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.

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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.

How Bolting Effects Plants?

The first step is to understand that bolting is an issue for you, not the plant. Bolting is a totally normal and beneficial process for the plant. The purpose of life for the leafy vegetable is to reproduce by creating seeds, which is what happens when it bolts.

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When a plant bolts, it produces a flower spike and seeds while the rest of the plant dies. The taste of most plants, however, becomes progressively harsh. As a result, when your greens first show symptoms of bottling, you may need to harvest as much as possible.

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Another alteration you may notice is that the new leaves become smaller and more pointed. Some plants may never produce a harvestable yield. A bolting broccoli plant, for example, may not create a lovely tight head and instead become a long and loose flower stalk.

Crop storage over long periods of time may be harmed, like when onions produce a stiff flowering stem in the center of the bulb. The onion may still be eaten, but you cannot dry it.

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.

How to Identify Bolting in Plants?

The good news is that identifying bolting is a simple process. The bad news is that it’s usually too late to do anything about it after you’ve noticed it on a plant. Here are some signs that show your plant is bolting:

  • You notice a strong stem emerge from the plant’s foliage, studded with only a few leaves.
  • This stem begins to create buds, which develop into flowers, and ultimately seeds.
  • You observe that the remaining leaves are growing increasingly bitter.

Which crops are prone to bolting?

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

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. 

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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 in Plants?

  • Plant during the appropriate season. Many cool-season or frost-tolerant crops, such as broccoli, lettuce, and radishes, mature better before temperatures reach 80 degrees (F), therefore, plan ahead. 

If your springtime heats up rapidly, start early or plant later in the summer, fall, or even winter, depending on your environment, when the weather is consistently cool. Due to the shorter days, many crops, such as winter radishes, will only establish a good root if planted in late summer or fall.

  • Cover your plants. To keep greens and lettuce cold as the season heats, use row cover or grow in the shadow of other plants. Mulching a spring crop early in the season might help keep the soil and roots cooler, allowing the harvest to last longer.

During a cold spell, cover immature broccoli or cauliflower plants and near-mature bulbing onions to keep them from bolting. When immature broccoli and cauliflower plants are pressured into blooming, the little plants will yield only small heads (which are actually un-opened flowers).

  • Water your plants on a regular basis. Before the roots get congested, transplant or transfer seedlings to a larger container, and remember to harden off plants before transferring.
  • Select plant varieties that are classified as “bolt resistant,” “long-standing,” “holding well,” or “having an extended harvest season.” These cultivars are resistant to the environmental pressures that force them to flower.
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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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