Cress Herb Growing Guide

How to Grow Garden Cress Herb from Seed

  • Scientific Name: Lepidium sativum
  • Hardiness Zone: Annual, Perennial to Zones 6-9
  • Days to Harvest: 15-20 days
  • Days to Maturity: 40-50 days
  • Days to Germination: 5-14 days
  • Seeding Depth: ¼”
  • Plant Width: 12-24"
  • Plant Height: 12-24"
  • Growth Habit: Low-growing and wide-spreading herb
  • Soil Preference: Fertile, hummus-rich, well-drained
  • Temp Preference: Cooler, 55-70°F
  • Light Preference: Full sun
  • Pests/Diseases: Tender herb susceptible to sap-suckers such as whiteflies, aphids, flea beetles
  • Availability: See All Cress Varieties
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Growing Garden Cress

Cress, native to western Asia, is known to be a cool weather annual or perennial depending on the variety. There are three common varieties of cress: garden cress, curly cress, and water cress. Both garden cress and curly cress are known annuals while watercress may be considered a perennial depending on the zone in which it is planted. Cress, particularly garden cress, is known for its medicinal uses. It may be taken to relieve coughing, aide in vitamin c supplementation, relieve constipation, strengthen one's immune system, and more. Cress is commonly used in salads and sandwiches and is cooked similarly to how spinach is. It is easily harvested and may be eaten fresh or cooked. It is known for its distinctive peppery flavor.

How to Grow Garden Cress from Seed

  • Sow cress around 4-6 weeks before the last projected frost of the season
  • Sow seeds ¼” into moist, humus rich soil
  • Germination happens as early as 24 hours

When planting cress, sow seeds ¼” into moist and fertile, humus-rich soil. Sow cress in early spring months, around 4-6 weeks before the last projected frosting. Only plant a few at a time in one space, up to three seeds. Sow rows of seeds 18 to 24 inches apart, and thin successful seedlings to around 6" apart from one another to encourage growth. Cress grows quickly and germinates even quicker, usually germinating within 24 hours. Following sowing its seeds, crest reaches maturity after 15-20 days and is ready to be harvested. However, it may be ready for harvesting within as little as 5 to 7 days under the right growing conditions.

Garden Cress Soil

Cress requires soil that is moist, fertile, and humus rich. It prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Since cress usually matures after 15-20 days of sowing seeds, it typically does not need fertilized. If planted in a container, it may need light fertilization of the soil but since it prefers humus-rich soil that has already been fortified with organic matter, it is unlikely that it will require extra to thrive. Cress prefers very moist soil conditions for optimal growth.

Watering Garden Cress

  • Make sure that it receives regular watering every few days
  • Is not tolerant of dry soil conditions
  • Maintain consistent moisture without oversaturating

Cress prefers regular watering every few days as it requires very moist soil to thrive. They prefer even-watering, and it is important to make sure that their roots do not become dry but that they stay moisturized through frequent watering. Cress prefers cool to warm temperatures and is even tolerant of light frosting. It is not completely tolerant of drier soil conditions, as the plant will fail if its roots dry out. To ensure that this does not happen, make sure that it receives around 2" or more water a week, checking the soil's moisture level frequently and gauging it from there based on the plant’s needs.

Is Garden Cress A Perennial?

Certain varieties of cress are annual while others, such as water cress, may be perennial. However, the most common variety of cress, garden cress, is considered to be an annual. This means that it follows its entire life cycle in one season and will need to be re-planted the following season. Since cress has such a quick life cycle, this may be easier to maintain. Cress may be planted in either the ground or pots and thrive as long as its preferences for soil, water, and sunlight are met. Cress can germinate within 24 hours while other plants may take weeks. Once its seeds have been sowed, it matures within 15-20 days. This is why cress plants are most commonly planted a few weeks before the last frosting, up to 4-6 weeks before, as they will usually have completed much of their life cycle by the time the frost arrives. Watercress is known to be a perennial for its invasive, creeping habits. While it does well to propagate itself and readily self-seeds, it can take up land quickly over the years it is present.

