How do I keep bok choy from bolting?

david_in_ks(z5 KS)September 8, 2007


I've tried to grow bok choy in the spring several years running, and every time it has responded to spring temperature fluctuations by going to seed without forming enough stalk mass to be worth the trouble to harvest. I've tried direct sowing, and transplanting, and have planted in both early and late spring. Same result.

I'm trying again in this year's fall garden.

Has anyone in the central plains states had any luck growing this? (I live 25 miles or so north of Topeka, KS.)



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jimster(z7a MA)

I have the same question. I was able to harvest part of my spring crop, but it bolted sooner than expected. I think this, like many greens, is better as a fall crop. Another possible solution is to find a slow bolting variety, which I have not done as yet.


Here is a link that might be useful: Evergreen Seeds

    Bookmark   September 9, 2007 at 1:17PM
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David, I don't live in your part of the country but here in the interior of the West, it is also challenging to grow bok choy. Our days often end with relative humidity at below 20%. This Summer has been especially dry - right now we've only had right at 1 inch of rain since June 21st. And now that the days are shortening, temperatures fluctuate from 80°F during the day to 40-45°F overnight.

How do I grow bok choy without having it quickly bolt to seed? In the Spring, the Asian greens are started in a unheated plastic tunnel.

Here's one of the beds in there with plants about ready for the table:

Plants thinned earlier from the beds:

Here they are planted out:

I need one more picture of the bok choy maturing in the garden as harvestable plants . . . .

About the same time as those plants were moved to the outdoors, I planted seed directly in the garden. They are well-watered and thinned.

I have bok choy in the garden now. Those rows seeded in the heat about 3 weeks ago are fairly puny and won't be allowed to grow much longer or they will bolt. The rows planted about 2 weeks ago are doing nicely and if we can get some rains, should be fine.

Mei Qing Choy is the most reliable that I've found.


    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 9:23AM
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This is today. The taller bok choy is the 3 week planting. It didn't come up that well and these plants should probably be going in the wok within the next few days. The shorter plants need thinning, a shot of fertilizer and they'd benefit from a little rain and higher humidity. But, they should be OK.

    Bookmark   September 11, 2007 at 5:21PM
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jimster(z7a MA)


Is it Mei Qing Choy in your pictures? I assume so.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2007 at 10:04PM
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In that last photo, yes Jim, that's Mei Qing choy. There are rows of Asian mustard, Maruba Santo and Toy Choy elsewhere in the garden.

The tunnel during the Spring months had something like 11 different varieties of Asian greens - mustards, bok choys, and Chinese cabbages. Probably all of these were thinned and some made a trip to the garden.

The real find this year was Toy Choy. If you like cute . . . But, more than that, this is one tender little green.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2007 at 11:51PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

Interestingly, I have a flat of Toy Choy seedlings growing right now. They will be set out soon. I've never grown it before. It's good to have you favorable comments about it.


    Bookmark   September 12, 2007 at 3:18PM
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Don't let 'em go too long, Jim. Toy Choy are tiny little things and will start forming flower buds without sending up a stalk.

As soon as they look like they've "filled out" some, so that you might have to bite twice or thrice on 'em, go ahead and harvest.

They are fun. My seed came from Holmes, and that saved some $$ versus buying small packets elsewhere.

Steve's digits

    Bookmark   September 12, 2007 at 8:47PM
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david_in_ks(z5 KS)

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions.

I wonder where in China bok choy is commonly grown? It would seem that the plains of north China, with their continental climate, would have the same problems we've been having.


    Bookmark   September 12, 2007 at 9:43PM
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jimster(z7a MA)


The question has been on my mind also, as yet unanswered, about which growing regions of China match with mine. Evergreen Seeds often mentions when a particular variety is good for a specific area of China, such as the South or Taiwan. Perhaps we need advice from a Chinese-American gardener (any reading this?). Or maybe more info from Evergreen, although I'm not so sure about that because they seem to make a point of mentioning varieties for the West coast where they are located.

Thanks for the tip on harvesting Toy Choy, Steve. That will be very useful.


    Bookmark   September 12, 2007 at 11:28PM
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Yeah, I sometimes feel like I live in Outer Mongolia rather than any kind of garden paradise . . . The Asian broad-leafed mustards are a little easier for me to grow than the choys. But, oh-my-gosh, the flea beetles love 'em! I always have to keep the rotenone/pyrethrum at hand throughout the Springtime. All of this is true of mizuna, as well.

