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How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Watercress

growing watercress

Watercress, scientifically known as Nasturtium officinale, is a leafy green plant often employed in culinary creations across various cuisines. While it originally flourished in Europe and Central Asia, it's now cultivated and consumed worldwide, enhancing our meals with its vibrant green color and peppery, tangy flavor.

Watercress comes in several varieties, but the most common are the wild watercress and the cultivated or garden watercress. The wild variety typically grows in natural water sources and has a stronger flavor. In contrast, the garden watercress is often used in salads and soups due to its milder yet equally refreshing taste.

In addition to being a flavorful culinary green, watercress also packs a plethora of health benefits. It is an excellent source of vitamins A, C, and K, along with providing essential minerals such as calcium and iron. Moreover, it has antioxidant properties and supports cardiovascular health.

Cultivating watercress in your own garden can be a satisfying endeavor. Not only will you have a steady supply of this nutritious green, but you'll also admire its lush, aquatic foliage, which can serve as an attractive addition to your garden or even a unique water feature.

In the following sections, we'll explore how you can plant, grow, and harvest watercress in your garden, ensuring that you're never without this versatile green when you're whipping up tantalizing dishes in the kitchen.

Optimal growing conditions for Watercress - Climate, sunlight, and soil requirements Optimal

Watercress is an aquatic or semi-aquatic perennial, which means it thrives in environments where there is an abundance of water. However, several factors need to be in harmony for watercress to flourish to its full potential. Here, we will discuss the optimal climate, sunlight, and soil requirements for watercress to ensure maximum freshness and longevity.


Watercress prefers a cooler climate but can tolerate a range of conditions. It thrives best in temperatures between 50-70°F (10-21°C), making it ideal for growing in spring or fall. In hotter climates, watercress can be grown in the cooler months, and in colder regions, it can be cultivated in the summer.


While watercress loves the sun, it doesn't require full sunlight all day. Instead, it prefers a balance between sunlight and shade, making dappled sunlight or partial shade ideal. If you're growing watercress in a region with intense summer sun, consider a location where it can enjoy morning sunlight but receive protection from the harsh afternoon rays.


Watercress thrives in a nutrient-rich, well-draining soil, and its natural habitat is alongside streams and brooks. The soil should be high in organic matter, and a pH level between 6.5 and 7.5 is ideal. Adding compost or well-rotted manure can enrich your soil, boosting the growth of your watercress.

Water Requirements

As an aquatic plant, watercress has significant water needs. It can grow in a stream, pond, or in damp soil. If you're growing it in a container or garden bed, ensure it receives consistent moisture.

The soil should be kept consistently wet but not waterlogged. If your region lacks consistent rain, consider installing a drip irrigation system to keep your watercress well-watered.

By understanding and meeting these requirements, you can create an optimal growing environment for your watercress. Stay tuned to learn how to enjoy the peppery crunch of homegrown watercress in your own dishes.

Step-by-step Guide to Planting Watercress

growing watercress

When to Plant – Best time of the year for planting Watercress

Determining the best time to plant your watercress seeds or seedlings can make a significant difference in the success of your crop. Given the specific growing conditions that watercress prefers, there are optimal times throughout the year to begin planting. This section will guide you on when to plant watercress for the best yield and quality.

Considering Climate

As previously mentioned, watercress thrives in cooler temperatures, specifically between 50-70°F (10-21°C). Depending on your local climate, this will generally dictate the best planting times.

Spring Planting

In most regions, early spring is an ideal time to plant watercress. As soon as the risk of frost has passed, you can start to sow watercress seeds directly into the garden or start them indoors even earlier, then transplant them outside when temperatures are consistently above freezing.

Fall Planting

For gardeners in warmer climates, consider planting watercress in the fall. The plant will continue to grow through the cooler months, offering a fresh supply of greens even in winter.

Year-Round Planting

In mild climates with no extreme hot or cold temperatures, watercress can be planted and harvested year-round. In these locations, ensure the plants receive plenty of water and some protection from the harshest midday sun during hotter months.

Indoor Planting

If outdoor conditions aren't ideal, watercress can also be grown indoors in containers, provided they receive adequate light and moisture. This allows for year-round cultivation, regardless of external weather conditions.

