What Is Bolting – What It Means When A Plant Bolts

What It Means When A Plant Bolts

I have the most amazing readers, and most of the time, it is me learning from you, but every once in awhile, someone sends in a question that I think, “Hey, I bet lots of people would love to know the answer to that.”  So, I am going to try to feature some of your questions and answer them, the best I can.

Cheryl writes:

I have a question, you said the broccoli raab has bolted, how can you tell if something has bolted and why does it happen?

First of all, in case you don’t know, bolting is when your plant rapidly turns from leafy to mostly flower and seed.  {Whenever I hear the term bolt, I have to try to resist the urge to picture it lifting up its roots and running for a different yard, where it might be happier.}

Typically, plants will bolt due to hot weather.  When the temperature of the soil gets above a temperature where the plant is happy, it bolts.  Think of it as a survival mechanism for the plant.  The plant gets nervous that it won’t have time to produce another generation, so it quickly goes to seed.  Also, remember, hot weather to us, is different than each plants definition.  Cool weather crops can bolt long before the dead heat of summer.

What It Means When A Plant Bolts broccoli raab seed head

Once a plant has completely bolted, it is inedible–not because it is harmful, but because the process causes the plant to taste like barf.  If you happen to notice your plant going to seed in the early stages, you can occasionally slow down the process.  Trim back the flowers and flower buds {this is particularly effective for plants like basil}.  Other plants, such as lettuce and broccoli, may still taste bitter, despite your best efforts.

Bolting is a sign of the beginning of the end for the life cycle of that plant.  Each plant prefers a certain season.  If you make sure to plan your garden by season, you should be able to get a great crop out of your plant before it bolts.

Cheryl, I hope this answered your question–and keep ’em coming.

Happy Gardening,


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  1. Sherle says

    The good thing about bolting plants that go a bit bitter at our house is that the bunnies love them. I also soak them in cold water to leach out some of the bitterness.

  2. sherri says

    I try and let some of my stuff bolt since the bees love them so much that way…then when they are fully done I feed them to the chickens (the plants, not the bees :)

  3. says

    We moved two of our rhubarb plants and one now has a flower
    stalk and looks like it is going to seed. It must not have liked the
    new planting site. Any hope it will live on if I cut the main flower stalk?
    Any and all help appreciated.

    • Village Brat says

      Last year a number of us here in Alaska in different locations around the state noticed our rhubarb starting bolting almost immediately. Most of us broke of the flowers as soon as we noticed them and went on to have a great full season crop.

      Also if the plant has been in the same place for some time they will bolt too soon, usually stopped when they are split.

      Hope that helps!!

  4. Jen L A says

    Thanks for the lesson. I knew bolting was bad (like to a neighbor’s garden bad!!!) But I wasn’t sure of exact definition!

  5. Ellen B. says

    Living in the South, we get two planting seasons for the cooler weather vegs. If I don’t need the planting space right away, I like to let plants like leaf lettuce and kale finish flowering and form seeds which can be harvested for later planting. The lettuce seeds I often let the wind scatter in the garden beds. “Babies” will pop up if and when the germination conditions are right.

  6. says

    {Whenever I hear the term bolt, I have to try to resist the urge to picture it lifting up its roots and running for a different yard, where it might be happier.} Hahahahaha.. I just spit all of my drink out laughing..

  7. Alison H says

    Eeek! Mavis! This JUST happened with 1 of my 4 spinach transplants :( I’m hoping this isn’t an early taste of things to come (no pun intended…because is DOES taste like barf!!!).

  8. rbuc says

    Thank you for the definition. I just read about a new basil plant that won’t bolt. I thought that might be what it meant because here in SoCal where the weather is warm, we start pinching off flowers right away for plants such as basil, arugula, cilantro, etc. I’ll have to try the new variety.

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