What Is Bolting – 5 Easy Ways To Stop It

What is bolting? If you want to be called a gardener, there are a bunch of gardening terms you need to familiarize yourself with. Learning about your plant’s different behaviours, being aware of the problems, and knowing the terms used to refer these can help you find the right fix or prevent the problem in the first place. Read on to find out what is bolting because its a common problem to vegetable plants that need to be dealt with. Plant bolting is one such term you need to know about.

what is bolting
herb plants bolting

What Is Bolting?

Bolting is when the plant grows very quickly, start flowering, and set seed prematurely. If you notice a tall flowering branch growing through the center very quickly in a plant, that’s a bolting sign. This premature formation of the flowering stem before you can harvest it, virtually makes the plant unusable.

What Causes Bolting?

purple flower in tilt shift lens

The usual culprit behind this occurrence is the weather. The vegetables that enjoy cooler weather like lettuce, cabbage, and carrots, may react in this way when the temperatures start rising from late spring to early summer. It’s a natural reaction of the plant to concentrate it’s energy into flowering and setting seeds to reproduce before it dies.

Besides temperature rise, other factors can also trigger the same reaction from plants, such as cold spells or a change in daylight hours.

Is a bolted plant edible?

When the plant pulls energy from the edible parts into the formation of the flowering stalk and seeds, it’s a prediction of a poor harvest. Plants will bolt at the expense of flavor and quality. The edible parts of the plant will be woody, hard, and flavorless. Once the plant has bolted completely, it may even become inedible.

Which crops are prone to bolting?

Some vegetables are more susceptible to bolting than others. The problem is most common in:

  • Lettuce
  • Leaks
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Turnip
  • Onion
  • Cabbage
  • Cilantro
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Fennel

Can bolting be reversed?

top view photo of green leafed plants in pots

Early stages of bolting can be reversed, but only temporarily. As soon as flowers start forming, pinch them out so that the plant can focus its energy on leaves. Continue doing so each time you notice any new flower buds. 

In some plants, such as basil, the condition will be reversed completely. The plant will continue growing foliage for harvest. In most crops, like lettuce and spinach, it will give you a little more time to harvest. Eventually, the plant starts bolting again and leaves the plant hard, tasteless, and, ultimately, inedible.

How to prevent bolting?

There are a couple of things you can do to prevent bolting:

  1. Plant the bolt-prone crops early in the spring, so they can grow through the spring and be harvested before it gets too hot.
  2. Add mulch and water regularly to keep the soil cool.
  3. Cover the plants if there’s a cold spell.
  4. Harvest your herbs regularly to keep the leaves from maturing. 
  5. Plant varieties that are resistant to bolting. Boltardy beets are a good option if you don’t want to see bolting. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What Causes Bolting In Plants?

Mainly due to hot weather this is a natural signal that it’s time to stop growing and start producing seeds.

Why Is Bolting Bad?

Vegetable plants bolting can sometimes be bad because it can change the taste of the plant. If a large field of produce is not monitored closely it can quickly run to seed ruining a large volume of crops.

How Do I Stop My Plants From Bolting?

Vary the time you sow the seeds, mulch the plant and keep it watered.

Is It Safe To Eat Bolted Lettuce?

It can still be harvested and eaten but you might not want to because it will be bitter.

What Is Bolting In Onion?

When an onion bolts it will produce a straight flower stem and the bulb will stop growing.

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