With regrets to all the lettuce lovers out there, I must proclaim that there is no better base for a salad than freshly grown arugula.
I planted the leafy green in my vegetable garden last summer and was surprised by how quickly and easily it grew.
If you’ve never tried to grow arugula, , now’s the perfect time to start. You can grow it in your yard, or even indoors.
For complete instructions, check out our guide to growing and caring for arugula.
In this article, we’re going to be unlocking the secrets of how and when to harvest arugula so that you get the tastiest greens for your dishes.
Here’s what you’ll discover.
When to Harvest Arugula
When you harvest arugula depends on when you planted it. Since it’s a cool-weather crop, you can plant it as soon as your soil thaws in the spring in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-6.
In Zones 7-11, you would plant it in early spring for a late-spring crop or late summer for a fall crop.
This plant matures quickly, especially compared to lettuce – yet another reason why I think it’s a fantastic choice for salads!
The fastest-maturing varieties are ready for harvesting just 35 days after sowing. Most are ready after 50 days.
Check the back of your seed packet to determine when the variety you are growing should be ready.
Knowing which variety you are growing is the best frame of reference for when to harvest, but keep in mind that you don’t have to wait the full growing time before plucking leaves for your salads and sandwiches.
Flavor Is Key
A member of the Brassicaceae family, which also counts mustard greens among its members, arugula is often described as having a peppery kick.
In young greens, this kick is understated. Tender leaves just a few weeks old have a mild flavor and – in my opinion – make the best salad base.
But if you love biting into a salad with a zesty edge, you’ll want to harvest when the plant is more mature. The older the leaf, the sharper the bite – but if you wait too long, it will bolt.
Especially if you’ve planted a summer crop, as this plant favors cooler weather and will bolt much more quickly under a hot sun.
Some people think that once it has bolted that the greens are too bitter to eat, but leaves picked from a bolted plant make a fantastic pesto, or a peppery addition to your favorite pasta salad.
The way I see it, there are three different harvesting stages. Which one you choose will depend on what you’re using the greens for and what your taste buds prefer.
Best Time of Day to Harvest
One of the keys to harvesting tasty greens lies within what time of day you harvest.
Here are three things you should know:
- Never harvest in full sun, because the hotter the greens when you pick them, the faster they will wilt.
- Avoid harvesting in wet weather unless you want soggy greens.
- Always pick during the coolest, driest time of the day – typically in the evening as the sun’s going down, or in the morning if there’s no dew.
How to Harvest Baby Greens
In supermarkets, leaves from the young plant are often labeled as “baby arugula.” But they’re the same thing: leaves picked just a few weeks after planting.
There are two ways you can harvest baby greens.
First, check to make sure the leaves are long enough. If they are two to three inches long, they are ready for picking as baby greens.
This usually takes around three weeks from sowing, depending on the variety.
If you just need young leaves for a small salad or garnish, pinch off a few leaves from the outer portion of each plant, leaving plenty of even younger ones to keep growing and maturing.
For a bigger salad, like this recipe for a fresh green salad with arugula, beets, goat cheese and olive oil from our sister site, Foodal, you’ll want to pick baby greens in larger bunches.
To harvest more leaves use a pair of gardening shears or kitchen scissors and start cutting the more mature, outer leaves first, making sure to cut them at the base of their stems.
Then cut the younger leaves from the center of the plant. Leave behind all the new growth on the central stalk, as well as the smallest baby leaves and even a few big ones.
You can harvest half the plant at once without doing it any damage. By cutting it back you’ll encourage new growth, which slows bolting and allows you to “cut and come again.”
Do you prefer spicy leaves that add an exciting zing to your pizza?
Keep reading to find out how to harvest mature leaves.
How to Harvest Mature Leaves
You can harvest mature greens for a more full-bodied, peppery flavor when the leaves are at least six inches tall.
To harvest, you can take a garden knife or shears and cut back up half of the leaves, at the base of the stalks, just like you’d do for baby greens.
But if it’s hot outside, watch your plant for the telltale sign that it’s about to bolt: the emergence of small weedy-looking, lobe-less leaves at the top of the plant.
These leaves are shortly followed by flowers, so act quickly if you don’t want your crop to bolt!
For a quick and thorough harvest of an entire plant when it’s mature – 35-50 days after sowing, depending on the variety – loosen the soil around the plant with your fingers and gently pull it up, roots and all.
Remember to pull the plant in the evening or morning – and avoid harvesting rain-soaked leaves or those covered in dew.
When Arugula Bolts
Every time I go out to eat with my parents at an Indian food restaurant, they order their dishes with the highest level of spice, which makes me feel like a wimp with my sheepish request for “medium spicy, please.”
Something tells me my folks would love bolted arugula.
It’s the strongest-flavored rocket of all. If your plant has really gone wild and is growing leaves off a thick, woody stalk, don’t eat that part.
Just pluck the leaves off the stalk and use them for that arugula pesto.
You can even harvest arugula flowers. They make a flavorful addition to any spring salad.
The Rocket to a Planet of Flavor
This plant isn’t called “rocket” for nothing.
This tasty green can totally change your perspective on salad, like it did for me – a self-proclaimed salad-hater until I met arugula.
You don’t have to give up lettuce in order to enjoy arugula, of course. The two combine admirably.
Have you ever grown arugula? Share your harvest tips, tricks, and questions below!
For more information on how to grow and harvest other cruciferous vegetables, check out these articles next:
- How to Harvest Kale
- How to Grow Collard Greens, A Taste of Southern Culture
- How to Harvest Brussels Sprouts
About Laura Melchor
Laura Melchor grew up helping her mom in the garden in Montana, and as an adult she’s brought her cold-weather gardening skills with her to her home in Alaska. She’s especially proud of the flowerbeds she and her three-year-old son built with rocks dug up from their little Alaska homestead. As a freelance writer, she contributes to several websites and blogs across the web. Laura also writes novels and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
“How and When to Harvest Arugula” was first posted here