Arugula is a fast-growing crop that can quickly go from sowing, to harvesting, to the kitchen to provide a kick for many dishes. It is a really versatile and easy-to-grow herb that is perfect for kitchen gardens, herb gardens, or in pots on a deck or balcony.
As for when to harvest arugula, the ideal time is around 30 to 40 days after planting; the baby leaves can be picked when they reach only a couple of inches in length. Timing is key though – leave it too long and the leaves will start to turn bitter.
If you pick the outer leaves, you can harvest arugula while the plant keeps growing, as the leaves in the center will continue to develop for future cropping. By continuing to harvest in this way, you’ll enjoy a long crop of leaves.
How to harvest arugula
There are two options for harvesting arugula, according to Becky Decker from The Gardening Hood. ‘You can either selectively pick individual leaves or cut the entire plant at once,’ she explains.
‘Selective leaf harvesting is a common method, allowing you to pick only the outer leaves and letting the inner leaves continue growing.’
When it comes to harvesting individual leaves, our gardening expert Drew Swainston advises picking the leaves by their base, starting with the oldest leaves first once they get to a usable size.
‘It is best practice to start taking the outer leaves of the plant, carefully removing them with a knife or scissors,’ he says. ‘By picking the older outer leaves the younger ones in the center of the plant will continue to grow, allowing you a long succession of harvests.’
In the early stages of the arugula’s growth, make sure to select larger leaves to cut to give the smaller ones a bit more time to grow, although any leaves should be OK to harvest as long as the arugula has at least three rows of leaves. We recommend using this highly-rated Fiskars harvesting tool from Amazon to cut leaves from the plant.
We advise only harvesting around a quarter or a third of your arugula at a time in order to give the plant the opportunity to recover and regrow more leaves for next time. Arugula is a fast-growing vegetable so it should not be long before there are more leaves to harvest.
Timing influences flavor. ‘For baby arugula, you can start harvesting the outer leaves when they reach about 2 to 3 inches in length,’ says David Cohen, CEO of Badais International. ‘This allows the center leaves to continue growing for future harvests. If you prefer a more mature flavor, you can wait until the leaves are around 4 to 6 inches in length.’
If you want to harvest the whole plant at once, possibly for a big dinner party or to make space in your garden for other flowers, break up the soil surrounding the plant’s roots and gently pull the whole plant out of the ground, or simply snip the plant at the base.
You can always leave a few of your arugula in the ground so they can flower and complete their seed cycle so you keep arugula growing year round.
Drew qualified as a journalist and wrote for many websites and publications, before studying for a horticulture qualification. He worked as a professional gardener for several years, specializing in kitchen gardening. He's now bringing his expertise and passion to Homes & Gardens as a member of our team.
What to do with your harvested arugula
Look after an arugula crop. ‘Once harvested, it’s important to handle arugula with care to maintain its freshness,’ says Becky Decker. ‘Remove any damaged or wilted leaves and gently wash the arugula under cold water to remove any dirt or debris.
‘Pat dry the leaves using a clean kitchen towel or a salad spinner. For extended freshness, store the arugula in a perforated plastic bag or airtight container lined with a paper towel. Place it in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer and it should stay fresh for up to a week.’
You can also keep the leaves tasting great a week after harvesting them by putting arugula plants with their roots intact in a container with about an inch of water. Make sure to keep changing the water to keep them as fresh as possible.
Arugula is so versatile it’s a must-have for any herb garden or kitchen garden. Even if you are short of space, it is worth growing. It is one of the best vegetables to grow in pots and it is valuable to have a plant or two so you can pick homegrown spicy leaves to throw in salads or put on pizzas. Arugula does prefer cool climates, so if you live in a hot US hardiness zone then plant it in spring or late summer and be prepared for plants to bolt in very warm periods.
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Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past five years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including recipe articles, reviewing products, writing ‘how to’ and ‘when to’ articles. Lola now writes about everything from organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate student, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.
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