Lettuce is a cool-weather crop that is often grown in home gardens. While it is generally easy to grow, some gardeners experience problems with their lettuce bolts and become bitter.
In this blog post, we will explore the causes of these problems and offer solutions. So, if you are experiencing trouble with your lettuce, keep reading!
Why Does My Lettuce Plant Taste Bitter?
Have you ever gone to take a bite of a lettuce leaf only to be met with a harsh, bitter flavor?
While this unpleasant taste may deter you from eating your veggies, there are actually a few reasons why your lettuce plants might be bitter.
One possibility is that the plants are getting too much sun. Lettuce is a cool-weather crop, and too much heat can cause the leaves to turn bitter.
Another reason for bitter lettuce could be a lack of water. When plants are stressed by water deprivation, they often produce chemicals that make them taste more bitter.
Finally, certain types of lettuce, like endives and radicchios, are simply bred to be more bitter than others.
While there’s not much you can do about this last reason, keeping an eye on watering and sunlight exposure can help you avoid bitterness in your lettuce crop.
Does Lettuce Get Bitter When Bolted?
As anyone who has ever had a garden knows, lettuce is a delicate plant. It grows best in cool weather and quickly bolts (forms a flower stalk) when the temperatures rise. This can cause the leaves to become bitter and tough.
However, there are ways to prevent this from happening. For example, you can choose bolt-resistant varieties of lettuce or sow seeds in succession so that plants are not exposed to extended periods of heat.
You can also provide shading and extra water to help keep plants cool during hot weather. With a little care, you can enjoy fresh, delicious lettuce all season long.
We’ll give you more details below!
What Causes Bolting Lettuce?
Lettuce is a cool-weather crop that thrives in temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
However, when the weather gets warmer, lettuce can begin to bolt or produce a flower stalk. Once a plant has a bolt, it will stop producing edible leaves.
Bolting is often induced by long periods of warm weather or sudden temperature spikes. In some cases, overwatering can also cause bolting, as the plant is trying to flower as a means of self-preservation.
To prevent bolting, it is important to plant lettuce in cool weather and to water it regularly but not excessively.
If you live in an area with warm winters, you may need to plant your lettuce in November or December to ensure that it doesn’t bolt before you have a chance to harvest it.
By following these simple tips, you can enjoy fresh lettuce all season long.
What Are Signs of Bolting?
Bolting in lettuce refers to the process whereby the plant flowers and produces a seed stalk.
This is in response to an increase in daytime temperatures and lengthening of day length, both of which signal to the plant that it is time to reproduce.
While bolting can be induced artificially, it typically occurs naturally during the spring and summer months. The first sign of bolting is typically an elongation of the main stem, followed by the formation of flower buds.
Once these flowers open, the plant has officially bolted and is no longer suitable for eating.
While some gardeners see bolting as a sign that their plants are reaching the end of their lifespan, it is actually a natural part of the lettuce life cycle.
After flowering and producing seeds, the plant will die back, making room for new seedlings to take their place. As such, bolting should not be viewed as a negative occurrence, but rather as a sign of new life to come.
How Do You Fix Bolted Lettuce?
Bolted lettuce is a common problem for gardeners. The plants produce a flower stalk in response to warm temperatures and long days, which causes the leaves to become tough and bitter.
While there is no way to stop bolted lettuce once it has started, there are some steps you can take to minimize the problem.
First, choose a variety of lettuce that is well-suited to your climate. If you live in an area with long, hot summers, look for a heat-resistant variety.
Secondly, plant your lettuce in early spring or late fall, when the days are shorter and the temperatures are cooler.
You may be able to salvage your bolting lettuce by pruning it heavily and cutting it almost totally back to the soil line, but this may or may not work.
It really depends on how far gone the bolting process is and what kind of lettuce you are growing.
Finally, make sure to thin out your plants so that they have plenty of space to grow. By following these simple tips, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of crisp, delicious lettuce all season long.
We’ll give you more details on how to prevent bolted lettuce below.
How Do You Make Bolted Lettuce Less Bitter?
While you may be tempted to just remove the flower stalk, this won’t solve the problem. Once a plant has bolted, it will continue to produce a bitter flavor.
The best way to make sure your lettuce doesn’t get bitter is to bolt-resistant varieties.
