Gardening

What Does Bolting Mean?

By Larry Hodgson

Bolting, also called going to seed, is one of those arcane horticultural terms that throws beginning gardeners. When a plant “bolts,” that doesn’t mean it is running away, of course, but instead that has started to flower or go to seed prematurely. And by “prematurely,” I really mean before the gardener wanted it to. (It may seem the perfect moment to flower from the plant’s point of view!)

Bolting means the plant has gone beyond the vegetative stage in its life and has begun taking the next step: flowering. This is bad news for many herbs and leaf and root vegetables, like spinach, lettuce, parsley, basil and radishes, as not only do they stop producing more of the edible part the gardener wants, but their leaves or roots often become bitter or fibrous and are no longer edible.

Hot or dry conditions often stimulate bolting, so you can delay it by keeping the soil cool and moist (a mulch may be helpful) or by sowing the plant in a cooler season. Many leaf vegetables, for example, grow best in spring or fall, even winter in mild climates, but bolt rapidly during the summer. Yet other plants, like onions or carrots, may bolt after they go through a prolonged cold snap.

Growing plants well is the best way to prevent bolting … and it can be helpful to grow varieties said to be slow to bolt or resistant to bolting.

Article originally published in this blog on March 27, 2017.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

0 comments on “What Does Bolting Mean?

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!