Cress (Lepidium sativum) is an easy and quick crop to grow indoors at any time of year. The seedlings are harvested complete with stems and leaves, to make a delicious addition to sandwiches and salads.
Cress is a brilliant growing project for children, as it grows so fast and easily. It grows in the tiniest of spaces. Seed is sown densely on moist absorbent material or soil and is ready to harvest in just a week or two from sowing. Children love growing cress because it is so quick and easy and lends itself to fun uses such as ‘cress heads’, in washed empty eggshells with the tops carefully removed and filled with moist cotton wool, or indeed on base material made into any shape: snakes, sheep – whatever takes their fancy.
For grown-ups, cress is just one of a group of vegetables collectively known as ‘microgreens’, which includes pak choi, rocket and radish. Their flavoursome leaves and crisp, crunchy stems make a gourmet miniature harvest for garden-less growers. All that’s needed is a bright, well-lit windowsill to grow a delicious fresh contribution to your five-a-day.
How to grow cress
Grow cress in moist soil or on any absorbent material, such as cotton wool, in any type of container. Sow seed on the surface and cover to retain moisture until it germinates, then put in a well-lit spot. Harvest by snipping close to the base with scissors.
How long does cress take to grow?
Cress starts to germinate in just a day or two if grown indoors in a warm spot and takes up to two weeks to reach edible size. Cress is ready to harvest anytime from when the leaves have fully opened.
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What type of cress can I grow?
Curled cress is the most commonly grown type of cress and the best type for growing indoors. Greek cress has a stronger, spicier, flavour and will grow indoors but is also suited to outdoor growing in the ground or in containers.
Other vegetables that have cress as part of their name, such as American or land cress, and watercress, aren’t the same as cress nor as quick to grow.
How to grow cress indoors
Any wide, shallow container without holes is suitable for growing cress indoors. Punnets from shop-bought fruit and veg that are around 5cm high are ideal.
- Start by adding a layer of growing medium around 1cm deep. This could be layers of kitchen towel, any absorbent paper waste, cotton wool or peat-free multi-purpose compost
- Moisten the growing medium with water so it's thoroughly damp, but not soaking wet
- Sow the cress seed densely so the seeds are close together but not touching
- Cover the container with cling film or put it in a polythene bag so the seed doesn’t dry out
- Place the container in good light, such as a brightly lit windowsill. Germination usually takes a day or two
- Water the growing medium as needed to keep it evenly moist. In warm conditions, a paper base dries quickly and is likely to need watering every day
- Harvest your cress as soon as the seedlings are well developed, with a pair of green leaves fully open. Use scissors to snip off the cress close to the base
- If growing in soil, put the cress in a sieve and rinse thoroughly under running water before eating
How to grow cress outdoors
Growing cress in good soil outside allows plants to develop larger roots and be treated as a ‘cut-and-come-again’ crop, picking a few leaves little and often. Grown in pots or in the ground, cress reaches around 15cm high. Once plants begin to flower and run to seed, pull them up and add them to the compost heap. Unlike indoor cultivation, outdoor cultivation should take place between spring and autumn only.
- In well-prepared, weed-free soil, use a rake or hoe to make a wide drill around 10cm wide and around 1-2cm deep
- Water the soil before sowing and allow to drain
- Scatter the seed thinly to leave 1-2cm between each one, then cover with a thin layer of soil about 0.5-1cm deep
- Keep watered during dry weather