There are many different types of lettuce that have been bred to resist bolting, so you should have no trouble finding one that suits your needs.
Another way to prevent your lettuce from bolting is to keep it well-watered. Lettuce that is stressed by drought is more likely to bolt than lettuce that is kept moist.
Finally, you can also try shading your lettuce during the hottest part of the day. This will help to keep it cool and reduce the risk of bolting.
If you have already harvested the lettuce and want to know how to make it less bitter, sorry – you’re probably going to be out of luck here.
You can always try sauteing the greens or one of the other alternative uses for bolted lettuce, as seen below.
Is it Safe to Eat Bolted Lettuce?
While it is true that the plant is no longer producing leaves, the seed stalk itself is edible. In fact, many restaurants actually prefer to use bolted lettuce in salads and other dishes, as the center the stalk is more tender and flavorful than that of younger plants.
While there may be some risk of digestive upset associated with eating bolted lettuce, this is generally due to the plant’s high fiber content rather than any toxins.
And, of course, there’s the fact that bolted lettuce is usually pretty bitter. If you’re feeling adventurous though and don’t mind a little bit of an odd aftertaste, snack away – there’s no harm in eating bolted lettuce at all.
What Else to Do With Bolted Lettuce
Here are a few other ways you can use up all that bolted lettuce you harvested from the garden (a little too late, we might add!).
Try Cooking It
Cooking bolted lettuce changes the texture of the leaves, making them more like greens such as kale or spinach. It also takes away some of the bitterness. To cook bolted lettuce, wash the leaves and remove any tough stems.
Chop the leaves and cook them in a pot with a small amount of water for about 10 minutes.
You can also add other greens, such as spinach or kale, to the pot.
Bolted lettuce can be used in soups, stews, or sautés. It can also be eaten on its own as a side dish. When cooked properly, bolted lettuce is a delicious way to use up older leaves and avoid wasting food.
Let it Attract Pollinators
Gardeners often harvest lettuce by cutting the plant at the base, but did you know that leaving a
few bolted heads of lettuce in place can actually be beneficial for your garden?
When lettuce bolts, it goes to seed, and the flowers that result are a major source of nectar for pollinators like bees and butterflies.
In addition, the leaves of bolted lettuce provide valuable shelter for these important insects.
So next time you see some bolted lettuce in your garden, don’t pull it up right away – let it stay and do its part to support our pollinator friends!
Cut it Back and See if it Will Resprout
You might try to cut the plant back by half when the temperatures start to rise. This will help to reduce the amount of energy the plant is expanding on growth.
Collect the Seed
Every gardener knows the feeling of frustration that comes from watching a beautiful lettuce plant go to seed. Not only does the plant stop producing edible leaves, but it also takes up valuable space in the garden.
However, there is a silver lining to this situation: the seeds of a bolted lettuce can be saved and used to grow new plants. The best time to do this is when the seed stalk is just beginning to form.
Carefully cut the stalk away from the plant, being careful not to damage the leaves. Then, cut the stalk into pieces and remove the seeds.
Once they are dry, store them in a cool, dark place until you are ready to plant them in your garden. With a little care and patience, you can enjoy fresh lettuce all season long.
Feed to Livestock
When lettuce bolts, the leaves become tough and bitter. As a result, it is not suitable for human consumption.
However, bolted lettuce can still be used as livestock feed. Cattle, sheep, and goats will all eat bolted lettuce, and it can provide them with a source of nutrients during the winter months.
While it may not be suitable for humans, bolted lettuce can still play an important role in the diets of livestock animals.
Donate to an Animal Shelter
Most people know that they can donate canned goods and other non-perishable items to their local food bank.
In addition, many animal shelters accept donations of fresh produce, as it can be used to supplement the diets of the animals in their care. If you have a surplus of fresh produce, even bolted lettuce, consider donating it to an animal shelter.
Use it as a Trap Crop
A trap crop is a plant that is grown specifically to attract pests away from the main crop. Commonly used trap crops include radish and marigold.
But even lettuce can be used as a trap crop, too! Consider leaving it in place in the garden to deter unwanted pests from going after your more desirable crops.
Will Bolted Lettuce Regrow?
