures.

Personally, I like to steam or sauté arugula – and add a dose of garlic salt for an added punch.  Many times, I will also substitute it for lettuce on my favorite hamburger sandwich.  Add some spicy heat with a few drops of Tabasco sauce and, I’m home free!


The Best Varieties

There are 3 basic varieties of arugula that I like.  One variety is called, “Rocket” – one is called “Selvatica” – and the third one is just called “Garden.”

Full descriptions of all 3 are listed in “The Best Organic Vegetable Seeds – For All Your Growing Needs” in the section for Arugula.


Planting Arugula

Arugula seedlings

Growing arugula is pretty easy.  This leafy green needs sunshine – just like all other vegetables.  But, it also likes a little shade – so, try to find a growing area in the garden that gets some shade – preferably in the afternoon when temperatures are highest.  Alternatively, it also grows very well in containers – as long as it is outside in the fresh, clean air and sunshine.  Arugula can be grown in an indoor garden with grow lights but, it just “grows” – it doesn’t “thrive” and push its boundaries – like it does outdoors.

Arugula seeds are best planted directly into the soil.  They sprout easily so, the germination, transplanting, and hardening off processes can be skipped.

  • Till the soil to at least 6 inches deep.
  • Make a furrow in the row about a half inch deep and add a quarter inch thick layer of Jim’s 50/50 soil mixture.
  • Spread the seeds along the furrow a couple inches apart and keep the rows between 12 and 18 inches apart.
  • Cover the seeds with another quarter inch layer of Jim’s soil mixture and tamp the soil down lightly so that it makes good contact with the seeds.
  • Water well – keeping the soil continually moist until germination. After that, the plants are happy as long as they get about an inch of water per week.  Using water sensors and probes can give you clues as to when watering is needed.
  • Once the seedlings pop up – in a week or two – thin them out so that the healthiest ones are 5 or 6 inches apart.
  • Mulch around the plants to help control weeds and provide a blanket to hold the moisture in the soil. Weeds will steal water and nutrients from the veggies.
  • Place soaker hoses in an “S” pattern – interweaving them through the plants along the row. This is the optimum way to water a veggie garden.  Overhead watering with a hose or sprinkler setup is best done in the morning to give the plant leaves and stems time to dry out.  Evening watering causes the plants to stay wet overnight – which can eventually lead to a number of fungal diseases.
  • Arugula will be ready for harvest in a little over a month – so, plan on planting a second crop later in the summer as long as the temperature is below 75o F (24o C). Even though they are somewhat heat tolerant, arugula has the best flavor when grown in cooler weather.


Harvest TimeArugula flowers

There’ll be a lot of young 2-to-3 inch leaves ready for pickin’ in a month or so – if everything goes as planned.  These leaves are the most tender and are great in salads.

Pick the outside leaves starting at the base of the plant – leaving the center alone to encourage additional growth.

When the flowers begin to appear, the leaves will take on more of a bitter taste.  At this stage, arugula is best when cooked – just like spinach.  Don’t forget that the flowers, seeds, seed pods, and stems are also edible.

Wrap arugula in a damp paper towel, place it in a plastic bag that has a few holes to allow air circulation, and refrigerate.  Make sure to consume the produce in a week or less – especially, if eaten raw.


Pests And Diseases


PestsFlea beetles love arugula leaves.

Very few pests will go after arugula.  Among them are flea beetles and aphids.  To minimize the attacks by these pests, lay a floating row cover over the plants.  If an infestation is found, the best weapon in your arsenal is a quality insecticide like Ortho Flower, Fruit and Vegetable Insect Killer.

On rare occasions, slugs may show up to munch on the arugula.  They will make large holes in the leaves or eat the entire leaf – much like what a hornworm does to a tomato plant.

A trick that works for me to get rid of slugs is place a deep bowl – with steep sides – into a hole in the ground and fill it up halfway with beer.  Slugs love beer but, they can’t swim – so, in the morning, there should be a goodly number drowned and floating around in the beer.  Dump the slugs out in the yard and, in no time, the birds will swoop down and gobble them up.  Every heard a drunk bird sing?  It’s hilarious!  They can really hit the high notes!Beat down these arugula loving slugs.

