Growing watercress does take a little bit of finesse but once you figure out how to do it, you will be growing your own like a professional in no time! Watercress is a perennial plant with small, hollow stems and heart-shaped leaves. As the name suggests, this plant loves to be watered! The best part is, once you get the hang of what you are doing you will be able to enjoy this peppery perennial plant in your garden for many years to come!
Seed Sowing Depth: When planting watercress you will need to create a bog-like atmosphere in which you will plant the watercress. Dig a hole about 2" across and about 12" inches deep to create your own "stream like" effect when the plant is watered. Till the hole loosely with soil and take the excess off of the top leaving about 3 to 4-inch lip at the top.
Sow the seed about 1/4 inch deep and about 1/2 inch apart from each other.
When to Sow: Watercress does the best in cool, moist environments so it's generally recommended to sow the seeds in the earlier part of the spring after the last of the frosts have passed. This will generally be late-April to early-May in northern cities. Southern cities the fall or spring (when you are not receiving frosts) is the optimal time.
Sowing Outdoors/Indoors: Watercress can be sown both outdoors and indoors. If sowing indoors you will need a deep plastic or metal basin (at least 1 foot deep) in which to sow the soil as mentioned above. If sown outside you will need to create a "bog-like" environment about 1 food deep that can be filled with water regularly to help allow the plant to grow. No matter where you grow your watercress the plant will need to be left in full sunlight. For growing inside, a windowsill or on a patio with plenty of windows would be ideal options for places to grow watercress. If outside, be sure to avoid growing them in shady areas.
Plant Height/Width: The average, fully-grown watercress plant will be about 5-6" tall when they are ready to be harvested.
Leaves Description/Color: Watercress plants are a green, leafy vegetable consumed by humans and is a close relative to the green, cabbage, or arugula family. Watercress has a hollow stem with green, heart-shaped leaves as the vegetation that grows from the plant.
Growth Habits: The watercress will do best submerged in a shallow pool of about 1" of water. Plants must be watered constantly and soil surrounding the plants should be constantly drenched. This "bog-like" environment is aided well by planting the seeds in a basin or "bog-like" pool that is about 1 foot deep.
A cool, sunny atmosphere will foster the best growth of your watercress crop.
General Info On Watercress & It's Uses: Watercress is one of the oldest leaf plants consumed by humans and it is similar to collard greens or cabbage in nature. It can be used as a garnish on top of sandwiches or added to salads for anyone to enjoy. Watercress also has many health benefits as well, including manganese which is a vital nutrient that watercress includes in plenty. It also provides a source of calcium for vegetarians/vegans, which can help build strong bones and teeth. It also provides other nutrients including carotene, zeaxanthin, and lutein to name a few. As a leafy green, watercress is also high in water content and low in calories while still providing vital nutrients the body needs.
The watercress is used in a similar way to mustard seeds or wasabi or anything else that is meant to add some "heat" to the dish. Be sure to taste the watercress, however, as if it is too bitter and repugnant, that means it has gone past its prime and is no longer ready to be eaten. For a more mild taste, harvest it before it reaches full maturation. Watercress will make a great spice to add some zest to any dish that you chooses to make including soups, sandwiches, salads, etc. just to name a few ideas of what you can do with your watercress.
Pests & Diseases: Watercress is a pretty hearty vegetable long as it has adequate water to grow. However, without sufficient water to keep it hydrated, the plant can grow fungal infections which will eat and destroy the leaves on the plant. The process of a watercress plant becoming infected with a leaf-eating fungus that kills the plant is called being "damped off" meaning that the leaves turn damp and limp and end up dying. Most of the root system will die and the plant will likely be lost if the "damped off" disease happens to reach your watercress plant.
To help treat this condition you should wash and spray the leaves with disinfecting sprays to minimize the risk of your plant contracting a fungus. Keeping the plant well-watered will ensure that it doesn't dry up and run out of a consistent supply of water, which is needed for the plant to grow to full maturation.
Rook Root is another condition to be concerned with and is when the plant-eating fungus gets down to the root of the plant, effectively killing the entire root. This destroys the life source of nutrients to the plant and the plant will die if that happens.
Also keeping the plant away from contaminants like dust and contaminated water will help lessen the chances of the plant contracting a leaf-eating, fungus infection.
Harvesting Information & Storage: When harvesting the plant be sure to only take the top 1/3 of the plant so it can regenerate and grow again. Harvest the plant when new leaves bloom on a regular basis to encourage more plant growth in the future. When clipping watercress it's best to use a sharp knife or pair of scissors to keep from taking too much of the plant or cutting crookedly across the plant, which could damage the plant in the long-run.
Wash the leaves carefully after harvesting and store in a deep bowl in the refrigerator. Be sure the bowl is upside-down and submerged in cold water to keep the leaves in their prime. Cover the top of the leafy part of the vegetable with plastic bags to help keep them fresh and crispy for longer. They will generally store well for up to 5 days before being eaten. Drain the cold water and dry well before using.
Edible Uses & Flavors: The watercress plant will have a just like mustard seeds or wasabi. It has a hot, spicy taste that adds some zest to any dish. If you want the watercress milder, you will have to harvest it at a younger age to get a more mild-tasting plant. If left too long without being eaten you will know it as the plant will turn very repugnant and bitter. This is the time when you should throw away the watercress because it has gone bad.
Remember that this is a perennial plant, so it will grow back time and time again. Watercress is a great addition to your garden and it's something you likely won't have to plant ever year, either, which means you get more from your seeds and more for your money!