Help! My Lettuce is Blooming!

Flowering lettuce_BlkForest-CO_LAH_5932My lettuce is blooming. Instead of sweet, tender Buttercrunch and crisp red Prizehead, I have leaves so bitter, even my hens are spurning them. Rats.

At this time of year, it’s common for leafy greens to bloom or, as it’s known in garden-speak, bolt. Long hours of sunlight, combined with torrid temperatures induce flowering. In most cases, there’s nothing to be done. It’s simply time to pull the plants that haven’t yet been harvested and add them to the compost pile.

For example, spinach blooms when days last more than 14 to 16 hours. (Interestingly, spinach will only bloom when days are long.) Warm temperatures will accelerate this process. Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Diane E. Bilderback explain why this happens in The Book of Garden Secrets:

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Bloomin’ Lettuce

lettuce-bolting_home_lah_5096Mid-summer has finally caught up with my spring garden. The lettuce I set out in early May has matured. We’ve eaten dozens of salads and shared the bounty with friends. The few heads that remain are beginning to stretch upwards. Sweet leaves are turning bitter. When the plants we grow for greens decide to grow flowers instead of leaves, we all that “bolting.”

I was hoping to stretch my lettuce harvest one more week, but a hail storm this afternoon sealed the fate of my spring lettuce patch. The chickens don’t give a cluck about the bitterness, so the now-shredded leaves are all theirs.

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