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A bunch of watercress in a field 
If you like vegetables with a punchy bite, then watercress is a great addition to your edible garden. This small leafy green has a peppery taste and is packed with nutrients including calcium, iron, and vitamin C. It’s easy to grow at home and is ready to harvest in as little as eight to ten weeks.

What you need to know about watercress

Name: watercress, garden cress, broadleaf cress, Nasturtium officinale.

Height: up to 15cm.

Plant type: perennial.

Climate: all climates.

Soil: moist, well-drained soil enriched with organic matter.

Position: full sun or part shade.

Flowers: clusters of small white flowers in spring and early summer.

Foliage: small-to-medium, round and lightly crinkled.

Feeding: fertilise regularly with a liquid plant food.

Watering: water regularly to keep the soil moist.

Appearance and characteristics of watercress

As its name implies, watercress is an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant. It’s found growing naturally in shallow waterways. The fleshy stems and leaves form a dense carpet on the surface of the water, and clusters of small white flowers appear in spring and early summer. Despite its botanical name, Nasturtium officinale, it is not related to nasturtium. It is a member of the brassica family and closely related to mustard and wasabi.

Watercress grows readily in the wild. In many areas it’s classed as a weed and may be contaminated with liver fluke – a small parasitic worm that typically occurs in creeks and waterways downstream from where cattle and livestock graze. This worm can infect humans and cause acute or chronic disease, so it’s best not to forage for wild watercress, especially if the water source is close to livestock.

A bunch of trimmed watercress lying on a white surface

Uses for watercress

The shoots and leaves are sharp and peppery and are ideal in salads, sandwiches or as a garnish. They can also be used to flavour soups and broths.

How to grow watercress

Watercress thrives in a moist environment. You can grow it in water, but it will also grow happily in the garden or pots provided the soil is well drained and kept consistently moist. Despite the fact it grows in water in the wild, watercress will not tolerate waterlogged soil or stagnant water – planting in these conditions can lead to root rot.

Seeds can be sown at almost any time of the year, but ideally late summer or early autumn. Sow seeds directly into garden beds or pots enriched with compost and they will germinate in 7-10 days. Water regularly to keep the soil moist. If growing in a pot, place the pot inside a larger vessel and keep it topped up with water.

Caring for watercress

Watercress needs minimal care once established in a pond or aquatic environment. However, if it’s growing in the ground or pots, it will need regular watering to keep the soil moist.

A bunch of watercress on a round wooden chopping board

How often should you water and feed watercress?

To ensure good growth, watercress needs to be watered regularly – do not allow the soil to completely dry out. Feed often throughout the growing season with an organic liquid fertiliser.

How and when to harvest watercress

Watercress is usually ready for harvest eight to ten weeks from sowing. Snip stems near the base of the plant, leaving behind at least one pair of leaves on each stem to encourage more growth. Only harvest as needed, as watercress does not store well.

Harvest before flowering as this tends to alter the flavour profile, with leaves more bitter and less peppery.

Diseases and pests that affect watercress

Watercress is not especially prone to pests or disease. Snails and slugs may feed on developing seedlings but can be controlled with organic baits or barriers. As a member of the brassica family, the cabbage moth or small cabbage white butterfly may find the leaves appetising, but these can be controlled with a fine-gauge exclusion net or a suitable insecticide.

How to propagate watercress

Grow plants from seed or seedlings. Watercress can also be propagated from stem cuttings. To do this, cut a piece of stem below a node (the bump along the stem where a leaf emerges), remove a few of the lower leaves, and place in a glass of water. Roots will form and once they are 5-7cm long, then transplant into the garden or pots.

If you like this, then try

Microgreens: small but mighty, these fast-growing plants are packed with flavour and nutrients.

Wasabi: a lush evergreen perennial with pungent rhizomes that are popular in Japanese cuisine.

New Zealand spinach: this easy-to-grow, leafy vegetable is a great spinach alternative

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

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