The lettuce in your home garden may go to seed, or when the days become longer and warmer in late spring.
The edible leaves of lettuce plants are usually at their best when temperatures are cool, so the plant bolts in an attempt to set seed before hot weather arrives.
When it comes to growing lettuce, there are two main types: bolt-resistant and bolt-sensitive. Bolt-resistant lettuce can withstand warmer temperatures before bolting, while bolt-sensitive lettuce will bolt quickly in warm weather.
If you live in an area with warm winters and hot summers, it’s best to grow bolt-resistant lettuce.
Bolted lettuce will not regrow, so you’ll need to start from seed if you want to harvest more lettuce later in the season.
In most cases, it’s best to sow bolt-resistant lettuce in the spring and fall, when temperatures are moderate cold weather can trigger bolting as well. With a little planning, you can enjoy fresh, homegrown lettuce all season long!
How to Prevent or Delay Lettuce Bolting
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to prevent or delay lettuce bolting. Let’s take a closer look!
Start Plants Indoors
Start plants indoors and transplant them into the garden when the weather is cool. This will give you a bit more of a head start before the summer temperatures get too hot for your lettuce plants to handle.
Grow a Bolt-Resistant Cultivar
One of the best ways to prevent bolting is to grow a bolt-resistant cultivar. These varieties have been specifically bred to resist bolting in warm weather. If you live in an area with hot summers, look for bolt-resistant cultivars when you purchase your plants or seeds.
Plant at the Right Time of Year
Lettuce is a cool-weather crop that thrives in temperatures between 60 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. In most areas, this means planting lettuce in the spring or fall.
However, it’s important to keep an eye on the weather forecast. If the temperature is expected to rise above 65 degrees for an extended period of time, it’s best to wait to plant your lettuce until conditions have cooled down again.
To avoid this, be sure to plant at the right time of year and keep an eye on the temperature. With a little care, you can enjoy fresh, homegrown lettuce all season long.
Give it Some Shade (Use a Shade Cloth)
Lettuce prefers cool, shady conditions, so placing a tall plant next to it can help keep it from getting too much sun.
You can also take steps to cool down your plants during hot weather. For example, you can place them in a shady spot during the hottest part of the day.
You can also try using a floating row cover to create a mini-greenhouse effect. By providing some protection from the heat, you can help keep your lettuce cool and prevent it from bolting.
Try Companion Planting
One of the best ways to prevent the lettuce from bolting is to try companion planting.
Companion planting is when you plant two or more different plants close together. The plants can benefit each other in a number of ways. For example, some plants can help to repel pests, while others can provide shade or support.
When companion planting with lettuce, it is important to choose plants that will not compete for resources like sunlight and water.
Some good choices include radishes, onions, carrots, and herbs like basil and mint. Taller plants that can provide some shade for lettuce include tomatoes or corn.
Water and Mulch Well
Bolting is often triggered by warm weather or drought conditions. To prevent the lettuce from bolting, water it regularly and keep the soil moist. Mulching around the plants can also help to retain moisture and keep the roots cool.
Lighten Up the Soil
There are a few things you can do to prevent your lettuce from bolting, including loosening up the soil around the plants. This will help to regulate the temperature of the roots and prevent the plant from getting too warm.
Use Quality Plants and Seeds
Use quality plants and seeds. Look for varieties that are resistant to bolting, and make sure to purchase from a reputable supplier.
To prevent bolting, you’ll need to give the plants some space to breathe. Avoid overcrowding by thinning out seedlings so that they are about 6 inches apart.
Finally, make sure you harvest your lettuce regularly. Lettuce that is allowed to mature too long is more likely to bolt. so make sure you keep an eye on your plants and harvest the leaves when they are young and tender.
In the future, I’ll try some of the tips listed above. I’m not going to let the lettuce get ahead of me again!
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.
15 thoughts on “Bitter Bolting Lettuce: What to Do About It”
When I have too much lettuce, before it bolts I harvest it and make a soup of fresh lettuce and peas. There are several recipes online for it. I then put it in containers in the freezer and it is a real delight in the middle of winter!
