Growing garden cress: tips on planting, care & varieties
Growing garden cress is surprisingly easy. Along with its low maintenance nature, the spicy aroma and plentiful health benefits make cress definitely worth growing.
Garden cress (Lepidium sativum) is part of the cruciferous family (Brasicaceae) and probably the perfect plant to crown your entry into gardening with success. It is so easy to cultivate that it can be grown almost anywhere and at any time. The herb, which probably originated from Asia, is popular because for its mildly pungent spiciness. Charlemagne, the King of Franks during the early Middle Ages, gave orders to cultivate cress and he was not the only person in history to enjoy the annual herb. Cress seeds have been found in tombs of ancient Egypt, too.
Despite the undemanding nature of the cress, a few small things need to be taken into account to successfully complete the cultivation of this herb up until harvest.
How to grow garden cress
The easiest way to start growing garden cress is to sow some seeds. If you are planning to sow outdoors, a sunny location is beneficial but not essential. Here again, cress demonstrates its low maintenance nature as it can easily grow in shade too. In shaded areas, it will take a few days longer until harvest but it works.
You can sow garden cress whenever it suits you. Whether sowing in rows or close together, cress does not care at all. However, sowing should not take place before the Ice Saints in mid-May, as the dainty seedlings are very sensitive to frost. Also, the seeds need at least 15 °C to germinate and they need to be kept moist permanently. What is more, the seeds require light to germinate, so make sure they are not completely buried beneath the substrate. Usually, cress germinates after a couple of days. This means you can sow it outdoors in autumn and it will still reach harvest maturity.
While outdoor cultivation of garden cress is only possible during frost-free time of the year, growing cress indoors is possible all year round for example on a bright window sill. Without a doubt, everybody can grow cress (no gardening skills required!) because success is guaranteed, no matter where or in what you sow cress. Cress is known to germinate in almost any substrate. Whether cotton wool, damp kitchen towel or normal garden soil – at room temperature, garden cress germinates in a matter of days. After four days of growing it is ready to be harvested and eaten. This is why it is best to grow cress in consecutive batches.
Growing garden cress in cotton wool or other germ-free substrates is also an option and even advisable. As simple as cultivation is, garden cress is susceptible to infestation with germs and fungi. Soil substrates are unfortunately prone to a variety of different pests, that can have negative impact on your crops. Should you nevertheless decide to grow garden cress in soil, you can sterilise it in the oven before sowing. This step will help decimate any possible pest population in the soil.
Fertilising and watering garden cress
Its low maintenance nature makes cress a beginner-friendly cultivation. Just remember to keep the seeds moist for. The young plants also enjoy an even supply of water. Fertilising is not necessary with garden cress. Although the cruciferous plant has nothing against well-fertilised soil or substrates, this herb is content with nutrient-poor soil. Reduced supply of nutrients does not reduce the likelihood of an abundant harvest. However, if you want to create the best growing conditions, use a high-quality substrate such as peat-free Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost for potting. You can also improve beds with this soil before planting.
- Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables such as chillies, courgettes & more
- For strong & healthy plant growth as well as an abundant vegetable harvest
- Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition
Types of cress
Next to garden cress (Lepidium sativum) there are two other well-known types of cress: watercress (Nasturtium officinale) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum). The leaves of all three species are edible. Compared to nasturtium which has countless varieties and a vast range of colourful flowers, garden cress does not show a great variety. Therefore, if you are looking for an edible plant with greater decorative value, we recommend growing nasturtiums. This does not take away from the many positive qualities of garden cress. Nasturtium has a delicious spicy aroma and benefits for your health.
Harvesting and storing garden cress
With a favourable temperature of around 20 °C, garden cress will be ready for harvest after only four days. No other plant has a journey from seed to plate as rapid as garden cress. Use scissors to cut off the small plants about one centimetre above substrate surface. Harvest only as much as you need for the moment because cress is best eaten when fresh. Do not wait too long for your harvest though, always consume before it blooms. As garden cress loses its aroma within a very short time after cutting, direct use is advisable. Do not wash cress after harvesting. This will cause the plant to lose its crisp freshness. It wilts fast and becomes less crunchy.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to preserve the spicy herb in any form. If you want to have garden cress available permanently, you have to keep sowing new cress seeds in short intervals. Whatever you do not harvest in time before flowering, you can use for seed production.
Garden cress: benefits and use
In our opinion, the best recipe for cress is as garnish of a fresh bread with a delicious spread. This is a classic, tasty and healthy way to eat garden cress. Thanks to the contained mustard glycosides, cress acquires its characteristic peppery note, which works well in many dishes. Also, the crunchy peppery cress compliments fresh salads well. Not to mention: cress refines dishes in a decorative way, too.
There is more to garden cress than just taste and appearance. Some claim, that the so-called cress test is a simple and quick indicator for measuring air pollution with harmful substances. This test compares the growth of cress seedlings exposed to a polluted environment with that of unpolluted seedlings. It will give you a rough conclusion about the emissions contained in the air.
Surprisingly, garden cress also has a high content of vitamin C, iron, calcium and folic acid. If you cultivate garden cress on the windowsill, it will make a valuable and energising supplement, especially in winter. Fresh and nutritious fruit and vegetables are often in short supply at this time of year. Another positive effect of enjoying garden cress regularly: broken bones are said to heal faster. This healing power of the herb has even been confirmed by a few studies.