In the Garden:
Middle South
May, 2003
Regional Report

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Gather ye salad greens while ye may, for soon they will be a-bolting.

When Leafies Leave

Spring greens are a fleeting presence in the garden, which is a good reason to make every day count. Long days and warm temperatures trigger the plants to switch from producing leaves to developing flowers, and once this process starts, there is no turning back. But if you pay close attention to small changes in your plants, not a single leaf need be wasted. And, there's a little light trick that can help to stretch the spring season as far as it will go.

Be Ready for Bolting
The change from leafy green to flowering plant (bolting) comes quickly. In my garden the first greens to go are the mustard in the mesclun mix, followed by arugula and then spinach. Lettuce usually brings up the rear, perhaps helped along by daily water, attentive thinning, and my light deprivation practice described below. But I'm not really complaining. Most hybrid spinach varieties bolt when days become 13 hours long and temperatures rise into the 70s, but the varieties our grandparents grew often bolted when days were only 9 hours long. Modern lettuce varieties have been selected for bolt resistance, too. If you grow a mix of varieties, make note of which ones are the last to grow tall and become unpalatable at your house.

Tampering with Triggers
When I'm down to having mostly lettuce left in my spring salad garden, I often intervene on the plants' behalf by covering them with a cardboard box in midafternoon. I remove it after sunset and give the plants a slurp of water to cool them down. This procedure fools the plants into thinking that days are short, and I think it delays bolting by a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, I plant heat-tolerant Swiss chard and New Zealand spinach – the best leafy greens for the summer garden.


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