What Is Bolting: What It Means When A Plant Bolts

lettuce-bolting
Image by Pain Chaud

By Heather Rhoades

You may have been reading an article that said to watch for a plant bolting or a description of a plant that has bolted. But, if you are unfamiliar with the term, bolting may seem like an odd term. After all, plants don’t generally run away, which is the typical definition of bolt outside the gardening world.

What is Bolting?

But, while plants do not “run away” physically, their growth may run away rapidly, and this is basically what this phrase means in the gardening world. Plants, mostly vegetable or herbs, are said to bolt when their growth goes rapidly from being mostly leaf based to being mostly flower and seed based.

Why Do Plants Bolt?

Most plants bolt due to hot weather. When the ground temperature goes above a certain temperature, this flips a switch in the plant to produce flowers and seeds very rapidly and to abandon leaf growth almost completely.

Bolting is a survival mechanism in a plant. If the weather get to be above where the plant will survive, it will try to produce the next generation (seeds) as quickly as possible.

Some plants that are known for bolting are broccoli, cilantro, basil, cabbage and lettuce.

Can You Eat a Plant After it Bolts?

Once a plant has fully bolted, the plant is normally inedible. The plant’s entire energy reserve is focused on producing the seeds, so the rest of the plant tends to become tough and woody as well as tasteless or even bitter.

Occasionally, if you catch a plant in the very early stages of bolting, you can temporarily reverse the process of bolting by snipping off the flowers and flower buds. In some plants, like basil, the plant will resume producing leaves and will stop bolting. In many plants though, such as broccoli and lettuce, this step only allows you some extra time to harvest the crop before it becomes inedible.

Preventing Bolting

Bolting can be prevented by either planting early in the spring so that bolt-prone plants grow during late spring, or late in the summer so they grow during early fall. You can also add mulch and ground cover to the area, as well as watering regularly in order to keep the soil temperature down.

This article was last updated on

Related Articles
Did you find this helpful?
Share it with your friends!
Additional Help & Information

Didn't find the answer to your question? Ask one of our friendly gardening experts.

Do you know anything about gardening? Help answer someone's gardening question.

Read more articles about General Vegetable Garden Care.

Search for more information

Use the search box below to find more gardening information on Gardening Know How:

Newest Articles
  • orchid-pseudobulbs What Is A Pseudobulb In Orchids: Learn About The Function Of Pseudobulbs
  • jasmine-flower Non-Flowering Jasmine: When Jasmine Flowers Are Not Blooming
  • grapes Ripening Of Grapes: When To Harvest Grapes
  • bells-of-ireland Bells Of Ireland Care: Tips For Growing Bells Of Ireland Flowers
  • mamey-fruit What Is A Mamey Tree: Mamey Fruit Info And Cultivation