Remember, successful planting isn't only about timing but also about providing the optimal conditions for growth. So, once you've sowed your watercress, make sure you keep the soil consistently moist and the plants in an area with partial sun exposure.

Seed Selection – Choosing the right seeds for your garden

Choosing the right seeds is a fundamental step in starting your watercress garden. Seed quality can significantly influence the growth and yield of your plants, so it's essential to make an informed decision. In this section, we will guide you on how to select the best watercress seeds for your garden.

Type of Watercress Seeds

As discussed earlier, there are a few different types of watercress, but the most commonly grown are the wild and garden varieties. Wild watercress tends to have a stronger, more peppery flavor, while garden watercress is milder and often preferred for culinary uses.

Quality and Viability

When purchasing seeds, consider the supplier's reputation and quality. Seeds should be viable, which means they are capable of germinating and growing into healthy plants. Check the packaging for a test date and try to buy the freshest seeds possible, as older seeds may have reduced germination rates.

Organic or Conventional

You also have the choice between organic and conventionally produced seeds. Organic seeds are produced without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, which is an excellent choice if you're aiming for an organic garden. Conventional seeds are typically more widely available and may be treated to resist certain diseases.

Pack Size

The size of the seed pack you purchase will depend on the scale of your garden. Watercress can be densely planted, so if you have a large garden or pond area, you might require a larger quantity of seeds.

Germination Rate

The germination rate indicates the percentage of seeds that are expected to sprout successfully. While it's unlikely to find seeds with a 100% germination rate, opt for packs with the highest rates possible to ensure a good return on your investment.

By choosing the right seeds, you are setting the foundation for a healthy and abundant watercress garden.

Site Preparation – How to prepare the garden bed or pot for planting

growing watercress

Before you plant your watercress seeds or seedlings, properly preparing your planting site is essential.

Whether you're using a garden bed or a pot, good preparation can significantly boost your watercress' growth and productivity. Here's a detailed guide on how to prepare your site for planting watercress.

Preparing a Garden Bed

1. Choose the Right Spot: Watercress thrives in sun and partial shade. A location that receives morning sunlight and afternoon shade would be ideal. If you're growing watercress near a water source, choose a slow-moving or still area that is shallow.

2. Enrich the Soil: Watercress prefers nutrient-rich, well-draining soil. Start by removing any weeds or stones from your garden bed. Then, incorporate organic matter, like compost or well-rotted manure, into the soil to boost its fertility.

3. Maintain Moisture: Since watercress is an aquatic plant, maintaining consistent moisture is key. Ensure your garden bed has good water retention, but also make sure it drains well to prevent waterlogging.

4. Check the pH Level: The ideal soil pH for watercress is between 6.5 and 7.5. If necessary, amend your soil with lime (to raise pH) or sulphur (to lower pH) to reach this level.

Preparing a Pot

1. Select the Right Pot: Choose a pot with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. A shallow, wide pot is ideal for growing watercress.

2. Use a Quality Potting Mix: Fill your pot with a well-draining, nutrient-rich potting mix. You can also incorporate some compost or well-rotted manure to enhance the nutrient content.

3. Keep it Moist: Ensure the potting mix is consistently moist. Consider placing a tray underneath the pot and keeping it filled with water to maintain humidity.

4. Location: If you're growing watercress indoors, place your pot near a window where it can receive at least 4-6 hours of sunlight each day.

By preparing your site well, you are setting up a conducive environment for your watercress to thrive. In the following sections, we will walk you through the planting process, the care requirements, and finally, how to harvest your watercress. So, stay tuned for more tips on growing healthy, fresh watercress in your own space.

Planting Process - Detailed Steps on How to Plant Seeds or Seedlings

With the ideal location prepared, it's now time to plant. Whether you're planting watercress from seeds or starting with seedlings, the following guidelines will help ensure your garden's success.

Planting Watercress Seeds

1. Sow Your Seeds: Distribute the watercress seeds evenly over the prepared soil or water surface. Watercress seeds are tiny and don't require burial. Press them gently into the soil to make sure they have good contact but are not covered.

