(Garden) Cress

Lepidium sativum
Pepper Grass, Broadleaf Cress, Pepper Cress

Broadleaf Cress isn’t quite like the watercress that you’ve heard of. I thought it might be. I had a packet of seeds from a mixed seed kit; it’d been a few years since I got them, so I couldn’t remember exactly where. I believe it was some sort of pasta sauce or pizza topping blend, including some basil and a third thing that has since disappeared. I wasn’t even sure if the seeds would start after so long! (Turns out they’re viable after a few years)

I spread them fairly thickly across the top of the soil, then worked the upper layer with my hands. I just sort of kneaded the top half-inch of soil until the seeds disappeared. Then I kept the planter fairly moist, and waited a couple weeks. Before too long, the seedlings were already on their way up. At this stage, I could have harvested the few that were there as micro greens, but I wanted to see what the whole plant would become.

Turns out, I sowed them thicker than I thought. Most of the seeds germinated, and at roughly the same time. They grew at about the same speed as well, shooting up faster than I could eat them. Even with trimming a handful of stalks each day to turn into salad toppings or healthy shake ingredients, the plants outpaced my ability to eat them. And there was only about a square foot of them. Broadleaf Cress is going to be a staple of my balcony garden just for how easy it is to grow, and how efficiently it uses the space. As plants start to compete, I eat the ones that are too crowded. Space frees up, and the rest of the cress grow larger.

It’s such a happy and healthy plant to have around!


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Characteristics

Cress is a cool season annual. It’s very easy to grow and can be harvested whenever you feel like it. If you sow the seeds close together, you can trim out the too-close ones and eat those first. Truly a good beginner’s plant!

It grows in the form of multiple slender stalks inching upwards from central points. Feathery leaves, looking fairly close to parsley. The gentle little plants grow rapidly, quickly turning from microgreens to tall stalks of salad greens.

Don’t confuse this with watercress! This is very much an earth-loving plant.

Origin

Iran, Asia

Care

Water

Cress prefers consistently moist soil, and has higher than normal moisture requirements. It’s a pretty fast-growing plant! If you use a self-watering planter or have water-retentive soil, you’ll only need to water once or twice a week.

Light

Give it a nicely sunny location – full sun if you can manage it. It grows quite quickly with partial shade, though it can start getting leggy with less light.

Temperature

This plant is a little more tolerant of cold than some. You can start these in soil a couple weeks before the last frost. Depending on temperatures, you can get successive crops up through mid summer. Start up again in mid fall to get crops up through some portion of winter. Worst case (or sometimes easiest), these are very easy to grow indoors at room temperature as microgreens.

Cress will germinate in about 2 weeks at 45F (7C)

Fertilizer

You can add a bit of fertilizer, though generally there isn’t need to amend new soil. These plants can be eaten at any stage, so nutrients are truly only important if you intend to keep the plant up through the flowering phase.


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The Dirt

Soil

Enjoys loose soil, with a pH range of 6 to 7.

Alternatively, you can use a soilless growing medium. Use microgreen grow pads if you don’t intend to let the seedlings get too large. Or use perlite, peat moss, or essentially anything that lets the roots grab hold.

Root & Pot

Grows very easily in containers. If you’re growing them as a microgreen, it’s as easy as throwing seeds on a sponge or hemp grow pad, getting it wet, and waiting 24 hours.

If you’re starting from seed and going into dirt, sow the seeds 1/2″ deep, with an inch or two of spacing between them. I’ve also mixed them with some soil and spread the soil across the area of the planter where I wanted them to grow. Seedlings will start to appear in about a week.

You can begin harvesting them as soon as the seedlings are an inch or two tall – a form known as a microgreen. Otherwise, you can let them keep growing. They don’t need much space, but it’s a good idea to trim more and more separation between them as time goes on. Eat the trimmings. By the time they get a half foot tall, make sure each plant has 2 inches or so of room around it. These plants will eventually get up to a foot or more tall.

To keep a continuous production, put new seeds in the ground every 2 weeks or so. An easy way is to scatter seeds across the dirt, then spread 1/2″ or so of dirt on top of them. Water to settle the dirt and activate the seeds. In reality, they’re not all that bothered by overcrowding as long as they have room downward to grow deeper roots.

Later Life

Propagation

Cress is easiest to start from seed. Sow seeds in late winter to grow in spring. Seeds weigh about 350 to the gram, so a tiny amount of seeds will get you more plants than you’ll be able to eat. The seeds have a high germination rate.

Eventually, mature plants may go to seed as well. It’ll never end.

Flower & Fruit

Flowers appear as small bunches of even smaller white flowers. It may go to seed, dropping them in the soil at the same spot for next year.

Edibility

This is a very edible plant! You can start harvesting as soon as the seedlings grow a little bit, as these can be grown for microgreens (an easy way of getting seedlings for eating). If you want to get them to grow a little more, you can let them continue on upward and trim as you see appropriate.

Flavor is slightly mustardy. The sharpness of the flavor tones down as the leaves get larger, and are even milder after flowering.

Problems

Pests & Diseases

No serious pest or disease issues.

Trouble Signs

You may end up with more than you expect if you don’t eat them regularly.

Other Notes

Such as easy plant to grow on the balcony!


Thanks for stopping by! I hope you had a pleasant time checking out the plants. If you’re in the mood for more nature, please stay in touch!

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Garden Cress getting some much-needed water
Garden Cress getting some much-needed water

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