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With or without a stream, watercress is easy to grow.

If you've never grown watercress, it might sound like an intimidating crop, especially if you don't have a stream in your garden. But devotees know that the best way to describe its culture is "easy," running water or not; it even grows in standard garden plots or in containers.

You can grow plants from seed, but it's easiest to start them from stems of watercress you bring home from the grocery store; these root easily in fresh water or moist soil. If you buy seed, don't confuse milt-tasting watercres (Nasturtium officinale) with more peppery garden cress (Lepidium sativum) or garden nasturtium (Tropaeolum majust).

No matter how your grow it, this herbaceous perennial will spread quickly to cover a large area. In sunny plots, it behaves much like an annual, dying back with the heat of summer but reseeding the following spring. Under these conditions, feed it with high-nitrogen fertilizer to stimulate leaf growth, and give it plent of water.

Planted in a moist, shady spot (under a shaded hose bibb, for example), watercress will thrive and pretty much take care of itself, stopping growth when freezing weather comes. But if you're fortunate enough to have a stream on your property, plant this perennial on muddy islands or banks, where it will naturalize and give you cress all year. As long as the stream doesn't freeze over, cress shouldn't die back, even when snow covers it. Plant as far up the stream as is convenient; it will spread downstream quickly, especially if minor flooding occurs.

To harvest, cut tender tips and leaves; eat fresh or cook in soups and stews.
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Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1984
Words:269
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