Up Close: Why Did My Lettuce Bolt

Has your lettuce suddenly grown exceptionally tall?




I promise you this isn’t a, “Your refrigerator is running!” joke. The overnight growth spurt is your lettuce preparing to bloom, set seed and die—brought on, in most cases, by hot weather.

When lettuce “bolts” it’s doing so because the hot weather indicates to the plant that its growing season is over and it needs to procreate. In order to set seed (produce viable, pollinated seeds), lettuce plants focus on producing flowers. A chemical change occurs inside the plant and the leaves turn bitter.

garden lettuce

Lettuce think of a solution

At this point, you have four options.
  • Pull out the plant and toss it in the compost
  • Chop the bolt off to (briefly) slow the chemical change
  • Eat the lettuce; if you don’t mind the bitter flavor, it’s still perfectly suitable to eat
  • Let the plant bloom, wait for the bees and bugs to pollinate it and collect the seeds for next year


Growing leafy greens in cold weather means they grow slowly, but you’re less likely to lose your crop to the taste-altering bolting process. In fact, many gardeners swear that many cold-weather greens taste better after a snap freeze. Plant lettuce again in the fall, when temperatures drop.

What to grow next


Spinacia oleracea
Sow seeds outside, or plant starts at any time. In early fall, plant winter varieties for early spring harvest.

swiss chardSWISS CHARD

Beta vulgaris subsp . vulgaris
Start seeds indoors in seed-starting medium, or plant starts outside from Mar.–Sept. Plant seeds 12–18" apart. Grows well into fall and dies at first hard freeze.


Beta vulgaris
If sowing outside, sow densely. Once sprouts appear, thin by cutting at the soil line with clean scissors. Thin to 3–4" apart in rows 4–5" apart.


Daucus carota var. sativus
Sow seeds in rockless soil. Rocks cause carrots to split and grow wonky. Once sprouts appear, thin to 2–4" apart in rows 4–5" apart.


Allium cepa
Amend planting sight with slow release fertilizer. Mix granules into top 4–5" of soil. This places food at the onions roots, where its most needed.


Pisum sativum
In warm weather, sow virus-resistant seeds outside, or plant starts indoors. Provide support with a pole, netting or trellis.

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