If you're wondering why the romaine lettuce in your garden is growing taller and not wider, we'll tell you why. This article is going to explain the phenomenon and what you can do about it.
Let's check it out...
Quick Answer: Bolting. This refers to the stage when the lettuce forms flowering stalks. It happens particularly in warm weather, but we'll give you some tips and tricks to deal with this issue below.
Why Is My Romaine Lettuce Bolting?
Romaine lettuce, like other lettuce types, likes cool weather.
If you're seeing that your lettuce is suddenly getting tall and starting to flower, you're probably well into the warm days of summer.
Bolting isn't just a phenomenon that occurs with lettuce. It happens to herbs like basil and cilantro and vegetables like broccoli and fennel.
If you've ever seen your pot of basil from the grocery store get tall and wiry and sprout flower buds, you've seen bolting in action.
Bolting happens as plants mature and can be hastened by environmental conditions.
The long, sunny days make bolting happen faster. But even cold snaps and varying weather and seasonal conditions can trigger bolting in plants.
But typically, bolting is a common thing during the warmer, longer days of the year.
How Do I Stop My Lettuce from Bolting?
Good news! There are plenty of things you can do to keep bolting at bay.
One thing you can do is plant your lettuce in shady areas of your garden. Lots of sunlight can actually bring the bolting on before you're ready to harvest, so limiting exposure to the light can help.
Timing your planting around the hot weather is another solution. If you plant in the early spring or late in the summer so that you miss the bulk of the hot weather, you'll give your lettuce a better chance.
This goes for romaine and any other type of lettuce.
There are also certain varieties of lettuce that are said to keep from bolting too fast. One rare romaine type of slow-to-bolt lettuce you can try is Saint Anne's Slow-Bolting.
Can You Eat Bolting Lettuce?
While technically you can eat bolting lettuce, you may not want to.
It depends on how far into the bolting stage the lettuce has gotten. Bolting creates bitter and unpleasant flavors in the lettuce leaves.
If you catch it early, you can harvest bolting lettuce right away and use it for your salads and sandwiches.
Remove the leaves as soon as possible after a head of lettuce has started bolting. You can taste-test a leaf to see how it's doing.
If it's too late and the lettuce has gone bitter, you don't need to throw it all out.
Collect the seeds to plant in the next season, especially if you want to save a special heirloom lettuce variety.
Or, simply remove everything but the roots of the plant, which you'll leave in the ground. It'll grow back when the weather is optimal for the lettuce.
When Should You Harvest Lettuce?
Harvesting lettuce takes some know-how.
Romaine should be ready in about 60 to 75 days (after sowing the seeds). You'll see that the ribs of the romaine are well-developed but not super thick.
A good indication that it's time to harvest loose leaf is when the lettuce is a certain height. When they're a little over a few inches tall is a good time to pick the plants.
Each type of lettuce will have its own harvesting rules. Usually, a combination of timing and visual cues will let you know when it's time to enjoy your homegrown lettuce.
Lettuce that's suddenly shooting up is probably bolting. You'll see this accompanied by flowering, signaling that the plant is fully mature.
Bolting produces bitter flavors in the lettuce, so it's best to harvest before this stage.
But if you see a little bolting happening on your lettuce and it's still early on, don't toss it! You may still be able to eat it. Otherwise, check out all your options for recycling and replanting.