One alternative to my beer method is to bite the bullet and spend some quality evening time picking the slugs off the plants by hand.  This “quality evening time” is truly a tiresome and tedious task to partake.  (Say that 5 times fast!)

The other alternative is to spread used coffee grounds around the plants.  This never works for me because I never have enough coffee grounds.  But, this method will work – since slugs are unable to crawl across a coffee ground barrier.  Of course, periodically, fresh coffee grounds need to be added – to replace what has been washed away by rain and wind.



Leaf fungal disease.

Leaf spot and downy mildew are the most common diseases that arugula is prone to.

You can recognize leaf spot by the round brownish red spots on the upper surface of the leaves.  These spots typically have a grayish white center.  This happens a lot in very hot and humid weather.

Downy mildew is characterized by grayish white patches starting on the underside of the leaves – eventually migrating to the topside.  A possible cause – besides having wet leaves on the plant overnight – could be over watering.  So, stick to the one inch per week rule.

In both cases, crop rotation is essential to minimize harassment by these diseases.  If caught early and there are only a few damaged leaves, pull them off and spray the plants with an fungicide like Daconil or Physan 20 – either of these products will, in all likelihood, slow down the spread of fungal diseases.  But, if the disease has overrun any plant, it’s best to just yank the affected plant out of the garden – roots and all – and throw it in a trash bag.  DO NOT put infected plants into a compost pile or anywhere near the garden unless you want the same problem to crop up in other plants this year – or in a future garden season.


Final Thoughts

I asked Marty the other day what attracted her to me.  She said, “I thought you were arugula guy!”  How ‘bout that?

So tell me about your arugula experiences in the comments section or, alternatively, email me if you so choose.


Jim, the Lifelong Gardener

14 thoughts on “How To Grow Arugula – This Is “Rocket” Science

  1. Lynne Huysamen Reply

    We call it Rocket in South Africa and I love it! I much prefer having a salad with Rocket or other green leafy salads rather than just lettuce. I’ve tried to grow it before at our home but the only area I have to grow it is in a full sun area and it gets very hot here in summer, way too hot to have Rocket and most plants out in the direct sunlight. I can’t wait until I have my own garden rather than being in a rented home. 

    Do you think I would be able to grow Rocket indoors? It is something I have been thinking about for a while. My kitchen windows get a little bit of morning sun and then it gets shaded. I don’t want to have to run around moving pot plants in and out of the sun every day – I have enough on as it is.

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Lynne,

      Arugula is called, “Rocket” not only in South Africa but in several other places – primarily where there are British lovers of this leafy green.

      A trick I’ve used to offset direct sunlight effects on my plants during extreme summer heat, is to shade them with a makeshift tent – made from tarp or two.  That is, if you don’t have the convenience of being able to plant near a few trees.

      If you have Rocket planted outside in containers, an easy way to add a little shade is with an umbrella.

      You most definitely can grow Rocket indoors.  Just make sure that it gets enough sun – from either being positioned close to a window or under a small grow light operating 12 to 16 hours a day.  You should only use potting soil for an indoor growing medium.


  2. Chris Reply

    I absolutely love rocket in my salad (yes I’m British) but I’m aware that the peppery taste is not for everybody. I was advised to start eating it about 2 years ago due to the apparent high magnesium content in it. 

    Seeing as I’m based in the UK, I’m wondering if there are any side measures I should be taking due to the fact that the weather is very unstable here, even in the summer months?

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Chris,

      Even though I am not British, I love adding “rocket” to my salads, too!

      As far as the weather in your end of the world, I would just play it by ear – and, keep a close eye on weather forecasts.  Arugula is so easy to grow and thrive that it’s hard not to have some great harvests.


