This small leaf may look delicate but it packs a peppery punch that intensifies as it grows.
Credit: Photo: Oxmoor House

SEASON: Arugula prefers cool weather, usually the refreshing days of spring and fall.

CHOOSING: Look for unblemished green leaves with no sign of yellowing or wilting. If picking from the garden, snip off just the outer leaves; this way, the plant can produce more for your next salad or stir-fry.

STORING: If you buy arugula, keep it from wilting by placing it in a produce bag in the refrigerator. It will last about a week. When growing arugula, the best way to keep it fresh is to leave it in the garden until you need it.

GROWING: Arugula is mild-mannered when young but becomes downright spicy as the plant matures or the weather gets warm. If it becomes too piquant for your taste, mix it with a blend of mild lettuces for a flavorful salad with contrasting tastes and textures. Or wilt it in a sauté pan as you would other bitter greens.

In early spring, place young plants of arugula in a sunny, well-prepared bed. You can also sow seeds directly into your garden or into a container of good potting soil. Thin or transplant crowded seedlings so that plants grow about 12 inches apart.

Arugula grows fast, so replant again every two to three weeks to be sure you have good greens. This is particularly helpful in the spring, when the days get warmer and plants start maturing.

Each plant will grow into a rosette. When hot weather triggers flowering, arugula can grow as tall as 3 feet with white flowers. While the leaves may be too peppery for dinner, the flowers make a nice addition to a salad or as a garnish. If seeds are allowed to fall into garden beds, your arugula will return when the time is right.