The Battle Against Bolting
As the summer gets underway and your plants continue to grow, you may have noticed a change in some of your favourite herbs and veggies. If you've noticed some of your plants beginning to grow long stems and flower it is likely they have begun to bolt.
What is bolting?
Bolting is a common gardening term for when a plant produces a flowering stem prior to harvest. It is a natural process that allows the plant to produce seeds in order to reproduce. It can also be referred to as 'going to seed'.
Left, is a picture of spinach that has bolted. You can tell by the tall stalks growing from the centre producing small flowers.
Bolting can occur for a variety of reasons, including changes in day length, temperature and the existence of stressors such as lack of water or soil nutrients. These conditions interact in various ways that can trigger the plant to prematurely flower in order to spread its seeds before its life cycle ends. Certain plants such as lettuce, basil, leeks, carrots, cabbage, turnip, arugula, beetroot, brassicas, spinach, celery, and onion are more likely to bolt.
Why does bolting matter?
When a plant bolts, it shifts its energy from producing the edible part of the plant that gardeners want to harvest, to the flowering stem. This can impact the taste and texture of the plant, making it bitter and tougher to chew and digest.
The lucky news is that it is possible to prevent bolting if you are attentive and patient!
Tips to Prevent Bolting:
1. Avoid plant stress! Make sure soil is nutrient dense and that plants are receiving enough water.
2. Choose varieties of your favourite plants that may be more resistant to bolting.
3. Change the growing season; check which plants prefer warmer versus colder temperatures, or shorter versus longer days. This can give your plants the best chance to yield the largest harvest before going to seed.
4. Pick off the outer leaves to prevent the plant from maturing. This can elongate the life of the plant by several weeks, maximizing how much you can harvest.
5. Use hardier plants as shade to protect the plants you have that may be inclined to bolt.
6. Pay close attention; plants can bolt quite quickly and if they seem to be on their way, perhaps it's time to salvage what you can and reuse the area for something new that does better in the heat. If herbs are growing flower buds snip them off as soon as you can.
7. If its too late to save your bolted plant, don't worry! You can harvest seeds for planting next season, or just leave them for the bees!