Herbs Bolting vs. Flowering – Do You Know the Difference? - gardenstead Skip to content

Herbs Bolting vs. Flowering – Do You Know the Difference?

Do you let your herbs flower? Should you? Flowering can have a huge impact on the flavor and lifespan of your herbs! Let’s dig into the details so you can get the most enjoyment out of your tasty, aromatic plants.

Bolting

Have you ever heard of the term ‘bolting’ in the context of plants? Bolting is what your herbs do when they think they are about to die. Hot and dry summer conditions spell death for many herbs, and they know it! As summer temperatures creep higher and soil dries out faster, herbs get the feeling that their end is near, and they do what all ‘fit’ creatures of evolution would do: they try to reproduce. For herbs, that means putting all their energy into flowering and producing seeds. Unfortunately, this means your herbs will start tasting bitter and stop producing leaves.

Now, if you’re hoping to continue making pesto, salsa, and all sorts of yumminess with your herbs, you want to do everything you possibly can to postpone bolting. Over the course of the growing season bolting will eventually happen to some herbs, but there are several ways to postpone the inevitable and get the most out of your plant. We’ll cover that in a moment, but first you should know the difference between flowering and bolting.

Bolting vs. Flowering

Wait – didn’t you just say bolting is flowering? Yes, bolting is flowering, but flowering for a particular reason: because environmental conditions are making the plant fear death. Straight-up flowering, on the other hand, happens as part of the natural life cycle of a plant and – here’s the important part – in general it doesn’t change the flavor of the herb and doesn’t completely stop new leaves from producing.

So bolting is something you can and want to postpone, while flowering may actually have some bonuses like edible flowers and attracting bees and butterflies to your garden, plus you can keep enjoying your herbs.

How can you spot the difference between bolting and flowering? Well, you can’t tell from the flowers! Instead, you need to know the nature of each type of herb, because herbs either bolt or flower — they do not do both.

This knowledge either comes from experience — if the herb tastes bad and stops producing leaves when it flowers, then you’ve learned it’s a bolter — or by learning from others. To save you some tough lessons, you’ll find a table of twelve common herbs, whether they bolt or flower, and our advice on how to manage them further down the article.

How to Delay Bolting

1. Harvest often. The more you harvest your herbs, the more they will put energy into growing new leaves.

2. Mulch. Add mulch, such as woodchips, on top of the soil. Hot roots – not hot leaves – is what stresses most bolting herbs. Mulch keeps roots cool by providing extra sun protection and heat insulation.

3. Relocate. If your herbs are in pots, consider shifting them to a cooler area in your garden or bringing them into your air-conditioned home.

4. Water consistently. Keep a hyper-watchful eye on soil moisture and water once the top inch of soil is dry.

5. Nip it in the bud. As soon as you see a flower forming on your herbs, snip it off!

If you follow these tips and know which herbs to watch out for, you will have great success lengthening the life of your herbs!

Feeling the Heat – It’s not just an herb problem!

Summer heat is more than just a threat to herbs – us humans need to be careful too. As a yoga and health coach I want to slip in a quick reminder to keep yourself well hydrated and shaded in the heat of summer! Not only is it important to prevent heat stroke, but every cell in your body functions better when you’re hydrated – hydration means less muscle and joint pain, more energy and better immunity.

If you think plain water is a drag to drink, or you simply love delicious beverages, check out my Morning Mint Vitality Drink. It’s dead-simple to make, it’s a fun way to use your garden mint and it gets your day started with loads of fiber, antioxidants and vitamins!

Twelve Common Herbs & Their Bolting/Flowering Habits

Herb – Bolt vs. Flower – What to do

  • Basil – Flower
    Early in the season: prune back flowers to encourage your basil to produce more leaves
    Late in the season: allow a basil plant or two to flower. Once the flowers are dry, collect the basil seeds hidden inside to grow new plants.
  • Borage – Flower
    Allow the attractive borage flowers to grow and watch as they attract butterflies and bees to your garden! Both borage leaves and flowers are edible. Borage is a vigorous self-seeder, so you may wish to snip off flowers before they go to seed to prevent borage from overwhelming your garden.
  • Chives – Flower
    Allow chives to flower and enjoy the tasty blooms fresh, dried, or infuse them into olive oil!
  • Cilantro – Bolts
    Cilantro enjoys cool, moist environments. Prevent bolting by watering regularly, mulching/shading the soil, harvesting regularly and bringing cilantro pots indoors before summer heat hits.
    Once cilantro bolts, the taste will change, even if you cut off the flowers. Allow the flowers to produce seeds (coriander) which you can use to grow more cilantro or as a spice in the kitchen.
  • Dill – Bolts
    Prevent dill from bolting by watering regularly, harvesting often, and bringing the plant indoors or to a shaded location before summer heat hits. Nip flowers in the bud to delay bolting.
    Bolting will not alter the flavor of dill, but it will stop new leaves from growing. Once your dill eventually goes to seed, allow the flowers and seeds to dry out before harvesting. Use your seeds to grow new dill plants. If you do not want dill self-seeding, snip the flowers before seeds emerge.
  • Marjoram – Flower
    These small pretty flowers will not alter the taste or slow down your marjoram. Feel free to leave them on the plant. The flowers are edible but do not have much flavor.
  • Mint – Flower
    Cut back the flowers if you
    (a) want to prevent mint from spreading (mint can easily take over a garden!)
    (b) you want to encourage the plant to produce more leaves
    (c) you want to eat the flowers
    Alternatively, leave the flowers be, as it won’t affect the flavor of your mint leaves
  • Oregano – Flower
    These small pretty flowers will not alter the taste or slow down your oregano. Feel free to leave them on the plant. The flowers are edible but do not have much flavor.
  • Parsley – Bolts
    Prevent parsley from bolting by watering regularly, harvesting often, and bringing the plant indoors or to a shaded location before summer heat hits. Nip flowers in the bud to delay bolting.
    Bolting will not alter the flavor of parsley, but it will stop new leaves from growing. Once your parsley eventually goes to seed, allow the flowers and seeds to dry out before harvesting. Use your seeds to grow new parsley plants.
  • Rosemary – Flower
    Rosemary flowers are beautiful, and bees love them! Allow your plant to flower and prune it back once the flowers are done. Flowering will not alter the flavor of rosemary.
  • Sage – Flower
    Sage flowers are beautiful, and bees love them! If you aren’t lacking for sage leaves, allow your plant to flower and prune it back once the flowers are done. Flowering will not alter the flavor of sage. Sage flowers are edible and delicious! Conversely, if you want your sage to put all of its energy into producing leaves, snip the flowers.
  • Thyme – Flower
    These small pretty flowers will not alter the taste or slow down your thyme. Feel free to leave them on the plant. The flowers are edible but do not have much flavor.

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