Did My Lettuce Bolt? The What and Why of Bolting

Red romaine lettuce bolting in the heat of summer.

You’ve been enjoying lettuce for weeks when all of a sudden you walk out to your garden and see this tall tree-like plant where your greens had been happily growing. You tear off a leaf of your favorite salad base only to get a mouthful of bitterness.

If you see this happening in your garden, your lettuce has bolted. Bolting is a natural process in the reproductive cycle of plants where the plant flowers and goes to seed so that it is able to plant more of itself. If you think about it, it’s pretty cool. In the moment, though, bitter lettuce is not cool. During this process, usually triggered by:

  • warmer daytime and nighttime temperatures
  • lack of water
  • other plant stressors

many of the properties of the original item are lost –for lettuce, the leaves become a bit tougher and bitter. Unfortunately, there is no reversing the process once it starts. You do have a couple of options, though. If you raise livestock –chickens, pigs, goats, and more– giving them this gourmet treat is free food for them. We feed some of our bolted items like broccoli, radishes and lettuce to our backyard hens and they certainly do not mind the bitterness. You can also allow the plant to complete it’s life cycle…it will continue to bolt, flower, and form seeds. Once completed, you can collect seeds for replanting in the fall or spring. Or, you can simply add the spent plants to your compost pile.

Whatever the case may be, know that bolting is one of the things that all gardeners encounter. If needed you can adjust your planting schedule or location so hot days and nights can be avoided. You can also make sure you’re watering frequently, and most importantly, don’t stress!

If you are pulling your lettuce due to bolting, replace it with our number one garden veggie. Find out what it is here

4 Replies to “Did My Lettuce Bolt? The What and Why of Bolting”

  1. Thank you so very much for this information. I am a small town neighborhood gardener in Womelsdorf. This is the first year I planted red and green lettuces and I did not know what to expect. I also planted Arugala, which I have since learned I do not care for. The taste is a bit peppery than I like. Will chickens eat this as well? I am friends with the Schaeffers of Grandview Dairy Farm and would gift this to their chickens.

  2. Thanks for the interesting 🧐 information- I have had that happen to me at my old house. Sadly where I live now I am not able to have a very good garden the deer 🦌 groundhog, 🦊 raccoon 🦝 possum turkeys 🦃 like it too … I got tired of the fight

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