Wikipedia has a little info on the choys.

I don't know if it is an authoritative source but is sponsored by the Asia Society. "Founded in 1956, Asia Society is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational institution . . ." They claim that, "Hong Kong farmers grow over 20 kinds of bok choi."

Shanghai bok choy is the one with the green stem like Mei Qing Choi. What I notice is that the Shanghai varieties are the ones available in our Asian grocery stores and the ones my Asian wife is interested in cooking.


Here is a link that might be useful: Choi to the World

    Bookmark   September 13, 2007 at 8:09AM
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I am Chinese. I know the answer! We eat bok chai in two stages. One is when they are young like a transplant (preferred) and the other is when they grow much bigger ~1/2 lbs. If you need big chai you need to transplant the young ones around september, october and you will get big ones in the spring time. If you plant them in spring just harvet them when they are young. All of them will go flowering in april. It dill well for me when I was in New Jersey.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2007 at 2:17PM
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jimster(z7a MA)

Thank you for helping, newgardener! Please continue you to hang out here. We need your advise.

I have a question about yu choy for which I will start a new thread.


    Bookmark   September 13, 2007 at 6:18PM
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Thank you Jim. I am really, really a new gardener. I have read a lot of posts and learned a lot knowledge from here.
Is yu choy chinese broccoli or corona? I will think it will be the same way to grow yu choy as bok choy. Seeding now, transplanting in fall then you will get big ones in the spring.

    Bookmark   September 14, 2007 at 3:27PM
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Brassicas seem to grow larger with transplanting. I'm not sure if cabbage (Brassica oleracea) would do much of anything if it was direct seeded where it is to grow.

Bok choy can just barely make it thru a Winter here - most plants die. Those that survive are so damaged by frost that they are severely scarred and do no more than bolt to seed.

We make good use of the flowering stalks of bok choy. I prefer its sweetness but the plants MUST attain some growth or the stalks may only be pencil size or even smaller. Those that are bigger than thumb size are wonderfully tender and tasty.


    Bookmark   September 14, 2007 at 9:16PM
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Some people in nothern part of China refer bok choy as big white chinese cabbage. I asked my friend what she grew at home in northern part of China. She said she eats more green in America than in China.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2007 at 10:07AM
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More green stem rather than white bok choy or more green vegetables of all kinds, Luong?


    Bookmark   September 26, 2007 at 1:18AM
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More green vegetable of all kinds.(We are in Boston. We have more choice of vegetable.)

    Bookmark   September 26, 2007 at 8:14AM
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fliptx(Houston 9)

"Perhaps we need advice from a Chinese-American gardener (any reading this?)"

Here's another one! (Although I've been living in Texas for 95% of my life, so I consider myself a Texas gardener, really.) I've grown bok choy successfully in early winter and early spring. I'll have to dig up my notes to find specifics. Of course, early winter for me is probably similar to early fall or even late summer for some of you! I'm talking about nighttime temps in the 40s and daytime temps in the 60s and then in spring with temps from the 50s to 70s. When it got colder or warmer than those two ranges, the plants were either stunted or bolted. Or both.

To clarify: The plants were already off and growing during these periods. I sowed them a couple weeks earlier. The spring crop was germinated indoors in ziploc bags and wet coffee filters and the sprouted seeds were then planted out. The last of the winter crop withstood a couple of light frosts but bolted afterwards, as I recall.

For next spring's sowing, I'm going to get some of the bok choys that are mentioned as being more heat tolerant (from Evergreen Seeds, for example) because our days start to heat up very quickly by March.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 8:44PM
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I realize that my experience may not be useful to gardeners in Tx and Ks., since I'm in San Diego but... I try to keep some type of bok choy, yu choy, or ching-chaing cabbage growing year round. The most difficult has been during the summer since it can get to 90-100 for several days. For years I would not even try planting after June. But then I remembered living the the Hong Kong New Territories as a young man, and they grew a type of bok choy during the very hot, but humid summers. Today one can buy the seeds of a whole lot more types of chinese brassicas in the US than I ever could 30 years back. And some of these south China types are available. This summer just passed has been the absolute best as far as the bok choy is concerned (just don't ask me about my eggplants). I planted two types in June that are still growing and have not yet bolted(I'm waiting cause I want to harvest the seed). One is the baby or green Shanghai type, probably everybody's fav.-Mei Qing and the other is a new one to me and maybe one of those Hong Kong types .. Evergreen seeds Canton short #268. Both have been very resistant to bolting during this last summer. If I had planted them in say Feb (which I usually do) and then had a few cold snaps followed by a warm April they probably would have bolted, but I would have still had enough to eat. So maybe, if one has a steady climate without problems of cold bolting, day length and hot temps are less of a factor. Just a thought

