What is Bolting?


Bolting is a term that refers to a plant that has "gone to flower."  Typically, the plant will grow an elongated stalk with flowers from within the main stem of the plant.  The condition most often occurs in plants that are grown for their leaves such as lettuce, spinach, cilantro and other leafy greens. 

A very basic over view of the plant life cycle looks something like this:

Seed → Seedling → Fruit→ Flower → (back to) Seed
Notice that once the plant gets to the flower stage, it doesn't go back to the fruit stage, it's life cycle starts all over. When a plant is in its fruiting stage, it produces fruit, or vegetables, and most of the parts of the plant are edible (the leaves often taste like the vegetable, like broccoli leaves!)  When plants begin to flower, or blot, the entire plant changes.  It will no longer produce fruit, the leaves change in appearance and in flavor, and the plant will produce flowers. 
Plants can also bolt prematurely. This is often due to temperatures that are too warm for the plant's liking. This process is common among annuals, and usually signals the coming end of the plant's life.

When a plant begins to bolt, there is nothing you can do to stop it. Pinching off the flowers will not turn back time, or stop the process.  It's time to pull the crop, throw it in the compost pile, and sow again.  However it is possible to prevent crops from bolting simply by following instructions.  Be sure to read the labels on the seed packets, and stick to the plant's proper growing season as well as hardiness zone.  Leafy greens don't often require full sun, and do rather well in partial shade, so plant in a semi-shady place, or next to a taller crop that will block a good amount of sun.

Below is a video from my favorite garden-guru John Kohler over at Growing Your Greens with some great tips on how to prevent bolting, and what you can do with bolted crops instead of sending them to the compost heap.

Journal Ideas!

Having your crops bolt prematurely can be hard, especially on a first time gardener.  If you're experiencing this process, be sure to write about it in your garden journal!
  • Have you had any plants go to flower?
  • Is it the end of the growing season, or did they bolt prematurely?
  • Which crops bolted?
  • How do you feel?
  • What is the temperature like?
  • What season is it?
  • Is your crop a warm season or cool season crop?
  • Take Pictures!


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