Garden Cress in the Garden
Garden cress or pepper-grass is an annual herb that was introduced to the United States from China. Garden cress grows best in cultivated areas that receive full sun or partial shade with moist soils. Garden cress is a very easy plant to grow. Garden cress can also be grown in a window sill or container. Garden cress is usually cultivated for its leaves, which are used in salads, on sandwiches, and as baby greens. The leaves and seed pods have a peppery taste.
Common varieties include Wrinkled, Crinkled, Crumpled, Persian, and Curly. Purchase seed from a local nursery or seed catalogs.
How to Grow
Garden cress does well in all soil types as long as they are moist and nutrient rich.
Before planting, determine fertilizer needs with a soil test and then follow the recommendations given with the test report. If fertilizer applications are warranted, work the fertilizer into the top 6 inches of soil. If you fertilize with compost, apply no more than 1 inch of well-composted organic matter per 100 square feet of garden area.
Garden cress is planted by seed. Broadcast the seeds by randomly scattering them over the planting area or by mass planting them in rows. Rows should be about 3-4 inches apart. Once seedlings have emerged, thin plants to 8-12 inches apart. Re-sow seeds every 2 weeks for a continuous supply of fresh leaves. Plant seeds ¼ inch deep. Garden cress does not tolerate frost so plant near the frost free date for your area.
Garden cress performs best if soil remains very moist. If planting in containers, make sure to water them every few days keeping the soil moist. Drought stress during growth will greatly reduce yield.
Cress has very low fertilizer requirements due to the short growing time for the plants. For container grown plants, fertilize periodically with a soluble liquid fertilizer.
Control weeds through regular cultivation, but avoid root damage that slows plant growth by damaging shallow roots. Weed control is particularly important during the first months of growth when plants are growing slowly and compete poorly. Organic mulches such as grass clippings, straw and shredded newspaper help conserve water and control weeds.
No specific diseases or insect problems are reported for this plant.
Harvest and Storage
Harvest begins 2-3 weeks after emergence when the leaves are 2 inches long. Remove the older leaves for immediate use and leave the young ones so the plant doesn’t stop growing. A 10 to 15 foot row of garden cress usually provides enough for the average family.
Garden cress is used in salads, soups, on sandwiches, and as baby greens. Garden cress is also used to treat inflammation, acne, and skin infections and it acts as a blood purifier, diuretic and expectorant.
Published April 2020
Utah State University Extension
Peer-reviewed fact sheet
Bonnie Allan and Dan Drost