I live in Maine and grow my veggies in a high tunnel/hoop house because of our short season. My high tunnel is 30×48. To make the most of every available space I do ‘underplanting’. It means planting short crops like lettuce, spinach, radishes, etc. under higher crops like broccoli, tomatoes, peppers that also serve to partially shade the short season crops. I also have a drip watering system – they are not expensive – with a timer on it that I can set for when, how long, how often, etc. and it is worth its weight in gold. It saves water and everything is watering when it needs to be, also freeing me up to do other work on my farm. It is so great to be just waking up at 5 and hearing the water go on…. So, my lettuce and spinach, etc., are not so eager to bolt with some shade and enough water on a regular basis.
Longer daylight hours induce flowering causing plants
such as lettuce, radish, and cilantro to bolt. I’ve found that side leaves on the bolted stalk are often sweet and practicing cut-and-come-again postpones bolting.
Our horses used to seek out and eat wild lettuce going to flower (Central Valley California).
We’ve always fed bolting lettuce to our chickens and have never had any problems. I think to be dangerous, it has to be “prepared” as a drug, basically with the substance in question in the plant collected and then evaporated down to extremely concentrated amounts, etc….
Well, glad to hear that the goats like it! 🙂
Could you use the salad in a meal that off-sets the bitter flavor, kind of like how we can make endives with molten cheese? I wonder if that will make them more palatable. Good luck!
And what a lovely website, by the way. So encouraging and informative!
This Good Life
When lettuce bolts it produces an opium, Lactucarium (or “Lettuce Opium”) is a mild opiate-like substance that is contained in all types of lettuce. I have been warned not to eat it or feed it to my chickens and rabbits.
Here is the wiki on it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactucarium
Hope that helps!
That’s FASCINATING Rosann! Thanks for the link!
Our lettuce has done very well with a mostly shaded area. Our first planing of lettuce was done in our garden boxes. As the weather got hotter we pulled some temporary screening over the lettuce boxes allowed filtered light and water through. It has extended our season wonderfully. Our buttercrunch has since bolted as well but I felt like we got more out of it. Romaine tends to be more heat resistant as well the Jericho lettuce. I think we will try that next and see how it does.
My husband in addition to the screening efforts, built a shaded starter bed with rain barrel system. We have been able to continue sowing lettuce as the season goes on. We’ll see how far it goes before turning bitter. I have a picture of our starter beds/rain system on our Farms Facebook Page. Just type in “Fresh From Nelson” and you can see the picture there. I think next year we will plant all our lettuce in the starter boxes and use the other spaces for additional veggies.
Blackberry Creek Farm
Your carrots in the background look beautiful!
This year I tried planting lettuce in a pot and put it under our canopy where it gets shade during much of the day. It seems to be doing really well so far. I have tried it in the regular garden bed in the past and had the same problem you’re having. Too much sun, I guess.
Yeh, lettace does bolt in the heat. There are varieties that are “non-bolting”. Since you have hot summer you might like to try that. I don’t usually grow lettace, but this year we had some free seeds given to us, so we planted some. Some of what we planted were the “non-bolting” variety. I’ll have to let you know how it does.
I eat salad, but Mr. D doesn’t. He only eats lettace in a sandwich. My favorite salad greens are spinich, chard and kale. I also like these cooked. Cooked or fresh it’s all good stuff.
I read that if you plant lettuce at the lower end of a slope it won’t bolt as fast because cooler air collects there. I plant lettuce and radishes in small bunches wherever I can find room throughout the year, so I put some near the end of the yard where it slopes. So far, so good, but the lettuce is fairly young still.
If it gets really hot where you are in the summer you might even be able to get away with 3/4 to full shade for lettuce until your temps cool down again. Another thought is to do it in containers that way as sun exposure and temperatures change you can change the lettuce’s location. Sorry to hear it’s bitter. That’s a bummer. Hope the next type you try turns out better.
Save the seeds!
But if it helps any, I have yet to figure out the magical way to grow lettuce here – it’s one-inch tall one day, the next it’s 4 inches tall and bolting because the weather’s nuts. Hopefully one of these days.
We had the same problem with our lettuce. I think part of our problem was I planted too much for Honey and I to consume. I pulled most of it– we did get to eat some, but once it started getting taller it did turn bitter. I left some to grow so I could harvest the seeds, but so far– I’ve only gotten a few. Those are tricky litter beggars to catch!