Bolting: what is it & what you can do about it
Bolting, also known as 'going to seed', refers to the production of a flowering stem (or stems) on a plant before it can be harvested.
Bolting is the plant's natural attempt to produce seeds so it can reproduce, and can occur prematurely when the weather heats up and often leads to the leaves of the plant becoming bitter and inedible. For annuals like lettuce, it marks the end of a plant’s life cycle.
How to identify bolting
The signs of bolting are easy to identify:
- Sudden, upward growth—usually of a singular, woody stalk with few leaves
- Production of flowers, followed by that of seeds
- Slowed production of edible, vegetative growth
- Less desirable (often more bitter) flavour
How to delay bolting
Since bolting often ruins flavour and results in plant death, you can attempt to delay the process for as long as possible (and even temporarily reverse the process for herbs) with a few simple techniques:
- Harvesting frequently
- Pinching off flowers as soon as they appear
- Choose varieties of plants that resist bolting (e.g. ‘Australian yellow leaf’, ‘buttercrunch’, ’flame’, ‘goldrush’ ,’lollo rossa’, ‘cos’ and ’royal oakleaf’)
- Pick outer leaves off to keep them from maturing - this can extend the time the plant produces by as much as 6-8 weeks
- Give your plants some shade from intense sun and heat - a simple piece of shade cloth or a beach umbrella can provide much needed relief from intense sun & temps that can cause many of the above plants to prematurely ‘bolt’
Benefits of bolting
It is the natural lifecycle of your plants, and eventually, they plants will bolt—at which point you can replace them. However there are some benefits in allowing some of your plants to go to seed:
- You’ll attract good bugs: Pollinators like bees that are essential for our fruiting plants, prefer the smaller flowers of greens and herbs. So letting these plants flower will attract them to your Airgarden.
- You’ll get free seeds: Allow your favourite plants to flower, wait for seeds to dry, and then away you go again with your very own home grown seeds!