Garden Cress in Winter

  • Cress thrives best if planted in early spring
  • It is considered hardy as it will endure light frosting
  • Requires sunlight that may not be readily available during winter months

Cress is usually planted in the early spring, about 4-6 weeks before the last projected frost date. Cress is considered to be hardy, as it will endure light frosting but will not endure very cold conditions as such temperatures will inhibit its growth. Cress also prefers full sun that is not always present during the winter, which is why it is best suited as a springtime herb. Because it requires sunlight that may not be available during late winter months into early spring, cress may thrive more indoors during these conditions with a grow light that as this ensures that it receives enough light.

Growing Garden Cress in Pots

Cress may be grown in pots and thrive, as long as it is maintained in rich and moist, humus-rich soil. Pots are known to dry out plants, which cress cannot tolerate, so it is important to ensure that it is watered regularly and that soil moisture conditions are checked daily or every few days, as well. Since drier conditions may be present in pots, cress may do well with a light fertilization spray of its soil during its cycle to maturity that usually occurs in 15-20 days. When growing cress, it is important to ensure that it receives enough sunlight as it prefers full sun. To make sure that it receives enough sunlight, position it in areas that will receive sunlight directly. If indoors, place it in or near a windowsill or transparent door. If outdoors, do not keep it shaded off but rather open it up to light for at least 6 hours a day.

How to Care for Garden Cress Plants in Pots

  • Grows well in a pot if its preferences are met
  • Make sure that soil is maintained properly and watered regularly
  • Make sure that it receives enough sunlight as it prefers full sun

When grown in a pot, cress does well as long as its soil is maintained properly, it is watered regularly every few days, and it receives enough sunlight. It is important to ensure that the pot it is being planted in has drain holes so that the water is able to pass through the entire plant and its roots, without getting stuck at the bottom and damaging the plant from too much water retention. Make sure that the plant receives enough water, watering it regularly and evenly at least every few days. Check the soil's moisture level with your fingertips frequently to keep an eye on it, as pots can dry out soil quicker than in-ground planting. Finally, make sure that cress receives enough sunlight as it requires full sun conditions.

Growing Garden Cress Indoors

Cress may be grown indoors given that it receives the right conditions that it requires for optimal growth. Cress does not require too much supplemental care beyond a rich soil, regular watering, and full sunlight. Many other plants follow these guidelines and require more care. Cress has a quick life cycle and matures within 15-20 days. However, within this short period it may grow to be two feet tall. To ensure that the plant has space for growth, plant it in a pot that can sustain two feet in height. It will likely not need transported from a smaller pot to a larger one, as it grows extremely quickly within a matter of a few days. Make sure that, even if grown indoors, cress receives full sun conditions.

Garden Cress Companion Planting

Since cress is quick-growing plant that has a short life cycle, it will fare well with most plants in gardens. It makes a good plant to serve as a space-holder in between others. For example, it may be grown in around tomatoes or other vegetables and harvested before the plant overshadows the area. Cress also does well if planted with chive, onion, and mint.

Garden Cress Flowers

Cress flowers are completely edible, just like the leaves and may be eaten as soon as they mature. Cress flowers grow in many different colors such as yellow, white and purple, depending on the variety of cress. Garden cress in particular grows small flowers that are no more than 1" in diameter and may have white to pale-purple leaves. The flowers may be used in teas and tinctures like the leaves, as well as eaten. Cress flowers are known to have a sweet scent, particularly rock cress flowers.

Harvesting Garden Cress

When harvesting cress, use scissors or shears to cut the stems and cress sprouts. Harvesting is usually done when the plant's youngest leaves turn green. This usually happens after about 10 days of sowing seeds but may happen around 15-20 days based on germination and growing conditions. Harvest cress leaves prior to its flowers blooming. Much like other herbs, if you wait until the flowers have fully bloomed, it can change the overall taste and texture of the leaves. To prolong the flowers from blooming, they make be plucked off as they begin to appear.

