It’s OK to Allow Plants to Bolt Sometimes

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Ornamental Cabbage gone to Bolt

It’s OK to allow plants to go to bolt sometimes, such as when annuals are just past their prime season but not quite spent enough to pull.  If you are unfamiliar with bolting, it is the phase in a plant (usually edibles) when it produces a rapid growth of flowers and subsequently, seeds.

At this point in time in north Texas (early spring) our winter vegetables and ornamentals are gearing up to bolt if they haven’t already.  Bolting occurs when temperatures rise in relationship to a plant’s optimal atmosphere.  The picture immediately below is an example of an ornamental cabbage, typically grown in flower beds during the winter time, that received an early sample of Texas summer temps recently (85+) and quickly sprouted beautiful yellow blooms.  While most businesses and residents would normally remove ornamental cabbages around this time, the new growth on them en masse is quite striking. Besides, we haven’t entered April yet and although winter annuals are bolting, it remains a little too soon to sow summer plants, so why not leave them?

Ornamental Cabbage in Bloom

Ornamental Cabbage in Bloom

I would say the only downside to allowing plants to bolt is this:  If you are growing edibles, they become quite distasteful after flowering or having gone to seed.  This is because the plant has used all of its energy to produce flowers and seed while its roots and leaves (usually the edible parts) become neglected.

And, conversely, I believe the best thing about leaving bolted plants in the soil for a little while is that they provide a rare food source for those insects that have also emerged due to an early warm spell.  This post’s feature pic is one I took of a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail last week partaking of bolted ornamental cabbage.  (Taken in Denison, Texas near the Oklahoma border.)

As we move from winter into early spring, I hope you allow a few of your remaining plants to go to bolt so that you can enjoy a little extra glimpse of nature during this transitional period.

Until next time,

March 25, 2016




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4 Responses to It’s OK to Allow Plants to Bolt Sometimes

  1. emma says:

    Hello if my cabbage has gone to bolt, it is flowering too, does this mean i can collect seeds to sow in autumn soon?

    • Hi and thanks for reading my blog! You can certainly collect the seed once the flowers have started to get fuzzy and dry. I would personally leave the flowers on the plant until I test a flower and can see that the pods are mature enough and ready for harvest. Then, as per this brief video I’m sending you, I’d go out and collect the entire flower heads and place them into a bag or container to make sure I capture all the seed there is to offer. Best wishes and let me know how things work out with your new plants in the fall! How to Save Seeds from your Bolting Vegetables

  2. Liesl Petrucka says:

    Hi, I let my ornamental cabbage bolt and now, in the beginning of the summer, all the cabbage leaves are looking very sad and the stem is long. Will it grow new healthy leaves when the temperatures get cool again? Is there anything I can do in the summer to help it look less tattered? Thanks!

    • Hi Liesl: I have been away from my blog for a while and must apologize that I did not see your comment earlier. By now you have probably discovered that your cabbage likely has not made it through summer. In my part of the world (Texas) we consider cabbage strictly an annual fall ornamental/crop – planted in the fall and hopefully lasts through spring. In cooler climates, it may be possible to keep the same plant through the summer, but allowing it to bolt probably caused the plant to expend more energy to its “blooms” instead of the leaves. Likely the bolting taxed yours to where maintaining the leaves would have been difficult. I hope the blooms did bring bees and butterflies to your landscape! Speaking of insects,I would venture to say warm climate pests (snails/slugs) may have munched on the cabbage leaves as well. I would consider the bolting stage of cabbage to be its final hurrah unless of course you are fortunate to live in a pleasantly cool climate and can indeed salvage it until the fall. In my yard, we try to keep our raggedly-looking tomato and pepper plants alive through July & August and hope for new growth and fruit in September – but oftentimes we must start with a new batch of plants for our fall crop. Again, my apologies for the extremely late response and best wishes.

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