2. Maintain Moisture: Keep the soil consistently damp during the germination process. Depending on weather and soil conditions, this may require daily watering.

3. Patiently Await Germination: Within 5 to 7 days, given appropriate conditions, you should see your watercress seeds begin to sprout. Once your seedlings have grown a bit, thin them out to about 6 inches apart, giving each plant plenty of room to develop.

Planting Watercress Seedlings

1. Plant the Seedlings: Make a hole in the prepared soil that's as deep as the root ball of your seedling and twice as wide. Place the seedling in the hole, ensuring that the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Backfill the hole with soil, gently firming it around the base of the plant.

2. Water Immediately: Water the seedlings well immediately after planting. If they're in soil, make sure it stays consistently moist.

3. Ensure Proper Spacing: If you're planting multiple seedlings, leave approximately 6 to 12 inches between each plant. This spacing allows each plant adequate room to grow without competing for resources.

The key to a flourishing watercress garden is the consistent care you provide after planting. In the next sections, we'll explore the process of caring for your watercress plants, dealing with potential problems, and finally, harvesting your fresh watercress. Stay tuned for a comprehensive guide to successful watercress gardening.

Care for Growing Watercress

growing watercress

Watering – How often and how much to water the plants

When it comes to watering watercress, regularity and consistency are key. As an aquatic plant, watercress requires plenty of water to thrive. Let's dive into the specifics of how often and how much to water your watercress plants.

Frequency of Watering

Given the water-loving nature of watercress, you'll need to maintain consistent moisture in your garden. If you're growing your plants in soil, it should never dry out completely. During warm weather, this may mean daily watering. For watercress planted in a pond or stream, nature will take care of the watering, but do ensure that the water level does not drop significantly during hot periods or due to other environmental factors.

Amount of Water

The goal when watering is to ensure that the soil remains moist but not waterlogged. If you're watering potted watercress, add water until you see it seeping out from the bottom of the pot. If you're watering in a garden bed, apply water until the top 6 to 8 inches of soil feel damp to the touch.

Methods of Watering

Watering methods can also impact the health of your watercress. Overhead watering can promote the spread of diseases, so try to water at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry. If possible, using a soaker hose or a drip irrigation system can be an effective way to provide a consistent level of moisture.

Time of Watering

The best time to water your watercress is in the early morning. This allows the water to reach the root zone before it can evaporate in the heat of the day. It also helps to keep the foliage dry, reducing the risk of diseases.

Watering is an essential aspect of growing watercress, but it's not the only one. In the following sections, we'll discuss how to provide the best care for your plants, deal with common pests and diseases, and when and how to harvest your watercress. Stay tuned for more comprehensive guidance on nurturing your thriving watercress garden.

Fertilizing – The type of fertilizer needed and how to apply it

The right fertilization can significantly enhance the growth and productivity of your watercress. Since watercress is a nutrient-rich green, it also needs nutrient-rich soil to thrive. Here's what you need to know about the type of fertilizer needed and how to apply it.

Type of Fertilizer

Watercress benefits from a balanced fertilizer, one that contains equal proportions of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (look for a 10-10-10 or a similar ratio on the label). Organic options such as compost or well-rotted manure can also provide a slow release of nutrients that's perfect for watercress.

Frequency of Fertilizing

For the most robust growth, it's recommended to fertilize watercress every four to six weeks during the growing season. Regular applications of a balanced fertilizer can help maintain nutrient-rich soil, promoting healthy, vigorous growth.

How to Apply Fertilizer

1. Measure Correctly: Always follow the manufacturer's instructions on the amount of fertilizer to use. Over-fertilizing can harm your plants and negatively impact the environment.

2. Applying Granular Fertilizer: For granular fertilizers, evenly distribute the fertilizer around the base of the plants, avoiding the foliage. Water the area immediately after applying to help the fertilizer penetrate the soil.

3. Applying Liquid Fertilizer: If you're using a liquid fertilizer, you can mix it with water according to the package instructions and water your plants with the mixture.

4. Using Compost or Manure: If you're using compost or well-rotted manure, apply a 2-3 inch layer around the base of the plants. This not only provides nutrients but also improves soil structure and water retention.

