How to Grow Cress for Grown-Ups

, written by gb flag

Grown-up cress on a plate

A salad leaf that's easy to grow, packs a powerful bite, and fills the gaps while slower crops get going sounds great, doesn't it? So how come only children grow it?

Cress suffers something of an image problem. There's no doubt that growing it on the windowsill is a great way for youngsters to learn about germination, but we seem to have forgotten that there's more to it than skinny white stalks topped with a couple of immature leaves.

Growing cress with children

First, though, back to basics. The easiest way to grow cress quickly is to find a shallow tray (a plastic food container from the supermarket serves well) and line it with paper tissues, cotton wool or kitchen roll. Wet the paper or wool well (though don't have it swimming in water), sprinkle seeds over the surface and cover the tray with cling film. A container that's around an inch or two deep is perfect, as this allows space for growth before the seedlings hit their heads on their "glass ceiling".

Germination takes place within a couple of days (24 hours, if you're lucky) and the cress is ready to harvest when it's around 1½ to 2 inches high (which will be, depending on the type you're growing, five to seven days later). Snip the stalks off at the base to use as a garnish, in a salad, or in sandwiches.

Growing cress on kitchen roll

It's important to ensure that the kitchen roll, or whatever you're using, doesn't dry out, which is why cling film is so useful as it stops evaporation. You can grow the cress without covering with cling film, but you have to keep a strict eye on it as the paper/wool etc dries out very quickly.

An alternative to the kitchen roll method is to sprinkle them onto the surface of a three-inch pot (or larger) full of damp compost. This is the way to go if you want to grow the little seedlings on further, as they'll soon need the nutrients in the soil to progress and will starve on kitchen roll.

Greek cress in a pot

Growing grown-up cress

I don't really see the point of growing cress only to scythe it down when it's barely got going, and I'm moderately confident that, once you've tried the grown-up version, neither will you.

The great thing is that cress is something that you can grow on the windowsill all year round, or sow directly into outdoor beds any time frosts have passed. Seeds can be sprinkled over the surface of a pot or sown in the ground in either a block or row, quite close together (say half an inch or 1 cm apart). If cress becomes too hot and dry, it tends to bolt, so it's a good choice for an area that's a bit shady and, for best results, it needs to be grown in soil that remains moist. Because it grows so quickly, it's ideal for intercropping.

The choice of cress can be quite confusing, especially as the pictures on seed packets tend to look pretty similar but appear under various names such as Common, Curled or Greek Cress. To be honest, they are all pretty similar. In my experience, larger leaved varieties tend to be slightly milder. There's also one called Sprint, which does live up to its name and germinates just a touch faster than others.

Growing cress in the vegetable garden

The true leaves of cress are feathery and divided and plants grow to around six inches high in about four weeks. Leave it longer and it will begin to go to seed, but if this happens don't just throw them out. The fire in the leaves will have died down, but they're still tasty and the tiny white flowers are also edible and provide a tiny mustardy explosion in the mouth. If you harvest by snipping stalks just above a leafy growing point, they may produce a second flush of leaves, but my experience is that cress isn't very keen to regenerate. Sowing a new batch is a better way to keep cress in production.

So, I hope I've convinced you. For the effort of sowing a few seeds that would otherwise provide about enough garnish for a cheese sandwich, you will, by letting cress grow, gain handfuls of leafy growth. Cress tends to lose its flavour when cooked, but it certainly adds texture and a mustardy warmth to any salad.

By Helen Gazeley

Plants Related to this Article

Bugs, Beneficial Insects and Plant Diseases

< All Guides

Garden Planning Apps

If you need help designing your vegetable garden, try our Vegetable Garden Planner.
Garden Planning Apps and Software

Vegetable Garden Pest Warnings

Want to Receive Alerts When Pests are Heading Your Way?

If you've seen any pests or beneficial insects in your garden in the past few days please report them to The Big Bug Hunt and help create a warning system to alert you when bugs are heading your way.

Show Comments


"Thanks for the super tip. It's funny, I never even thought to grow these in my garden even though they're always on my windowsill. Even at the farmers markets here in Germany, they're only grown to the first leaves. These seeds are going in the garden today!!"
Marsha on Friday 12 July 2013
"It looks like parsley, doesn't it? (Particularly, flat leaf Italian type). Will have to search for a seed source here in U.S. "
Dee on Friday 12 July 2013
"It sounds a lot like arugula. I don't recall ever seeing it in North Florida. I most recently enjoyed cress fresh from the Saturday market in Swaffham (spelling?) Norfolk...and, yes, my Auntie Jo served it in cheese sandwich. I'd love to re-create that taste here at home."
Jane on Saturday 13 July 2013
"thank u this helped me "
kaydon on Tuesday 15 September 2015
"'for grown ups' ahahaha was just getting frustrated at the alternative xD many thanks"
sam on Wednesday 27 November 2019
"I was wondering 'what happens if you just let cress grow?' well now I know, I shall try with the cress I have growing in my greenhouse. Thank you."
MR GLENN R FISHER on Tuesday 28 April 2020
"It's incredible isn't it - so few of us grow it to full leaf size. Enjoy!"
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 28 April 2020
"I love the internet, just exactly what. I wanted to know - thanks for an excellent and informative post"
Caro on Friday 19 June 2020
"Have you ever grown it on to seed? I am trying this year,want lots of seed to grow 'normal' cress for sandwiches through the winter.I'm not sure when or how to harvest the seed,any ideas ?"
CAROLLAN on Friday 7 August 2020
"I haven't grown it to seed personally, no. I would just let the plants flower then harvest the seed once it's dried out on the plant. You may need to dry the seed for another week indoors before storing them. "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 10 August 2020
"Surprisingly I came to know about this plant after I uploaded to Google search .. thanks grew all by itself without my intention..."
Daisy Correya on Sunday 3 July 2022

Add a Comment

Add your own thoughts on the subject of this article:
(If you have difficulty using this form, please use our Contact Form to send us your comment, along with the title of this article.)

(We won't display this on the website or use it for marketing)


(Please enter the code above to help prevent spam on this article)

By clicking 'Add Comment' you agree to our Terms and Conditions