Has your vegetable crop suddenly gotten super tall and then died? It can be really frustrating, but this is a natural part of many plants’ life cycles.

This natural cycle is called bolting. The bolting plants put their final amounts of energy into producing seeds before they die. You can prevent bolting by keeping your plants healthy or pinching off the flowers.

If bolting kills the plant, it must be bad, right? Not necessarily! Bolting, otherwise known as flowering or “going to seed,” is a natural process many plants go through. In this article, you will find out when you should let your plants bolt and how to prevent flowering!

What Is Bolting?

Bolting is the process that many plants go through to reproduce, and it’s how they flower, produce seed, and eventually die before the season is over. Bolting is characterized by the rapid upward growth of the center or flower stalk, and that process will ultimately produce flowers and seeds.

The plants grow this tall stalk to make their flowers easier to see for pollinators. That way, they make sure their seeds are fertilized. The tall flower stalk also ensures the plant can spread the seeds as far as possible. The further away the baby plants are from each other, the better their chance of survival.

What Plants Are Susceptible To Bolting?

Several different garden plants and vegetables go through bolting. Most of them are once that we consider leafy greens like spinach, lettuce, and radishes. Some herbs and non-fruiting vegetables will go through plants bolting too. Many gardeners that are growing cool-season vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, arugula, or cilantro face the bolting process during the summer when temperatures get over 90°F. and oscillate too often.

bolting broccoli flowers
Broccoli flowers

What Causes Bolting And How To Prevent It

There are a few factors that can cause bolting. The first is the weather, where many vegetables have a specific growing season. For example, lettuce is typically an early spring crop. The lettuce knows it will die soon when it starts to warm out. So it tries to reproduce before that happens.

Day length can also affect bolting. Plants are brilliant and can keep track of the seasons by how long the days are. If they start to get too much sun, they know their season is almost over and should begin to flower.

Stress can also cause a plant to bolt. If plants don’t get enough water or notice an unseasonably hot weather pattern, they will start to flower and will expect that they could die. So, instead of putting more energy into trying to survive, they release seeds that will hopefully sprout when growing conditions are better.

flowers and seedpods on vegetable
Flowers with seedpods

6 Tips For Preventing Flowering

1) Avoid stress conditions

Many stress conditions can cause early bolting. From seedlings and transplants to matured and pest-infected plants, all of them can suffer stress. 

To keep your plants growing strong and healthy, you need to know what can cause stress to your vegetables:

  • watering: drought or flood
  • high-temperature oscillations: too cold or too hot
  • damaging the roots when transplanting or weeding
  • pest infestation
  • weeds taking over the plants
  • nutrients: too many or too less
  • diseases: like fungi or virus diseases

These are the most common stress conditions that will not just trigger bolting but also reduce your total crop yield. It is good to know that many of these conditions are easy to solve just by prevention and proper care.

lettuce bolting
Lettuce bolting

2) Control Plant’s Environment

One obvious way to prevent early bolting is to keep your plants comfortable. Keep them at a consistent temperature and ensure they get plenty of water. You can also control how much light they take, which will trick them into thinking they are in peak growing season. 

The easiest way to control a plant’s environment is with a greenhouse. But, you can also do this process in your home. Just ensure the plant has plenty of sunlight and adding a grow light can also help get the light that needs to photosynthesize.

If you don’t have a space or the ability to control an environment like that, there is another way you can prevent bolting.

3) Choose Your Seeds and Plant Variety 

It is essential to select plants that can successfully grow in your area. Most vegetables can succeed, but you must ensure proper seeding and transplanting time. Cool-season vegetables don’t like hot summers and will probably bolt if you plant them too late in warm regions. You can choose hot weather or bolting tolerant varieties for growing in such areas.

When you are looking to buy seed, check the production date on the bottom of the packet. Seeds often go wrong if they sit around for too long, and it’s best to purchase the ones that are still fresh. Also, you should look at the “sell by” date as you don’t want to buy seeds that will expire before you sow them.

choosing variety buying seeds

4) Provide Water and Shade in Hot Summers

Most vegetables need to grow in full sun conditions at least for 6 hours. However, in today’s weather, extremes are happening more often than ever, creating problems in your vegetable gardening adventure. That is specifically common with cool-weather vegetables when they can’t stand too hot temperatures during the summer.

