The Best Time To Harvest Your Arugula

Arugula, the peppery, leafy alternative to lettuce, has of late become a staple in salads, sandwiches, and even pizzas. But to elevate your dishes garnished with arugula leaves, getting the timing right for harvesting becomes crucial. Harvest too soon, and the leaves wouldn't have developed their deep-bodied flavor, and if you harvest too late, they will be too bitter to consume. Having said that, the best time to harvest arugula varies across different varieties, with most ripening between 35 and 50 days. For instance, it takes Italian arugula seven to eight weeks to bear harvest-ready baby leaves, while common arugula matures in five weeks.

Generally, the seed packets will state when your arugula plants will be ready. Harvesting arugula is also a matter of taste and flavor. To use arugula as a base for your salads, you can make do by plucking baby leaves early on in the growth cycle, say about four weeks from planting. For a stronger, spicier punch, you might want to wait till the plant matures, right before it begins bolting.

Choosing when to harvest arugula

Technically, when you harvest is a factor in when you plant your arugula, per your growing zones and conditions. So, if you are in zones 7 to 11 and plant arugula around the summer's end, it will be ready to harvest by the fall. However, the exact harvesting time would largely depend on your taste buds.

You can gather arugula leaves in three distinct stages according to your flavor needs. Grazing or plucking the tender leaves after 20 days of planting when they have grown to about 2 inches works well for those who prefer mild pepper notes. But if you are fond of more intense flavors, allowing the arugula to grow beyond 3 inches will be the right call. Be careful not to go overboard by limiting your plucking to about a third of the plant to allow it to regrow.

The final stage arrives right before the plant is about to bolt — usually when the temperature hits almost 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This shows up in the form of the growth of small, lobe-less leaves, unlike the typical, rounded arugula green. You must harvest arugula in its entirety at this point, or else the leaves will turn extremely bitter.

Selecting the best time of day

Besides the part of the growth cycle at which you choose to harvest your arugula leaves, their quality also depends on the time of day they are plucked. Arugula should never be reaped during sunny days, as the hot weather will strip the leaves of their moisture, causing them to wilt quickly. Similarly, harvesting during the wet weather can make the arugula leaves soggy, making them unsuitable for your pesto salad.

Ideally, the best time to pick out arugula leaves is when the day is the coolest and driest, as the leaves will have the most moisture retention. Such times usually occur in the early morning after the dew has evaporated or in the evening around sunset. But if you are forced to harvest the leaves during the heat, place them in a cool location to prevent immediate wilting. But remember to harvest its leaves before winter hits to protect your plant from frost, as it will turn the leaves inedible.