Land cress is similar to watercress in taste and structure, but easier to grow. Also called American cress, it is a rich leafy green and herb that is a great source of many vitamins and minerals (including iron and calcium) and makes a good substitute for spinach as well as watercress. It is a member of the famed brassica family of vegetables (also known as cruciferous vegetables) prized for their ability to fight cancer and other diseases. Here’s how to grow land cress in the home garden.
WHERE TO GROW
Land cress is a biennial that is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 and warmer. Plant land cress in an area of the garden that receives partial shade, though full sun is usually acceptable. It is often grown on north-facing walls. Avoid full shade, but it may even thrive there. Land cress grows well as an edge crop in your herb or vegetable garden. Unlike watercress, you don’t need to plant it near a source of running water, like a stream or creek.
WHEN TO PLANT
In most regions, you may plant land cress from March to September. It is not sensitive to frost, so you can usually sow seeds as soon as the soil can be worked in the spring. Plant no later than 6 weeks prior to the first frost of the fall in order to give it time to mature.
BEST SOIL FOR GROWING LAND CRESS
Land cress is not really picky about soil. Sandy, loamy and even clay soils are all suitable. Well draining soil is best and good fertility will result in fast, even growth. Though it can stand slightly acidic or slightly alkaline conditions, a soil pH of 6.0-6.8 is probably best.
Sow land cress seeds ½ inch deep. Keep them about 6 inches apart or thin to this spacing once they’ve sprouted. Water thoroughly and keep the soil constantly moist until they germinate.
WATERING & CARE
Land cress needs to be watered frequently; it’s a heavy drinker. Keep the soil moist, but never muddy. Keep a close eye on it during dry conditions. Good long soaks are best. Keep the foliage dry by watering only at the base of the plant.
Keep the area around your cress weed free. Put down a layer of organic mulch. This will fight weeds but also helps to keep the soil moist, which is essential for happy land cress.
DISEASE & PEST CONTROL
Watch out for mildew and different fungal diseases during excessively wet conditions.
Pests are generally not a big problem for land cress. You may want to pick off your occasional aphid or caterpillar. Watch out for slugs when the weather gets wet in the fall.
Harvest land cress leaves as early as 7 weeks after sowing seeds. The leaves and seeds can both be eaten and land cress oil is edible as well. Young, tender leaves are the best. Harvest often to encourage continual growth. Land cress should come back rapidly after cutting.
TIPS & ADVICE
Land cress works great in soups, salads and sauces.