The solution is to provide them shade these days when a heat wave is forecasted. During these hot days, it is also a good idea to sprinkle the leaves with water in the evenings to chill out the entire plant during the warm nights.

Regular watering is also crucial to avoid early flowering, and a generally good rule of thumb is to water the base of the plant by 1 inch per week.

5) Mulching

Adding mulch has many benefits, and bolting prevention is one of them.

Mulching will help you suppress weeds around your veggies and keep the soil hydrated. Most vegetable crops demand moist soil during their vegetative stage of growth.

There are many mulches to choose from, but generally, any mulch is better than no mulch.

mulching around seedlings
Mulching around seedlings

6) Pruning and harvesting

Don’t hesitate to prune or cut the outer leaves when touching the ground or other plants nearby. Pruning will encourage the plant to put most of its energy into producing more leaves. You can also pinch or cut off the center stalk when you see it is growing too tall.

Make sure to harvest from your plant frequently, which will cause it to put all of its energy into growing new shoots. You can harvest many vegetables like arugula or broccoli multiple times during the season, and you should take advantage of that.

If you leave the “fruits,” the plant will finish its lifecycle sooner.

pruning vegetables

Signs a Plant Is Preparing to Go to Seed

There are a few signs that you can look for to know when your plant is about to go to seed.

First, the plant will start to grow more upwards, making it look taller. That means it will focus on “catching the sun” and will slow its spreading in width.

You can also notice that it looks leggier than it should. This leggy look is often confused with water shortage, but if you also see new and thin stalks appearing, that will be a second sign your plant is preparing for the reproduction stage of growth.

From these new and thin stalks, flowers with seedpods will appear very soon.

growing flower stalk
Growing flower stalk closeup

Is Bolting Bad?

Bolting isn’t always bad. It’s just the plant’s natural life cycle taking its entire course. But it can also have some undesirable effects on your crop production like:

Taste

The first undesirable effect is taste. When the plant puts most of its energy into flowering, it will begin to neglect the rest of its parts. That often means its leaves or roots will become bitter. That is also a safety mechanism, so the plant isn’t eaten before it goes to seed.

Production

The second effect is on production and yield. Because the plant push most of its nutrients and energy into flowers and seedpods, it won’t pay attention to the other parts. It will only try to maintain them until the seeds are complete. That means it won’t produce as much edible product for you.

Death

The third and final effect is on the plant as a whole. Going to seed is a sign to the plant that it’s getting ready to die. So, the plant shuts down and dies once the process is over. That means you will have to repeat the growing process with a whole new plant to continue producing.

tomato flowers
Flowers on tomato

Benefits Of Bolting

Bolting isn’t always a negative thing to plant growth. Sometimes, it can be very beneficial if you allow the plant to go to seed. The most obvious is that you get free resources for the next planting season. If you liked the herb you grew, you can harvest the seeds and grow more! Just make sure that you planted heirloom seed varieties instead of hybrids to be sure that your crop will be successful. 

Bolting is also a great way to help attract pollinators like bees. The small flowers these plants produce are an easy pollen source for many pollinators, and they’re an excellent food source during a time of year when pollen may be scarce. The pollen can also attract predatory and beneficial bugs that eat pests!

Your plant may also start bolting because it’s just too old. Growing leaves and flowers takes a lot of energy, and sometimes plants get burnt out. Letting your plant go to seed allows you to start over with a fresh new one. Those younger plants will often taste better too!

onion seedpods
Onion seedpods with seeds

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Eat a Plant After it Bolts?

Well, yes, you can eat a plant after it bolts, but maybe you’re not going to want to eat it. As we mentioned earlier taste and quality of vegetables would suffer once the flowers start to appear. Some vegetables will become more bitter taste and some more peppery.
As we all know, the phrase “In matters of taste, there can be no disputes” maybe you will find bolted vegetable tastier than a regular one. It is up to you to decide and experiment with the tastes.

Can You Cut the Flowering Stem to Stop Bolting?

Yes, you can cut the flowering stem to prologue the bolting, but it won’t stop this process. Cutting the flower stalk will give you more time to harvest your plants before they start producing flowers and seeds.