Once very popular for winter salads, Land Cress has the same pungent nip that Watercress does but is much easier to grow and deserves to be far more widely grown.
Land Cress has medium to dark green leaves which have much the same flavour as watercress and all the same health benefits. It doesn't require the constant flow of water and can be grown directly in the garden. You can also grow land cress in tubs or boxes.
Land cress is as easy to grow as common cress – the kind that is usually grown as a sprout with mustard, but the whole plants are pulled like lettuce, to add large flavoured leaves to salads. Unlike common cress, land cress thrives in the open and is very tolerant of cold weather. It can be grown almost all year round, with protection in colder months.
Leaf production is at it's highest during the summer and autumn, but it will happily carry on growing right through the winter. Land cress is also hardier than winter lettuce and makes a change from chopped savoy hearts and costly lettuce!
The plants of land cress are compact and form a rosette of leaves. They are at their best when about 10cm (4in) wide, when the leaves are dark green and succulent.
Land cress takes seven weeks from sowing to grow to eating size, 10 to 15cm (4 to 6in) across. For a steady supply make successional sowings every three to four weeks. Make the first sowing in early spring after the danger of severe frost is past, and continue right through to late summer for a winter salad crop.
There is no difficulty at all in growing land cress under cloches or frames at almost any time of the year except January and February. For August and September sowing, choosing a sheltered sunny place and set the plants wider, so that plants never touch.
Land cress grows best in nutrient-rich and moist soil. Find a site with full sun or partial shade. In hot areas choose a shady corner where the cress will be protected from the direct rays of the sun.
Well-rotted farmyard manure or garden compost worked into the top 15 to 20cm (6 to 8in) of soil before sowing will be useful, as will an additional layer of organic matter on top of the soil to help conserve moisture. Rake the bed to a fine tilth and make level.
Choose a seed planting method dependent on the size of plot: Container, Row or Broadcast planting.
- To plant cress seeds in containers, fill a pot with potting soil until 12mm (½in) shy of its rim. Scatter cress seeds across the surface of the potting soil. Cover the seeds with a 0.5 to 1cm (¼ to ½in) layer of potting soil.
- Cress seedlings look very much like those of several common weeds, which can make weeding a problem. If you know where the drills are, you can at least keep the spaces between them weed-free. To plant cress seeds in rows, use the garden hoe to create thin rows across the planting area. Dig rows 12mm (½in) deep and space rows 20 to 30cm (8 to 12in) apart. Place a fine line of seeds through the rows and lightly cover with soil.
- To broadcast plant cress seeds, simply take a handful of cress seeds and scatter them across the planting area. With your elbow contracted and fist against your chest, simultaneously throw your elbow away from your body, flick your wrist and open your hand. If you open your hand through the entire motion, seeds scatter evenly.
Cress seeds, regardless of planting method, require consistently moist soil. Keep the soil moist to encourage germination, water the seeds at least twice daily.
When seedlings emerge, thin plants to a final spacing of 20cm (8in) apart. You can either transplant the thinnings into new rows, or eat them. Do not allow the soil to dry out. If grown in dry soil and in very hot weather, its refreshing nip becomes unpleasant and bitter. It should not be necessary to water the cress bed in winter.
If you are growing land cress during the winter, protect your plants with cloches. In very frosty weather, cover the cloches with sacking at night. Be sure the plants have ventilation on all but the coldest days. When the danger of frost is past, remove the cloches and fork over the soil around the plants. Mulch the bed with garden compost or farmyard manure, and sprinkle on a little compound fertiliser.
Cress grown in tubs or containers can be moved indoors or into a frame or greenhouse for the winter. Otherwise, cultivation is the same as for outdoor-grown plants.
Harvest: 7 to 8 weeks from Sowing.
In good conditions, plants should reach harvesting stage about seven weeks after sowing. Use scissors, do not pull the plants. Begin by taking the outer leaves and allowing the centre to continue producing new leaves. When the outer leaves begin to toughen and discolour, cut the larger of the central leaves. Do not allow the stems to grow too long and straggly. Remember, the more you cut it for use, the more it will grow.
You can encourage production of new leaves by removing any flowering stems which appear. If the plants are well watered and kept growing strongly, you should be able to go on harvesting land cress almost indefinitely. When the plants finally do finish their useful life, simply dig them back into the ground; they make an excellent green manure.
Once cut, the cress will last up to two days in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Barbarea verna is native to south-western Europe and has been cultivated as a leaf vegetable since the 17th century. It is a biennial herb and a member of Brassicaceae, the cabbage family while Watercress, Nasturtium officinale is a member of the nasturtium family
The genus Barbarea is named after St. Barbara and once generally known as her herb, or the Herba Sanctae Barbarae. According to legend, St. Barbara was beheaded by her own father, a wealthy heathen named Dioscorus, for expressing a belief in Christ.
The species name verna simply means ‘of spring’.
Synonyms include Barbarea praecox and Lepidum nativum. The name, Lepidium: from the Greek lepidion, meaning ‘a little scale’, in reference to the shape of the fruit pods
The English term ‘cress’, is from the Old English caerse and is akin to similar names throughout Europe such as cresson in French and crescione in Italian. These names may be derived from a common source. Latvian griezīgs meaning ‘sharp’, or from the Indo-European root gres ‘devour’, Old Norse kras ‘delicacy’, Sanskrit grasati ‘he eats’ and Greek gran ‘gnaw’.
Land Cress is commonly grown in hot areas of the world, where growing watercress is difficult and is known as American cress, American Watercress, Upland Cress. Dryland Cress or Winter Cress.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 2 grams Average Seed Count 1,400 seeds Seed Form Natural Seeds per gram 700 seeds per gram Common Name American Cress or Upland Cress Other Common Names American Watercress, Dryland Cress or Winter Cress. Other Language Names Kress Family Brassicaceae Genus Barbarea Species verna Synonym Barbarea praecox, Lepidum nativum Hardiness Hardy Perennial Time to Sow Early Spring to Autumn. Use protection for autumn sowings. Time to Harvest 7 to 8 weeks from sowing.