Lettuce is an easy crop to grow at home, and it’s perfect for harvesting and using for delicious salads throughout the year. But, sometimes, lettuce can start to bolt, and if you’re looking to pick fresh salad leaves, this can be a problem.
Bolting is part of the natural growing process, so there’s nothing to worry about if you notice your lettuce leaves turning yellow and rough. You can eat bolted lettuce, but it will taste bitter. If you’re worried about the appearance, you can always recycle it for other purposes.
Thankfully, once you learn about bolting, it can become easy to manage, and you can predict the right harvesting time for your next crop.
So, here’s a guide to why bolting occurs and how to prevent it.
Table of Contents
- What Is Bolting in Lettuce and What Does It Look Like?
- Is It Safe To Eat Lettuce After It Bolts?
- What To Do With Lettuce That Has Bolted?
- How to Harvest Bolted Lettuce for Eating?
- The Surprising Benefits of Bolted Lettuce
- Common Questions About Bolted Lettuce
What Is Bolting in Lettuce and What Does It Look Like?
First, let’s look at the development of lettuce from the moment you plant the seeds in the ground.
Lettuce grows from seeds, so to start, you need to prepare the ground and climate for growing this crop. So, once the seeds germinate, you will see leafy greens sprouting from the soil.
Then, you can harvest the lettuce and use it in the kitchen. However, after the lettuce matures, it progresses to bolting when the plant grows upwards and starts producing flowers.
The bolting phase of this plant’s life cycle will be determined by a few environmental factors, such as daylight. For instance, as most varieties of lettuce are long-day plants, they will automatically start bolting when there are more than 14 hours of daylight.
Bolting can also happen when the daylight hasn’t changed, but this is mainly due to other environmental aspects like heat stress, cold periods, or drought.
Although, pests and diseases could also play a role in premature bolting.
You can spot the leaves bolting when they start changing color and flowers appear.
Is It Safe To Eat Lettuce After It Bolts?
The main difference between bolted lettuce and fresh lettuce is the taste. You’ll notice a bitter and rougher texture to the leaves once they’ve started to bolt.
Think of it this way; the longer you leave the bolted leaves, the more bitter they will taste. Therefore, it’s good to harvest the leaves as soon as you notice them bolting, and you should still be able to eat them.
The leaves become more bitter due to the production of SL (Ingesting Sesquiterpene Lactones). During bolting, SL gradually develops, which turns the lettuce sour. This compound is not toxic, so it doesn’t harm you if ingested.
Even though there’s nothing toxic about eating bolted lettuce, it’s not necessary if you prefer leaves with less of a bitter taste.
What To Do With Lettuce That Has Bolted?
Ideally, you want to plant lettuce that is bolt-resistant in the first place. If discolored leaves and bitter taste are a concern, then picking a type of lettuce less likely to bolt will save you a lot of trouble.
Pick a Lettuce Variety That Doesn’t Bolt
To help you choose a lettuce variety that doesn’t bolt, here are some common choices:
- Royal Oakleaf
- Cimmaron Romaine
- Coolguard Iceberg
You can experiment with a few of these options if you have a terrible experience with bolting and want to try something different.
Double Check the Time of the Year
Lettuce is a cold-growing crop, so when the weather is suitable, you should get your seeds in the ground as quickly as possible.
That means you should plant the seeds in the ground or start the growing process in a greenhouse. Then, you can transport the plants outdoors when the weather allows.
The critical thing to remember is that most lettuce can’t be grown all summer as the weather gets too warm and the days are long.
Care For Your Lettuce Correctly
To avoid overheating and exposing your lettuce to intense temperatures, it’s good to plant the seeds somewhere with the right amount of shade.
Most people decide to plant lettuce in pots so they can be easily moved if the weather gets warm and you need to place them in a shaded location.
Another tip for growing lettuce is to soak the planting area. You can put the seeds in cold water a few days before planting them to ensure they keep to the right temperature and don’t become too warm too quickly.
Lastly, you can also use shade cloth for extra protection. A cloth is excellent for young seedlings that are sensitive to their climate and need additional shade from the light and changing weather conditions.
You can find cloth easily at your local garden center or online. Just remember to get the material well in advance if you’re planning on growing lettuce this year.
How to Harvest Bolted Lettuce for Eating?
You might still have bolted lettuce even if you try all these tips. So, what now? Do you just throw away your harvest?
If you experience bolting, there are two options:
- Pick the bolting section off the lettuce and trim the top layer of leaves
- Continue harvesting until the taste is off
Both options are suitable for dealing with bolted lettuce, but if you want to harvest the leaves, you should learn a few tips for successfully separating the leaves from the main plant.
Tips for Picking Bolted Lettuce
Scissors are essential if you want to harvest bolted lettuce. So, the first thing to grab is a pair of sharp scissors. Simply rinse the scissors in hot water and wipe them with a paper towel before cutting them into your plants.
Next, you need to pick the best leaves for harvesting. The leaves should be light green and soft to touch, but when they bolt, they’ll feel harder than usual. This is expected when the plant reaches this stage, so you can still harvest the leaves.
You can cut the leaf and place it somewhere for storage as soon as the leaf becomes thin.
If you don’t want to harvest the bolted leaves, there are other options for making use of the lettuce.
You can leave the lettuce to flower and let it attract pollinators. Wildlife can be incredible for limiting pests and preventing serious diseases from infecting your crop.
Or, you can also let the bolting continue and then collect the seeds for future planting. This can save you time and money on new seeds the following year.
The Surprising Benefits of Bolted Lettuce
As you can see, bolted lettuce has surprising benefits if you carefully consider how to use the leaves. You can harvest them for eating, leave nature to take its course, watch flowers bloom, or let wildlife eat them.
Plus, the sign of bolting is an excellent indicator that your fresh leaves are coming to an end and the season is changing. When growing several plants at once, it can be nice to have a natural reminder of when your lettuce is starting to bolt.
The main thing is that bolting is entirely natural, so you can still use your leaves and make the most of your lovely crop!
Common Questions About Bolted Lettuce
Will Bolted Lettuce Regrow?
Yes, bolted lettuce can regrow like other crops. If you want to be sure that lettuce will grow again, you should cut it down to the base.
Can Chickens Eat Bolted Lettuce?
Chickens, like humans, can eat bolted lettuce. Of course, fresh lettuce is always preferred to improve the health of your livestock, but bolted leaves are absolutely fine.