I like to grow romaine lettuce in my vegetable container garden. It makes a great addition to salads or a sandwich. And it’s easy to grow. But sometimes I find that my romaine lettuce grows very tall and I wanted to know the reason for this.
Your romaine lettuce is so tall probably because it has bolted. The plant has sensed hot weather and wants to survive. So it starts growing flowers and begins the process of going to seed. Bolting will also reduce the flavor of the romaine lettuce leaves and make it bitter.
Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a green thumb, once your romaine lettuce has bolted you might be asking if there is anything you can do to remedy the situation or if you can prevent it in the future? The answer to both of those questions is yes, so put on your gardening gloves, and let’s dig in.
Why Your Romaine Lettuce is so Tall
There are several environmental factors that can lead to your romaine lettuce growing tall, or bolting:
Length of the day
Once planted, romaine lettuce will adjust its growth based on how many hours of sunlight it receives. If the length of day suddenly becomes longer or shorter as with changes in the season, this will spark bolting.
Lettuce is very tolerant to sun exposure unless it becomes too prolonged, then you will need to provide partial shade to protect it.
Extreme heat or cold temperatures
Romaine lettuce is a vegetable that likes cooler weather. Planting in early spring or late summer can help you avoid extreme temperature spikes.
When growing romaine lettuce, you must make sure that your soil remains damp. If your soil becomes dry or soggy this will signal your romaine to bolt.
If you live in a state that has prolonged heat and sun exposure, such as Arizona, growing romaine lettuce will probably be one of the hardest things you will ever do as a gardener.
Arizona gardening hits the jackpot with heat, sun exposure, long days, and high risk of drought. If you find yourself tackling any or all of these hurdles your first step will be to plant the romaine where it can receive partial shade to keep it protected from the sun and heat.
If your garden has limited shade exposure, you may want to consider investing in sunshades. These can be found at your local gardening/home store and are customizable in size to ensure you are not shading vegetables that do not need the assistance.
Sunshades can cut sun exposure from 30-40% which could make a huge impact on your crop’s success.
Time spent in the ground
Another factor that affects bolting in romaine lettuce is the length of time it sits in your garden before it is harvested. Romaine lettuce can grow within a matter of days in the right conditions and once it hits that optimal height of 3-4 inches it is time to harvest and plant your next batch.
If left in the ground too long, your romaine will enter into that last stage of its cycle and start the cycle all over again, this time flowering on top of your now-bitter head of romaine.
Can I Use Romaine Lettuce That Has Bolted?
You’ve gone out to your garden to harvest your crop and your worst fears are imagined: your romaine lettuce has bolted.
Large stalks of flowers now rest on the tops of what was once your promising buds and all you can think is: well there goes all of my hard work! All this is good for now is feeding the rabbits.
If your romaine lettuce has bolted, not all hope is lost. If you are the avid gardener who checks their veggies every day, then you caught the bolt in time and the romaine may still be usable.
Harvest the bolted lettuce right away and do a taste test; does it still taste like romaine or has the bolting turned your leaves into bitter weeds?
If your romaine still tastes good, you caught the bolt early enough and can enjoy your romaine in salads and sandwiches.
If you tried your lettuce and found that the bitterness has already taken over, you have three options:
Collect the seeds: in preparation for your next planting season, you can harvest the seeds from your bolted lettuce to be replanted.
Cut it: you can cut your romaine lettuce down to the stalk and leave it in the ground to regenerate if your season is still going.
Donate: your local wildlife will thank you for this treat and hopefully by putting it out for them they won’t venture into your garden for an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Does it Matter What Container I Use When Planting?
We’ve covered everything from why lettuce bolts to what we can plant to make our lives easier as gardeners. But the one question we have yet to answer is: does it matter what container I plant in?
In some instances, your container can make all the difference in the success of your garden. Herbs can be deceptively tricky; they are small but can actually grow to fill the container they are in.
Root vegetables need deep soil to thrive whereas tomatoes grow up and require supports to wrap around. So, what does your romaine lettuce need?
Romaine lettuce is quite simple in its housing requirements; it requires good drainage, at least 6 inches in depth for its shallow roots and enough space to be about 1’’ apart from its’ neighbor.
The great news here is that romaine could be planted in just about anything, anywhere. Containers such as pots, buckets, or window boxes would be successful as would the traditional garden in your yard.
A wonderful benefit of choosing to plant your romaine lettuce in a container rather than a stoic garden bed is the ability to change your plants’ exposure to sun and heat with ease.
This would allow you more control over the prevention of bolting in your romaine lettuce and increase your odds of a successful harvest.
If you choose to go the traditional garden route, be sure to plant your romaine lettuce next to a batch of radishes. These vegetables do great as companions in garden beds and won’t rob each other of much-needed nutrients.
Are There Types of Lettuce That Resist Bolting?
If after following these tips you still find yourself struggling to grow romaine that is edible, you are not alone. While there is no way to prevent bolting from happening completely, there are varieties of lettuce that can hold up to warmer weather conditions better than others.
There are four types of lettuce that could survive the hot summer while at the same time giving your salad that edge. They include the following:
Butterhead Lettuce: the top pick for summer growing with a variety of choices ranging from Red Cross to Buttercrunch Bibb. Butterleaf has large leaves and stands up to heat the best of its’ competitors.
Crisphead Lettuce: while difficult to grow, some varieties stand up to the heat (literally) including Nevada or Sierra Batavian strands.
Leaf and Oakleaf: forgiving of heat, poor soil, and less-than-ideal growing situations, this lettuce might just be the champion that black-thumb gardeners are waiting for.
Romaine: if your heart is still set on this tall and ribbed leaf, then gravitate towards the Jericho romaine lettuce which was developed in the hottest region imaginable: Egypt.