Why Is My Garlic Bolting?

Growing and harvesting your own garlic can be an immensely rewarding experience. It’s important to understand what’s happening if you notice your garlic bolting. While it can be a sign of stress in the plant and may impact the size of the bulb, bolting is a natural process and not a death sentence for your garlic harvest.

Why Is My Garlic Bolting?

Garlic bolting is a natural process that typically occurs when the plant experiences a period of cold weather, followed by a warm spell. It’s a survival mechanism for garlic, designed to ensure the next generation by producing flowers and seeds. Essentially, when your garlic is bolting, it is trying to reproduce.

Bolting is not just limited to garlic, but happens in many alliums (the family that includes onions, leeks, and chives), and other plants as well. The trigger is often the change in temperature, but it can also be influenced by other factors such as soil nutrition and moisture levels. Bolting can be frustrating for gardeners, as it can impact the size and quality of the garlic bulbs.

So, if your garlic is bolting, it’s because it has gone through a period of cold stratification (over winter, for example), and then experienced warmer temperatures. This is a signal to the plant that it’s time to move from the vegetative stage to the reproductive stage. The garlic plant then starts to develop a flower stalk, or scape, in an attempt to produce seeds.

Can I Prevent Garlic Bolting?

While it’s challenging to completely prevent garlic from bolting, there are a few things you can do to lessen the likelihood. One of the most effective methods is selecting the right variety for your climate. Hardneck varieties are more prone to bolting than softneck ones, so if bolting is a consistent issue in your garden, you may want to opt for a softneck variety.

Proper planting times can also play a significant role in controlling bolting. Garlic is often planted in the fall, giving it the cold period it needs over winter, but then it’s usually ready to harvest in early summer before extreme heat can cause it to bolt. By adhering to the correct planting schedule, you can help minimize bolting.

Consistent watering and fertilization can also help to keep your garlic plants healthy and less stressed, making them less likely to bolt. It’s also important to keep an eye on the weather. If a sudden warm spell is predicted, it might be worth providing some shade for your garlic plants to try and keep them cooler and reduce the chance of bolting.

Does Bolting Affect The Flavor And Quality Of Garlic Bulbs?

Bolting in garlic can affect the size and quality of the bulbs, but the flavor is usually not significantly impacted. When a garlic plant bolts, it begins to divert energy and nutrients from bulb development to flowering and seed production. This means that the bulbs may end up being smaller than they would have been if the plant had not bolted.

However, even though the bulbs may be smaller, they should still have the characteristic strong, pungent flavor that garlic is known for. In fact, some gardeners argue that bolted garlic can sometimes be even more flavorful, although this can vary depending on the specific variety of garlic and the growing conditions.

That being said, bolting can affect the storage life of garlic bulbs. Bulbs from bolted plants tend not to store as well, so they should be used up quicker than bulbs from plants that didn’t bolt. Make sure to inspect and use bolted garlic bulbs first if you’re storing your harvest.

Can I Still Harvest Garlic Bulbs After Bolting Occurs?

Yes, you can still harvest garlic bulbs after bolting occurs. Bolting doesn’t mean the garlic is ruined or inedible. Rather, it simply indicates that the plant is moving into its reproductive phase. The bulbs might be smaller, but they are still perfectly fine to eat.

Generally, garlic is ready to harvest when the lower leaves start to brown and the upper leaves are still green. Bolting or not, this rule of thumb still applies. Dig up a test bulb to see if it’s the size you want and the cloves are well defined.

After harvesting, make sure to cure the bulbs properly to extend their shelf life. This usually involves hanging them in a dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight for a few weeks. Remember that bulbs from bolted plants might not store as long, so plan to use them first.

Are There Any Uses For The Garlic Flower Stalks (Scapes) That Appear After Bolting?

Garlic scapes, the flower stalks that appear after bolting, are not only edible but are also quite delicious. They have a milder, sweeter flavor compared to the garlic bulb and can be used in a variety of dishes. From stir-fry dishes to soups, and even pesto, garlic scapes can add a unique flavor to your meals.

Scapes are best when they’re young and tender, so it’s a good idea to harvest them shortly after they appear. Cutting off the scapes can also help the plant focus its energy on bulb development, potentially improving the size of your garlic bulbs.

In addition to culinary uses, garlic scapes can also be used decoratively. Their unique twisted shape can make for interesting features in flower arrangements or centerpieces. Whether you’re using them in the kitchen or as decoration, don’t let these valuable parts of the garlic plant go to waste.