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Reader q&a on watercress problems:

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General Information
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Question

I picked some watercress from a stream a little over a week ago. Any ideas on how to get it to grow successfully in a domesticated environment?


The Green Chronicle replies...

I have known watercress to root in a jar of water, and in theory you could rescue some to grow at home, however, it generally likes running water, so unless you have a running stream or water feature in your garden I think you might be hard-pressed to make a go of cultivating your own watercress. If you do then wait until the roots are well developed and plant out in shallow water preferably in a bed of sand or fine gravel. Growing watercress successfully is actually quite a complicated business. Maybe you could try it in an oxygenated fish tank, but there is an alternative. Get yourself some American land cress seeds and sow them now somewhere where you can keep them well watered. The result will be a tasty crop, as good as watercress with no need for running water, when it goes to seed collect the seed, or let it do its own thing, and it might just naturalise. Please do experiment with the watercress, but don't pin your hopes on it unless you are prepared to create a watercress bed especially for the plants.


Question

My niece has a moving small stream running through her property, and would very much like to try growing water cress. Could you give me some starting advice and should the water be tested? Thank you so much.


The Green Chronicle replies...

I have seen watercress grown in beds constructed alongside a stream with water taken from the stream run through the beds - walled beds with a gravel base and a covering of sand - and of course in the wild watercress enjoys streams with shallow gravel or sandy banks. The best way to start - if the watercourse has a suitable habitat - is to raise seedlings in modules or pots and then to plant them out when they are a few weeks old. The plants do not want to be under water so it must be shallow, neither do they want to be in very fast flowing water. All in all you might be best to try to modify a place along the bank for watercress planting. As far as water quality is concerned, commercial growers have to use spring water straight from the ground. For home consumption the decision must be yours. The traditional wisdom is to avoid watercress from streams near where sheep graze because of the danger of liver fluke - very very nasty!  I wish you luck, but bear in mind that you might have to experiment a little bit to get the conditions just right for watercress. Raise enough plants, always keeping them very well watered, to give you a fighting chance of establishing some successfully and then keep your fingers crossed that the watercress will thrive. If you need to you can raise more plants to renew the colony in future seasons.


Question

Hello,
We have a large pool with a natural bottom and streams fed by underground springs and loads of wild watercress growing around the banks. A friend managed to find me some culinary watercress with roots on in her greengrocers and we are keen to cultivate it. I have read your q/a and know the ideal place to plant it but in the meantime, I have left it floating in the pool. It has multiplied 10 fold with so many roots it looks like a blond wig! The problem is that it has also gone to seed with very pretty white flowers but hardly any leaf. Before planting it out should I cut the flowers off or have I left it too late? Any suggestions would be much appresciated. With thanks
Ann


The Green Chronicle replies...

Watercress leaves tend to be bitter once the plant has started to flower. Usually the watercress is harvested so regularly (usually once a week) that it never gets to flower. I believe also that well-harvested watercress has a limited life span and the plants need to be replaced fairly often. Perhaps you could taste the watercress and see if it is worth planting now. If it tastes ok cut the flowers off and have a go. Otherwise you will need to get some more cress and plant it. Planting can be done May to June. Just a note of caution. It is as well to make sure that your water is absolutely free from pollution both from chemicals and animals. Liver fluke from sheep and I believe,deer, are a real hazard.Also it would be as well to check that the wild watercress is actually that (just in case there is a mix up with your cultivated cress) since there are some poisonous waterplants that mimic edible wild watercress.

If you have any questions on Watercress, e-mail us and we may be able to help!