When to Harvest Garden Cress

  • When the plant’s youngest leaves have turned greens
  • After around 10-20 days of growth
  • Prior to its flowers blooming

How to Harvest Garden Cress

When harvesting cress, use scissors or shears to snip the stems and its leaves, ensuring to not take more than a third of the plant at one time, as this is a general rule of thumb for most herbs to ensure that the plant can continue growing adequately. If there are no scissors present, leaves and stems may be handpicked as well as its flowers, but it is recommended to use scissors or shears to ensure that the plant is not being tugged on which can cause damage to it and its roots.

Drying Garden Cress

Dried cress and seed pods may be used as a peppery seasoning in culinary practices, as cress is known for its distinctively pepper-like taste. However, drying cress risks the chance of losing its flavor that it is known for as cress is almost always used when fresh. Perhaps the safest way to dry cress without the risk of losing its flavor is by hang-drying it as it is naturally done and provides less room for error. To enjoy dried cress, it may be made into a tea by steeping leaves. A steeped tea of its leaves will still allow consumers to enjoy its medicinal benefits. Cress may aide in supporting vitamin c intake, relieving constipation, strengthening one's immune system, providing a healthy dose of antioxidants, among other benefits.

How to Dry Garden Cress

Hang Dry: Cut stems and tie them together, placing them in a paper bag. Once this is done, hang the bag upside down in a dark room that is well-ventilated. Since cress contains high moisture levels, it is important to make sure that it is not dried in a humid area. After about a week or two of hang drying it, it should be fully dehydrated.

Oven Dry: Cress may be oven dried by placing the oven on a low temperature, around 170-200°F. While the oven preheats, place the desired part of plant to be dried on a tray. Most often, it is the leaves that are dried compared to its flowers. Once it has heated, place the tray inside the oven and turn it off. Keep the door of the oven ajar and check on the leaves in 30-minute-intervals. Take the tray out of the oven when the leaves look fully brittle.

Food Dehydrator: To dry cress in a food dehydrator, place the system on its lowest possible temperature, likely around 95-115°F. While the food dehydrator preheats, place the desired part of the plant to dry on a drying rack. Once it has preheated, place the tray inside of the food dehydrator. Check on the cress after an hour or so. If it has not fully dried, continue to dry it and check on it in intervals of 30 minutes to an hour.

Types of Garden Cress

There are a multitude of different types of cress. Most well-known are garden cress, watercress, and curly cress. There are also other varieties that are usually not cultivated nor consumed. Among these varieties are alpine rock cress, bittercress, cedar gladecress, hoary bittercress, peppercress, maca, pepperweed, whitetop or hoary cress, rockcress, thale cress, wartcress, winter cress, yellowcress, and more. There are many more cultivars of the cress plant, while many of these are either unknown or not heard of as much as the main types. Garden cress may also be known as common cress, and it is a leafy herb that is used for consumption of its leaves along with used for medicinal purposes. Watercress is similar in these uses, with the primary difference between the two being that watercress prefers to grow in areas of water. Curly cress, true to its name, may have curled leaves which make it distinctive. Like watercress, curly cress has a peppery flavor and may be used in salads and sandwiches for its unique look and taste.

Benefits of Garden Cress

Cress, particularly garden cress, is known for its medicinal benefits as well as being a culinary herb that is found largely in sandwiches and soups. Among its medicinal benefits, it may reduce coughs, act as a natural vitamin c supplement, strengthen one's immune system, and aide in relieving constipation. A variety of cress, water cress is also high in vitamin K, with one cup containing 106% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) and is known for having a high antioxidant content that may help the body protect itself against diseases and oxidative stress. Cress is native to western Asia and has roots in ancient Persia, in particular.

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