BOLTING VEGGIES

Post last updated: October 10th, 2018

Bolting occurs when vegetable crops prematurely start to flower. Bolting is triggered by (1) cold spells at particular stages in growth cycle, (2) changes in day length, (3) warmer temperatures and longer days as crops close in on their maturity date or (4) stressors such as insufficient water or minerals.

Plants prone to bolting are broccoli, collards, lettuce, spinach and other greens.

Once a plant begins to flower, in preparation for going to seed, the veggies will start to taste bitter.

Veggie garden experts have suggestions for avoiding bolting, most of which absolutely, positively don’t work in Florida but let me mention them anyway: (1) start early crops indoors and plant when the temperature is warmer, (2) sow quick-to-bolt crops like cabbages in mid-summer (this one really makes me laugh), (3) delay cold-sensitive plants until temperatures are more stable, (4) careful watering and (5) choosing varieties that are slow to bolt.

In my opinion, growing cool weather crops in Florida is tricky. For starters, the heat doesn’t even begin to subside until Halloween. Thus, it makes no sense whatsoever to plant a cool weather veggie in 80 or 90 degree heat. Unfortunately, we go from hot to frost in a matter of weeks, sometimes by mid-November. Even in December and January, just for laughs, the weather coughs up 30 degree days followed by 80 degree days. The result:

bolting bok choy
bolting bok choy
bok choy seed pods-2045
immature seed pods of bok choy
bolting broccoli
bolting broccoli

Despite such discouraging conditions, I hoe right on because I like bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, kale, onions, radicchio, and turnip greens. I always get enough food to make it worth the work considering that the bugs and weeds are a lesser problem in cool weather. The veggies almost take care of themselves.

17 thoughts on “BOLTING VEGGIES”

    1. Supposedly, you can temporarily reverse the process of bolting by snipping the flower buds but the plant may be tasteless or bitter. I personally give up on a plant when it bolts because it has switched into survival mode by trying to produce seeds for the next generation.

  1. I had trouble with my cauliflower/broccoli bolting until I figured out that what was really going on is they weren’t getting enough nitrogen until later in the year once it was warmer. I started adding early liberal applications of nitrogen and got much better results. Being a “leafy” crop, it was going to need more nitrogen than say, peppers or tomatoes anyway.

    1. Gene – You are absolutely right. I chose not to admit all my sins that had nothing to do with the weather but I think I didn’t fertilize or water enough and the 80 degrees was the last straw as far as the plants were concerned.

  2. I should probably add that there is a bacteria in the soil that breaks down organic matter and makes the nitrogen available to plants. The activity level of this bacteria is directly tied to temperature, which is why places that do soil analysis tell you to not test for nitrogen until it warms up.

  3. It’s hard to get plants not to bolt once it reaches 80 degrees or so, which comes early in southern states like ours. It can be very frustrating. But, by the time they start bolting, it’s about time to plant a spring garden. I hadn’t heard that about the nitrogen, and I’m glad I read Gene’s comment – I won’t do a soil test until the weather warms up.

    1. Holley – Mine bolted in January! Now I’m leaving them in place just to stifle weeds. Some of the seed pods on the bok choy now have seed pods that should be turning brown soon. I’m going to collect them for the fun of it and see if I can grow my own bok choy from seed. I consider everything I do in the garden to be an experiment … my hanging basket of cucumbers in the greenhouse was a failure. I never got cukes more than an inch long. I’m glad you got to read Gene’s comment. He doesn’t say much but he always makes a lot of sense.

  4. Ahhh, the joys of gardening!! I enjoy my cool weather veggies, even if I get only one little piece of broccoli. There is just something so wonderful and charming about going into ones own garden to gather the evening meal…
    BB

  5. Yeah, now that I’m up north, I’m so excited to start growing snow peas and other plants that do better in the cold! I’m assuming it’s even harder to grow those kind of veggies in the Florida heat than it was in North Carolina (where I just stuck with tomatoes and peppers and other heat loving veggies!)

  6. I wonder if using a cold frame would help… you could keep it open for the cooler days and close it when there is frost. Some systems even provide shade to help shield plants from heat.

      1. yes, it could be a lot of work and expense but there’s some pretty inexpensive options on the internet. I did some research about it a while ago and I was surprised by what I found..

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