Remember, while fertilizing is important, too much of a good thing can be harmful. Over-fertilizing can lead to lush foliage but less flavorful watercress, and can also cause fertilizer burn or contribute to water pollution. The goal is to maintain nutrient-rich soil that supports healthy growth.

Disease and Pest Control – Common diseases and pests that can affect Watercress, and how to manage them

Like any plant, watercress can fall prey to certain diseases and pests. Understanding these threats and knowing how to manage them can greatly increase the health and productivity of your watercress plants. Let's take a look at common diseases and pests affecting watercress and how to handle them.

Common Diseases

1. Leaf Spot and Downy Mildew: These fungal diseases can cause spots on leaves and a fuzzy, white growth on the undersides of leaves. To manage them, ensure good air circulation around plants, avoid wetting the foliage when watering, and remove any infected plant material immediately.

2. Clubroot: This soil-borne disease can cause swollen, distorted roots and wilting of the plant. To prevent it, practice crop rotation and consider soil sterilization if the problem persists.

Common Pests

1. Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can be found on the undersides of leaves and stems. They can cause distorted growth and spread diseases. To manage aphids, introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs that prey on them, or use a mild insecticidal soap.

2. Whiteflies: Whiteflies are tiny, white insects that can cause yellowing and wilting of leaves. They also produce a sticky substance called honeydew that can lead to sooty mold. To control whiteflies, use yellow sticky traps or a strong blast of water to dislodge them from the plants.

3. Cabbage White Caterpillars: These caterpillars can chew holes in the leaves. Handpick them from the plants or use a biological control, such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is safe for other wildlife.

To minimize the risk of pests and diseases, practice good garden hygiene. Remove plant debris, rotate crops, and keep your garden well-weeded. Encourage biodiversity by attracting beneficial insects and birds to your garden, as they can help control pest populations.

Harvesting Watercress

growing watercress

When to Harvest – Identifying signs that the watercress is ready for harvesting

After all the careful planting and nurturing, it's always a joy when it's time to reap the fruits—or in this case, the leaves—of your labor. Understanding when to harvest your watercress can ensure you enjoy it at peak flavor and nutritional value. Let's learn how to recognize the signs that your watercress is ready for harvesting.

Size and Age

Watercress grows quickly, and you can begin harvesting as soon as 4 to 6 weeks after planting. By this time, the plants should have reached a height of about 4 to 6 inches, which is an ideal size for harvesting.

Leaf Condition

The leaves of the watercress are the main part of the plant that you'll be consuming. Look for firm, bright green leaves. The best time to harvest is when the leaves are young and tender, as older leaves can become tough and develop a bitter flavor.

Flowering Stage

If your watercress starts to flower, it's a signal that the plant is entering a reproductive phase and the leaves may start to lose their tender texture and mild flavor. It's best to harvest before the plant flowers, but if your watercress has already begun to bloom, don't worry—you can still harvest the leaves, though they might have a stronger flavor.

Harvesting watercress at the right time is a key part of maximizing your enjoyment of this nutritious green. But harvesting is just the first part of the equation. In the upcoming section, we will delve into how to properly store your freshly harvested watercress to ensure it maintains its freshness and flavor. So stay tuned for more comprehensive guidance on managing a successful watercress garden.

How to Harvest – Techniques for harvesting watercress to prevent damage to the plant and fruit

Once your watercress is ready to harvest, you'll want to approach the task with care to avoid damaging the plant and to ensure it continues producing throughout the season. Here are some techniques for harvesting watercress that can help prevent damage to the plant.

Harvesting Tools

A pair of sharp scissors or garden shears are all you need to harvest watercress. These tools will ensure a clean cut and reduce the chances of damaging the plant. Before harvesting, make sure your tools are clean to avoid the spread of diseases.

The Harvesting Process

When harvesting watercress, cut the stems about an inch above the water level if it's growing in water, or an inch above the soil if it's grown in soil. This will allow the plant to continue growing and produce more leaves for future harvests.

Amount to Harvest

As a rule of thumb, it's best not to harvest more than one-third of the plant at one time. This allows the plant to recover and grow back faster. With proper care, a watercress plant can continue to produce fresh leaves for several months.


