How and When to Harvest Arugula
You’ve sown the seeds and nurtured your seedlings. Your arugula plants look great, but when do you harvest? Gardening expert Kelli Klein explains not only when to harvest your arugula but also how to keep the plants producing and creating future food.
Arugula often adds a peppery bite to salads, sandwiches, pizzas, pasta sauces, and even soups. It can be blended into a pesto as well. This plant is prized for its foliage, which is especially delicious when harvested young and tender.
This annual edible can be grown in USDA zones 2-11 and tolerates light frosts. Arugula tends to prefer cooler weather rather than warm weather. In extended periods of heat, arugula will bolt and go to seed. Arugula will do best when grown in spring and fall in zones with high-heat summers.
This leafy green vegetable is native to the Mediterranean and has since gained popularity around the globe. It is also known as rocket or “ruchetta” in Italy. Arugula is in the Brassicaceae family, which includes plants like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. Like many plants in this family, it is high in antioxidants and vitamins A and C.
Now that you know all the reasons to grow your arugula at home and you’ve got your seeds or started your plants, read on to learn how and when to harvest it!
Knowing how and when to harvest your edible plants is often underestimated. Harvesting at the right time will give you delicious produce at its peak in flavor and highest storage potential and ensure that your plants continue to produce for as long as possible. Most plants have a final goal of creating seeds (or fruits that contain seeds) to ensure the continuation of their species.
Arugula is no different. Once you understand the best time to snip your arugula, you will be able to enjoy this peppery leafy green at peak flavor and even be able to store it if need be. Regular harvests will encourage your arugula to continue to push out new growth, which is exactly what we want, as this will result in more arugula!
Each time you harvest arugula, you divert the focus from creating seeds and shift the plant’s energy back into growing more leaves. Eventually, regardless of harvesting, your arugula will do what it is designed to do and will go to seed, but regular harvesting can extend the period during which you can enjoy these fresh greens.
When to Harvest
Depending on which variety you are growing, arugula is generally ready within 20-50 days after sowing seeds. Check your seed packet for specifics. If you want baby arugula, start harvesting when the plant is 4-6 inches tall.
For a more mature arugula, allow the leaves to grow double the size of the baby arugula and then begin harvesting. You may also grow arugula as microgreens, which will be ready much sooner. Microgreens can be harvested in as little as ten days. They make a delicious garnish or substitute for sprouts on sandwiches.
Check on your arugula at least once weekly and harvest as new growth appears. This will encourage your plants to keep producing. This advice only applies to arugula plants and not microgreens. Microgreens will be a one-time harvest!
Bolting and Seed Collecting
As mentioned above, arugula grows best in cooler weather. As the weather warms up in the summer, arugula tends to bolt or send up a center flower stalk to eventually produce seeds. At a certain point in the season, there will be nothing that you can do to prevent bolting. It is the natural life cycle of arugula.
However, all is not lost! You can allow your springtime arugula to bolt, collect the seeds, and then plant them at the end of the summer for a second fall harvest.
To collect seeds, let the flowers die back, allow seed pods to form, dry fully on the plant, and then crack them open to reveal the seeds. Pro tip: arugula flowers are edible and have the same delicious peppery flavor. They make a great edible flower garnish for salads, soups, and even avocado toast!
How to Harvest
There are two main methods for harvesting leafy greens: the cut-and-come-again method and the one-time harvesting method. The cut-and-come-again method is the best choice for arugula since it doesn’t form a head that needs to be harvested all at once like with other leafy greens, i.e., leaf lettuce, romaine, and butterhead.
When growing microgreens, you will use a one-time harvesting method and cut your microgreens down to the ground at once. Use small snips or sharp scissors to do so. Microgreens don’t store well, so it’s best to enjoy them immediately.
When growing arugula plants for baby greens or mature leaves, it’s best to use the cut-and-come-again method. This can be achieved by harvesting the outer leaves, ensuring you harvest no more than one-third of the plant’s overall foliage at a single time. Use snips or sharp scissors and cut the base of the leaf where it meets the main stem. Be sure to allow your arugula to put out new growth before harvesting again.
It is best to eat your arugula right away. However, you might have multiple plants pumping out greens or need to store arugula for future food dishes or meals. When harvested properly, arugula can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.
If you plan to store your arugula, harvest early in the day before the sun has hit the leaves. Make sure the leaves are standing upright and crisp. Never harvest wilted leaves during the heat of the day. They won’t bounce back once they’ve been cut from the plant.
If you aren’t consuming your arugula immediately, it doesn’t need to be washed yet. Place unwashed leaves in a paper towel and insert into a zipper seal plastic bag. Put the bag in the crisper drawer until you can use it.
Like most leafy greens, arugula is an excellent edible plant for beginner vegetable gardeners since it’s easy and quick to grow. It is especially rewarding to utilize the cut-and-come-again method for continual harvests. If you don’t have a lot of space, or even little to no space (save for a sunny windowsill), you can even still grow arugula microgreens! Now that you know how and when to harvest arugula, get out there and get growing!