When I started gardening there were a lot of terms people were using that I didn’t understand at all. But I was a novice gardener. I was learning and there was SO MUCH to learn.
When I try to learn something new – no matter if it’s gardening or chickens – I try to do as much research as I can. I love to learn so these new things are always exciting to me. I gobble up articles and blog posts, I pick sections of books to really focus in on until I feel I am ready for whatever it is I’m trying to study. One of the best things about learning is that it’s a lifelong process.
Shockingly, I didn’t hear the term “bolting” for the first several years of having a garden. One of those terms was “bolting.”
Well, despite my garden only being in for a few weeks, I have some leafy plants that are already bolting. As I struggle to deal with it, I thought I would explain what that term means, how it impacts your garden and what you can do about it.
What is bolting?
Bolting describes a process the plant goes through when it sends up a flower stalk and goes to seed.
You might hear this in reference to leafy greens the most. It’s very common among greens such as lettuce, spinach and arugula. However, even vegetables such as broccoli, beets and herbs can bolt. Basil is the herb I most commonly see bolting – probably because I have so much of it – but it can also happen with cilantro, dill, chives and more.
Once a plant has bolted it will put all its effort into producing those seeds and the flavor of the leaves will change. It’s said they become bitter and tough, but you can still eat the lettuce or herbs after the plant has bolting. I never notice a dramatic difference in the taste but some people might be more sensitive to it than others.
Why do plants bolt?
Bolting tend to happen once the weather takes a turn towards summer and the days heat up.
However, some researchers say it is actually the longer daylight hours that cause bolting in plants. They covered some plants with throughout the day and left a control group uncovered. The control group was the group that bolted while the covered group didn’t and continued to produce.
That said, bolting tends to be a survival reaction for plants. When they feel threatened – with temperatures that are too hot, not enough water, etc. they will often bolt and go to seed. It seems it’s an effort to promote the next generation when plants feel vulnerable and in danger.
What can you do about bolting?
Most people aren’t sure what you can do to prevent bolting. since it is a natural reaction of the plant to the weather.
However, based on the study above and some other articles I’ve read on bolting, it seems that the process can at least be slowed be planting the crops in areas that don’t’ get as much sun.
Since we have started our garden from the ground up this year, everything is brand new and there are no shady spots. I’m going to try to cover the plants with a thin sun blocker to see if that helps.
As for my plants that have already gone to seed, which includes my red leaf lettuce, some of my basil and my spinach, I’m going to pull it, replant and then cover it with the sun blocker. Hopefully this will help those plants to keep reproducing throughout the rest of the season.
Read more about our garden plans from early in the season here.