Harvesting in the morning, when temperatures are cooler, can help maintain the freshness of the leaves. The plant is fully hydrated at this time, which results in crispier and more flavorful leaves.

Harvesting your watercress properly will ensure the health and productivity of your plant throughout the season. But the journey doesn't stop here. In the next section, we'll talk about how to store and preserve your freshly harvested watercress, helping you enjoy this nutritious green for longer. Stay tuned for more insights on creating a successful watercress garden.

Post-Harvest Care and Storage – How to store and preserve watercress for maximum freshness and longevity

Your watercress has been harvested, but to maintain its freshness, flavor, and nutritional benefits, it's important to handle it properly post-harvest and store it correctly. Here's your guide to storing and preserving watercress to maximize its freshness and longevity.

Immediate Post-Harvest Care

After harvesting, it's best to use watercress immediately for optimal freshness and taste. However, if you need to store it, start by rinsing the leaves and stems under cold, running water to remove any soil or insects.


If you plan to use your watercress within a few days, the best way to store it is in the refrigerator. Pat the watercress dry with a paper towel or let it air-dry, then place it in a plastic bag or airtight container with a piece of paper towel to absorb any excess moisture. Store it in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, where it can last for around four to seven days.

Water Storage

For a slightly longer storage time, trim the ends of the watercress stems and place them in a glass or jar of water, similar to a bouquet of flowers. Cover the leaves loosely with a plastic bag and place the jar in the refrigerator. Change the water every couple of days. Stored this way, watercress can stay fresh for one to two weeks.


If you have a large harvest of watercress that you won't be able to use right away, consider freezing it. To freeze watercress, blanch the leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then immediately immerse them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Pat dry and pack in freezer-safe containers or bags. Frozen watercress can last several months, although it may lose some of its crispness and is best used in cooked dishes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How long does it take for watercress to grow?

Watercress grows quite rapidly. From sowing, it typically takes about 7-10 days for the seeds to germinate, given the right conditions. After germination, the plants can reach a harvestable size in approximately 4 to 6 weeks. Keep in mind that these timeframes can vary slightly based on the growing conditions such as the quality of the soil, the amount of sunlight and water the plants receive, and the overall climate.

Recap and Final Thoughts: Time to Start Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Watercress

As we draw this guide to a close, let's summarize the key points on planting, growing, and harvesting watercress. This hearty and nutritious green can be a great addition to your garden, and with the right care, you can enjoy it fresh from your backyard.

1. Growing Conditions: Watercress thrives in a damp, semi-aquatic environment with partial shade. Well-drained, nutrient-rich soil works best for planting in soil.

2. When to Plant: Watercress can be planted at virtually any time of the year, but the best times are generally in the spring and fall.

3. Seed Selection: Choosing the right seeds, ideally certified disease-free, is crucial for a successful start.

4. Site Preparation: Preparing the planting site adequately, either a garden bed or a pot, is key to providing the right environment for your watercress.

5. Planting Process: Plant the seeds or seedlings carefully, keeping a distance of about 20 to 30 cm between each plant.

6. Watering and Fertilizing: Watercress needs consistent moisture and regular feedings of a balanced fertilizer to thrive.

7. Disease and Pest Control: Be vigilant about common diseases and pests, like leaf spot, aphids, and whiteflies. Implementing good garden hygiene practices can help keep your plants healthy.

8. When to Harvest: Harvest watercress when it's about 4 to 6 inches tall, ideally before it starts flowering, for the best flavor and texture.

9. How to Harvest: Use sharp scissors or garden shears to cut the stems, and take care not to harvest more than one-third of the plant at a time.

10. Post-Harvest Care and Storage: Watercress can be stored in the refrigerator or frozen for longer preservation. Remember to wash and dry it properly before storing.

With all of this knowledge at your disposal, there's nothing to hold you back from starting your own watercress garden. Remember, gardening is a journey, and every plant you nurture brings new learning experiences and rewards.

Growing watercress can be an enriching venture that rewards you with fresh, healthy greens right at your doorstep. So don't wait any longer—start your watercress journey today. It's a step towards healthier living, a greener environment, and an incredible sense of accomplishment. Happy gardening!

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