Everything about Watercress and How to Plant It
Watercress is an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant which leaves tastes and smells delicious. People love to add this vegetable in a salad. However, it is usually viewed as a minor crop. Because of this point of view and its aquatic characteristics, only few people grow this vegetable in their garden. However, growing it is not too difficult if you know the tips of how to grow watercress.
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What You must Know about Watercress
Many people are not confident in growing watercress because of several reasons. One of them is that they think it is difficult to grow this vegetable since it is an aquatic plant. However, if you know more about it, you will be able to perform the steps of how to grow watercress properly. These are some information about watercress you must know.
Origin and history of watercress
This green vegetable is native to Europe and certain parts of Asia. It scientifically named as Nasturtium officinale. It was the Romans who gave the name ‘nasturtium’ to this vegetable. In Roman language, that name means ‘twisted nose.’
It is believed that watercress is one of the oldest vegetable consumed by humans. Many ancient civilizations, such as Greeks, Persians, and Romans grew this vegetable as food and as medicine. It was commonly known that Hippocrates grew this plant in a stream near his hospital. He then collected the watercress to treat his patients.
This vegetable started to be cultivated commercially in the 1800’s. At that time, this vegetable was very popular. It was considered as a super food. However, in this modern era, watercress’ popularity decreases. But, it remains nutritious as ever because it is rich in vitamin K and C.
Watercress is also known as cress. It is a perennial plant that is closely related to radish, garden cress, and mustard. This leafy vegetable is a member of Brassicaceae family. Watercress grows quickly. Its stems will grow up to 90 cm long in the right environment. Moreover, the spread of this plant is about 50 cm wide.
The stems of this plant is hollow. They will help the plant to stay afloat in the water. In addition, its leaves are small. They taste delicious. Most people describe this flavor as peppery. They taste most delicious before flowering. Those leaves are usually added in salads. Moreover, they can also be cooked as watercress soups and watercress stir fry.
The flowers of this plant are white and small. They have four petals. They usually bloom in between late spring and fall. They are self-fertile so that they don’t require other plants to pollinate. However, they require pollinators for it. After the pollination occurs, they will produce seeds. Dried watercress seeds can be used to create mustard.
Naturally watercress grows in shallow running water, such as a small stream and an outside fish pond. However, you can actually grow this vegetable at home as long as you have the right condition to grow it. Therefore, before you start the steps of how to grow watercress, you need to know what is required to grow it.
Watercress maybe an aquatic plant, but it needs soil to grow. Therefore, you need to have the right soil when you are in the process of how to grow watercress. This vegetable needs poor drained soil because it loves water. Moreover, it also needs medium-rich soil.
This plant can adapt to various soil types. Some of them are sandy, loamy, clay, and chalky. Therefore, you don’t need to bother too much with the type of the soil. It can even grow in soilless medium. However, you need to make sure that the soil has the right pH level. This plant loves to grow in neutral soil, i.e. pH level of around 7.
This leafy green vegetable must be planted in an area with full sun. Making sure that it gets full sun for at least 6 hours a day will make the plant grows healthy and strong. Therefore, it will not be affected by diseases easily. You can also grow it in partial shade. But, it may not grow as well as those grown in full sun.
Watercress tends to love warm climate. It can be planted in USDA hardiness zones 6 to 9. If you live in areas with cooler climate, you can grow it indoors. Therefore, you have a chance to enjoy this delicious vegetable even though you live in this cooler region.
Water is very important in growing this vegetable. One of the tips of how to grow watercress is that you must make sure that you keep the soil extra moist. You will need to choose the best method to provide moisture all the time for this plant. It all depends on the method of planting.
When to plant watercress
The best time to plant this vegetable is in the spring. If you want to start the process of how to grow watercress ahead of time, you can sow the seeds indoors 3 weeks before the last spring frost in your area. Therefore, your seedlings will be big enough to transplants when the spring comes.
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How to Grow Watercress
In order to grow watercress successfully, you need to know the how to propagate and all the steps of how to grow watercress.
You can propagate watercress from seeds or from cuttings. Both of them is fun to do. In order to perform these propagation methods, you can follow these steps.
To propagate watercress from seeds, you can get the seeds from your local nursery. After that, you can sow the seeds. These are what you need to do in germinating the seeds indoors.
- Fill a seeding tray with seed starting mix.
- Sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the tray.
- Moist the soil.
- Make sure that the indoor temperature is between 8oC and 15oC.
- Use a plastic bag to cover the tray to maintain moisture.
- Keep the tray away from direct sunlight
- Check the seeds regularly.
The seeds usually will grow into seedlings in about 5 days. When they are big enough, you can harden them and then transplant them. But, if you do not want to perform the transplanting process, you can sow them directly in containers.
