Why Your Plants Bolt and 5 Sure Ways of Delaying It

plants bolt
plants bolt

What does the word “bolt” mean? Many things!

We say a frightened horse “bolts.” We call lightning flashes bolts.  We even affix nuts (not the edible kind!) with bolts. But what does it mean to say that plants bolt?

Because that’s what my cilantro, the lacy-leaved herb that lends its soapily pungent flavor to menus around the globe, just did! Obviously, it hasn’t galloped off,  struck a lightning rod, or offered itself to the nearest handyman.

What it has done, however, is what comes to mind when you hear that an establishment has “gone to seed.” My cilantro has given up on providing what I consider its most desirable feature! 

There’ll be no more of the tender, aromatic young foliage I’ve been enjoying since late March. Whatever leaves it continues producing will be semi-tough and nearly flavorless.

Why?

Because overnight, it sent up slender, fernlike flower stalks to notify me that its energy will now go into making seeds. And in two or three months, I’ll have dozens and dozens of the tiny, straw-colored spheres.

More than enough to provide me with a new cilantro crop in the spring!

Why Do Your Plants Bolt?

As much as we love our plants for the beauty and nourishment they give us,  that’s not what nature designed them for. Their only reason for growing is to reproduce themselves, and vast numbers reproduce by making seeds.

When changes in their environment, such as fewer hours of daylight or cooling temperatures, signal that their growing season is ending, they go into action.

My cilantro’s response to the first hot spell of 2021!

For some plants, including my cilantro and other “cool-weather” crops, the trigger gets pulled when the soil warms, and daytime temperatures exceed 75 degrees F (23.8 C).

They’re simply not equipped to survive long under those conditions, so they do the next best thing.

By cutting back on the leaf production that sustains it and entering the seed-making stage, my cilantro plant is doing what it can to continue its species.

Some of the Best Plants Bolt!

Experience is taught me that the list is long. Some of the best-known herbal bolters are

  • basil
  • chives
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • mint

and parsley.

Ad many plant-based cuisines would be lost without bolting-prone veggies such as:

  • kale
  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • arugula
  • Swiss chard

or cabbage.

There are more, but what these all have in common is their inability to cope with warm conditions. While the kale plants I started back in March are thriving, they’re bred for increased heat tolerance.

Which brings us to…

5 Tips for Delaying When Your Plants Bolt

Delaying when your plants bolt begins even before you plant them. If possible, look for bolt-resistant varieties, such as “Slo-Bolt” cilantro or my ‘Lacinato’ and ‘Vates’ kale.

After that, these tips will delay the inevitable as long as possible :

  1. The Seed Savers Exchange recommends getting your seeds or started plants in the ground when the soil and temperatures reach 40 degrees F (4.4C). Any thermometer that registers down to 32F (0C) will measure the soil temperature.
  2. Plant in an area that will provide partial shade as temperatures warm.
  3. Water in the morning so the soil and roots stay cool.
  4. Give your plants a 2-inch layer of veganic mulch such as hay, grass clippings, or leaves. Besides keeping the soil coll, it breaks down into valuable nutrients.
  5. When leafy greens each 4 to 6 inches high,  pinch back the upright stems at their tips to encourage more leaf growth and delay bolting.

And remember, bolting is a plant’s way of responding to stress. To delay it as long as possible, do whatever you can to give your plants a stress-free environment!.

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