Fast and easy to grow, rocket has a distinctive, peppery flavour that adds a punchy kick to salads. Rocket leaves have good levels of vitamin C and folic acid as well as calcium and potassium, and are an excellent source of vitamins A, B and K. They are usually eaten raw, so no goodness is reduced by cooking.
Both the leaves and the flowers of the rocket plant are edible – the flowers make lovely decorations for salads and other dishes.
How to grow rocket
Growing rocket is easy. Rocket seeds are best sown directly in good, fertile soil. Sow between March and September or into autumn if you can offer protection – sowing every two weeks throughout spring and summer should ensure a continuous supply. As autumn approaches, cover rocket plants with sheets of horticultural fleece to keep the cold at bay, and you could be cropping right through to the first frosts.
Where to grow rocket
Grow rocket in moist but well-drained soil in sun to partial shade.
How to plant rocket
Rocket plants develop a long tap root so suffer with root disturbance. It’s therefore best to sow rocket seeds direct into well-prepared soil, rather than in a seed tray to plant out later. Before sowing, prepare the soil well and ensure it’s free from weeds, then make a short, shallow drill roughly 1cm deep, water it and scatter the seeds thinly. Cover lightly with soil and firm gently (see detailed step-by-step to sowing rocket seed, below).
Rocket can be sown into plug modules, which provide more space for developing roots. Just make sure you sow thinly and transplant the plants before they have developed their long tap root, to prevent root disturbance. This can be especially useful if sowing in late winter for an early crop. Sow every fortnight for a continuous supply from spring to the first frosts. Thin your rocket seedlings if necessary to avoid overcrowding.
Here, Monty Don plants out plugs of rocket for an early crop:
How to grow rocket in pots
Rocket is easy to grow in pots and does as well as if grown in the ground, as long as the compost is kept evenly moist. Fill a pot with peat-free, multi-purpose compost, scatter seeds thinly over the surface and cover with a thin layer of compost. Firm gently and water well with a watering can with the rose attached.
How to care for rocket
Remove flower stalks to prolong leaf production, unless you want to eat the flowers and seed pods too – both are edible.
Provide shade in summer to avoid bolting. Keep the soil moist but don’t overwater or it can ‘dilute’ the peppery flavour of the leaves.
How to propagate rocket
After a while your rocket plants will set flowers and seed. Leave the seeds to mature and harvest them as the pods become papery. Or you can let the rocket self seed in the bed. This should ensure you have a steady supply of rocket from just one packet of seeds.
Pests and diseases
Unlike other brassicas, rocket is fairly free of pests and diseases. Flea beetle may eat tiny holes in the leaves but these don’t affect the overall flavour or edibility of them. However if you want to deter them you can cover the crop with fleece or fine mesh to keep them at bay.
How to harvest rocket
Rocket is best grown as a ‘cut-and-come-again’ crop by picking a few leaves from each plant. Harvest each rocket leaf when it’s large enough to use, by snipping them off using secateurs or scissors, or just pinching them between your finger and thumb.
How to store rocket
Rocket leaves are best eaten fresh but will keep in the fridge for several days in a sealed container. It is possible to freeze rocket but you will need to blanch the leaves before freezing. To do this, boil the leaves for one minute before plunging them into ice cold water, draining them and bagging them up for the freezer.
Advice on buying rocket
Rocket seeds are available from a number of online seed merchants or you should be able to buy a packet easily from your local garden centre or allotment shop
Some suppliers sell plug plants of rocket, which should be hardened off and planted up immediately to avoid root disturbance
Where to buy rocket
Types of rocket to grow
Wild rocket – deeply serrated leaves, strong taste. Perennial in mild areas.
Salad rocket – also known as herb rocket, this variety is quick-growing and shorter-lived than wild rocket.
‘Dragon’s Tongue’ – purplish-veined leaves, vigorous and good bolt resistance.
- Buy rocket ‘Dragon’s Tongue’ from Thompson & Morgan
‘Wasabi’ – hot, spicy flavour, quick-growing and vigorous.
You Will Need
- Rocket seed
- Line for sowing
- Hoe or trowel
Use a line to mark out the row. Sowing in a straight line allows you to identify where your rocket seedlings are and which are the weed seedlings to pick off. You’ll find a row 1m to 2m long is enough to get you started, as long as you plan further sowings in a few weeks.
There are always plenty of rocket seeds in a packet – usually enough to sow a row up to 6m long. But that would give you a glut all at once, so sow just a small quantity at one time, then sow regularly (known as successional sowing), to harvest over a longer period.
Carefully sow the rocket seeds thinly along the row, spacing them out as evenly as possible. The distance between the seeds should be about 3cm.
Use the edge of a hoe or a trowel to cover the seed lightly with soil. Remove any weed remnants or large stones as you go to ensure the plants have a good start.
Water the seeds in well using a watering can with the rose attached. This means you drench the soil but minimise disturbance to the seeds.