When you buy watercress from the grocers, you can use one of the stems to grow a new plant. In order to grow watercress from cuttings, you can follow these steps
- Choose a healthy stem of about 15 cm long.
- Remove all the leaves on the stem, except the top 2 leaves
- Fill in a jar with water of about 3 cm high.
- Place the stem inside the jar.
- Change the water every day or every two days,
- This stem will sprout some roots in a few days.
- Transplant the cutting when its roots are long and strong enough
Methods of growing watercress
There are several methods of how to grow watercress that you can do. They have different level of difficulty. Therefore, you can choose one that is easiest for you. These are the methods of growing watercress.
Growing watercress in a container
It is pretty easy to grow watercress in a container. These are what you need to do in growing this vegetable in a container.
- Prepare a plastic container with enough drainage holes. Its size must be about 30 cm deep and 30 cm in diameter.
- Fill the container with soilless potting mix.
- Perform a soil test on this potting mix so that you can be sure that its pH level is between 6.5 and 7.5.
- You can use the filled container to sow the seeds or plant a transplant.
- Prepare a larger bucket or tray. Fill it with water of about 3 cm high.
- Place the container in the bucket or tray. Therefore, the soil will continuously wet.
- Change the water twice a week.
- Make sure that the plant gets at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day.
Growing watercress hydroponically
Since watercress is an aquatic plant, growing it in hydroponic system is a good idea. To plant this vegetable hydroponically, you can follow these steps.
- Prepare a Styrofoam sheet, rock wool cubes, a bin, air stone, air hose, and air pump.
- Create holes in the Styrofoam with size that fits the size of the rock wool cubes. Space the holes of 8 cm apart from holes and from the sides of Styrofoam
- Fit a rock wool cube in each of the holes. If the holes are slightly too big, you can add more water to the rock wool.
- Fill the bin with hydroponic nutrient solution. Make sure that you leave the top 3 inches free from the solution. To create this solution, you can make it on your own or purchase concentrated nutrients. If you choose the former, you must mix a gallon of water with 2 tsp. of 20-20-20 water-soluble fertilizer, and 1 tsp. of Epsom salts.
- Connect the air stone with the air hose and the air pump. Place it at the bottom of the bin. It must be done in order to provide oxygen for the plants.
- Float the Styrofoam on this solution.
- Sow watercress seeds on the rock wool cube and sprinkle them with rock wool crumbs.
- Place this hydroponic system in an area where it gets several hours of sunlight a day
- The seeds will germinate in a week or less.
Growing watercress indoors
If you live in an area in which you cannot grow watercress outdoors, you can grow this vegetable indoors. In order to grow them, you can choose the planter technique or the hydroponic system. After that, you need to light the watercress using a grow light.
There are choices of grow light that you can choose. One of them is fluorescent grow light. Hang the light about 10 cm from the plant. Moreover, turn the light on for 12 hours to 14 hours a day.
Growing watercress in a bog
Another method of how to grow watercress is bog planting. The steps are as follow.
- Create a furrow in your garden. It must be about 15 cm deep.
- Line it with a polyethylene liner.
- Fill it with a mix of soil and compost of about 8 cm high.
- Water the soil until it is moist
- Sow the seeds in the soil, about 1 cm deep. Space them 3 cm apart.
- Keep the soil moist until the seeds sprouts their roots.. The seeds takes a few day to germinate.
- Thin the seedlings to 20 cm apart and keep the soil moist.
Caring for watercress
Caring for this vegetable plant is pretty easy. The key in doing it is providing enough water for the plant to grow. Moreover, you don’t need to concern much about fertilizer. You only need to fertilize it in the spring. In addition, you may need to fertilize it when the leaves show a sign of nutrients deficiency.
If you grow watercress in a container or in a bog, you need to make sure that weed does not grow around this vegetable plant. Moreover, you must also keep snails away. In addition, you need to protect it from pests, such as spider mites and lady beetles.
A watercress plant can be harvested in about a month after planting. The best time to harvest them is in the spring and summer. At these times, it grows actively so that it will develop leaves quickly.
Moreover, it is recommended to harvest watercress leaves before the plant is flowering. At this stage, the leaves taste most delicious. In addition, when the plant is old enough, you can harvest most of the leaves and left 10-cm plant to grow more leaves.
If you have too much watercress leaves to cook, you can store them in the fridge. First, you need to wash the leaves. After that, put them in a plastic bag and place it in the fridge. These leaves will last for a week.
Growing watercress is very easy. Therefore, you must try to grow it immediately when the time is right. In order to have higher yield, you can harvest the leaves regularly. Regular harvest or pruning will boost the growth of new shoots.
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