  3. Peace Reply

    You mentioned some claims about Arugula, and I wanted to know if they have been confirmed, whether scientifically or personally? Especially the libido boosting claim. 

    Away from that, it seems like Arugula has some real medicinal qualities going for it. 

    From your post, you mentioned that it helps develop the body healthily, body parts such as the teeth, bone ,etc, and that it also helps eliminate constipation, and so on. 

    • Jim Reply

      Arugula being a “libido booster” dates back to a period in time where many foods were thought to increase sex drive – including olives, oysters, etc.  But, as we all know, most of these thoughts were “old wives tales.”

      In actuality, arugula supplies many nutrients that aid the body in maintaining its sexual prime – such as vitamins A and C which are essential to hormone production.

      It’s a fresh veggie – and you just can’t get better nutrients elsewhere.  Foods that are canned, bottled, or otherwise re-processed drive out all the good stuff from the foods we eat.


  4. Dave Sweney Reply

    The back story to this vegetable is really amazing, I had no idea. Arugula known as rocket lettuce, in Germany is called rocula. It is a favorite for an additional topping to other leafy green vegetables such as lettuce and spinach. I had no idea that it is purported to have qualities that help one’s libido, but that could explain the two girls that my wife and I had so many years ago?

    In any case, aside from these claims, the nutritional value arugula offers are more than enough for me to continue to use it in my salads. There are so many that I cannot see why would NOT use it. It also adds a nice flavor to the salads. Trying to grow my own has never been a consideration, but why not?

    Having said that, your post is very helpful in that regard. I have looked and the seeds are available here in Dubai, and now is the perfect time to plant (it is already getting warm again). So I will give this a try and see how it comes out. Being able to pick fresh arugula from the home garden appeals to me, and I also know no pesticides, etc. will have been used.

    Thanks for a wonderful read and good advice!  

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Dave,

      Folks in Italy and Spain call it “rucola” and “rúcula”, respectively. But, by any name, arugula is still a lightly peppery additive to any salad or other dish.

      Good luck with your home gardening endeavors! Keep me posted on how it goes and grows!


  5. Michel Reply

    This is the first time I have heard of Arugula. Although looking at the pictures, I do recognize it.

    I see you can actually eat this and it has many health benefits too. Reading further I see that there are three varieties, the one being the rocket. I love rocket and often buy it to use as I prefer it to lettuce.

    I am going to use your instructions to try and grow some of my own. Thank you for the wonderful and most informative post.

    • Jim Reply

      Hi Michel,

      I also prefer arugula to lettuce.  However, I also like to add a bit of mesclun once in a while, too!

      I’m glad that I have given you some inspiration to grow your own.  Good luck and keep me posted!


  6. Tushar Reply

    Wow, this article was so educational for me. I’m very curious about growing Arugula in my garden and this article gives me some valuable tips on how to plant it.

    I’ve learned some special benefits of Arugula that I did not know before reading this article such as creating healthy bodies and reducing high blood pressure. These days high blood pressure is a common disease

    Great information about the harvest time and the diseased leaf photo gave me a better understanding of the fungal disease Arugula can get.

    Overall, the article was very informative to me.

    • Jim Reply

      I’m glad you liked my arugula article.  This is just one of the many leafy greens that offer benefits to keep our bodies healthy and lower the risks of many diseases.

      Hopefully, you will get the “I’m gonna grow arugula” bug and get your own garden started – soon!


  7. Rgpratap Reply

    Hi Jim,

    Your review of Arugula is really interesting and valuable. There are so many health benefits of growing my own plants.

    It is heartening to know that Arugula improves the immune system and reduces high blood pressure.

    After reading your clear explanations about the planting and caring process, I wanted to try it out myself.

    What I would like to know is if this plant can survive in Indian soil?



    • Jim Reply

      Hi Ranao,

      It’s great that you found my arugula article worthwhile.  Arugual can be grown successfully in just about any climate – even in India.

      Just make sure that the plants can be shaded in the hot sunshine that comes later in the day.  And, don’t forget to provide adequate water and nutrients.


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