Gardening Basics: When Plants Go To Seed

Just when I thought my arugula plant was doing awesome, I noticed it tasted extremely bitter and sharp a few days ago. On closer inspection, I noticed a few fuzzy little flowers had formed. My beautiful baby arugula is all grown up and going to seed! Dramatic plant mom alert.

The expression “going to seed” or “bolting” means the plant has started to make flowers and produce seeds. Normally, you won’t see flowers or a giant stalk growing out of herb plants, lettuce or other vegetable plants. Making flowers and producing seeds takes quite a bit of the plant’s energy, so it has to pull resources from somewhere else. Leaves will stop growing and the plant will pull water and sugar from them. This is why the leaves will look limp and taste terrible when flowering starts. Here’s where it gets really sad: if it’s an annual plant (a plant that has a one year life cycle), it’s going to start dying.

Plants will go to seed when the weather gets warm and humid. It may also happen if plants are not watered enough or are lacking nutrients. Once a plant goes to seed, there’s usually no going back. RIP arugula, it’s been fun. If you live in a hot climate, there are a few tricks you can try to prolong the bolting process of herbs and lettuces grown in containers.

Tips to prolong bolting

-Move the containers to an area where they will be shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Or if you’re a super dedicated plant parent, take them inside to cool off in the air conditioning! Just kidding. Mostly.

-Keep them nice and wet. Water in the morning so the roots have a chance to absorb the water before it evaporates off. If you’re home in the afternoon, give them a little mist to keep them from getting too hot an drying out too much.

-If all else fails, try again in the fall when the temps start to go back down. 

Since this is my first summer trying to keep my garden alive, I have no idea how it’s going to go. I plan to harvest most of my lettuce within the next few weeks and see if the Swiss chard and herbs can survive the summer. Some types of lettuce are bred to be heat-tolerant and bolt slower than normal. Even though they may be heat tolerant, they probably wont germinate this time of year since the daytime temps are in the high 80s here in Florida. If you have any tips on keeping plants alive in the Florida summer, please let me know!

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