December 12, 2022
If you have been gardening for more than a season, then you have probably dealt with early flowering or bolting. This can be a nuisance in most gardener's plots, but luckily there are some ways you can avoid it. But before we get to that, what exactly is bolting?
Bolting simply means the early production of flowering stems a plant. Most plants bolt due to overly hot weather for the season, and it is effectively a survival mechanism in a plant. If the weather gets to be above where the plant would survive, it will try to produce the next generation of seeds as quickly as possible. When the ground hits a certain temperature, this acts as a signal to the plant to produce flowers and seeds very rapidly, and to effectively abandon leaf growth.
These resulting flowering stems are usually vigorous extensions of existing leaf-bearing stems. To produce them, a plant diverts resources from producing the edible parts such as leaves or roots, resulting in flavor and texture changes, withering, and in general, a poor quality harvest. When this happens to herbs, for instance, it results in a bitter taste. Plants turns woody, instead of having tender leaves and stems. This makes them undesirable or unusable for cooking or even medicinal purposes.
Below are four things you can do to prevent your plants from bolting:
1. Using the correct plant variety, growing conditions, and timing: choose a quick-maturing variety so that it's not stressed out by too much sunlight exposure.
2. Plant early in the spring. This is so that plants prone to bolting grow during the late spring. (Alternativel, plant late in the summer so they grow during early fall).
3. Avoid excessive heat during summer months. Cover your plants with shade cloths or mulch the soil under them.
4. Add mulch and ground cover to the growing area.
5. Watering regularly. This also helps keep the soil temperature down.
If the bolting process has already started, you can temporarily reverse it by snipping off the flowers and flower buds. In some plants, like basil, the plant will resume producing leaves and might stop the bolting altogether.
In many vegetable plants though, such as broccoli and lettuce, this step merely gives you some more time to harvest the crop before the produce turns inedible. But, remember: don't give up, even if bolting has already set in!