Jim/San Diego

    Bookmark   October 7, 2007 at 8:26PM
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I live in Seattle, first time growing these. We seeded them directly in the soil, and most of them are still right where we seeded them. A few of them were transplanted but we had such a heat wave we were worried they would be killed by the heat after transplanting. All of the transplanted ones appear to have survived.

Many of these plants bolted. We pulled off the flowers and let them keep growing. Some of them seem to be developing a nice fat base, like you'd see in the store. Others are still skinny and when I pulled new flowers off and ate them, some of them tasted a little bit (not much, just a little) bitter. Also some of the skinny bolting stalks were tough. I hope the rest of the plants are not tough.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2009 at 10:31PM
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Well, you should know that bok choy is a cool crop. Naturally it will bolt in hot weather.
Plant new ones again. By the time they come up probably it will start to cool off.

Here in GA, I have some chinese cabbage, kohlrabi, swiss chards planted in flats. But I am keeping them in shade because it is too hot (highs in mid 90s for months now). I will plant them in the garden when day highs go down to mid 80s.


    Bookmark   August 11, 2009 at 8:23PM
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i bought small bok choi starts (about 3 inches tall) and after a few days in the ground they started to develoop what appears to be tiny flower heads in the center, they are still less than 6 inches and not filling out too well, do i need to pop off those flowers to keep them from bolting?, and do i need to mound them up next time like celery to get them to "bunch"? Thanks.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 9:49AM
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I grew bok choy with no difficulty at all in northern New Hampshire - Zone 3 - in a heavy clay soil. Now that I am in the New York City area - Zone 6 - and in loose garden loam - the plants are having the typical problem with bolting. I think that climate is the primary factor. I will try seeding it in mid September and growing it as a coll weather crop.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 4:19PM
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I think the best way to grow bok choy is to sprinkle a little seed, this week.

Then, sprinkle a little seed, next week. And, just keep doing this until hot weather or cold weather makes it seem like a wasted effort (and a waste of seed).

The plants are certainly weather sensitive and will bolt as a response to stress. If you sow bok choy seed a half-dozen times each year, I think it is very likely that your crop will be everything you could hope for on, at least, a couple of occasions.


    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 2:12PM
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This was the last sowing of bok choy so far this season (about 1 week ago). Some of the plants were moved to another bed where they quickly grew to harvest size.

These are too crowded and were thinned a little more over the next couple of days. Of course, most of those plants made it in for kitchen use. There are still some plants but they will bolt soon.

Sowing a little more seed for a fall crop will begin about 6 weeks from now.


    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 2:33PM
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Being in North East Montana, we have a short growing season, so we use a medium pak choi ( shakushina ) that was started in the spring under a hoop house that worked very well.. We will plant a second time around AUG. 1.. This time out in the open.
We buy most of our seeds from Kitazawa Seed Co.
Respectfully Soeum

    Bookmark   July 10, 2011 at 5:17PM
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My tatsoi went to seed in the heat, but my bok choy rotted from the base. Bolting to seed is not as bad, as at least you get new seed. Wonder why they rotted instead. It was not too wet, in fact we are having high heat and little rain.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 2:15PM
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Fusarium wilt?

It is listed as a common disease in brassicas.

There isn't much you can do about fusarium, I don't believe. There are resistant varieties of many vegetables. I don't know about the Asian greens - probably so.

It isn't too much of a problem in my garden but there are varieties of basil that are so susceptible that it is crazy for me to grow them.


    Bookmark   July 17, 2011 at 1:35AM
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Can i grow bok choy in zone 3

    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 4:49PM
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Sure, Clairdo2!

You'd think I had subscribed to this thread since I happen onto at about the right time that someone posts . . . nope!

Bok choy is in the same family as turnips (Brassica rapa) and the University of Minnesota reports that at 41F turnip seed did not germinate but at 50F, germination only took 5 days. I say this because your soil may still not be warm enuf to get sprouting when direct sowing bok choy seed.

Not wanting to go out in the mud from today's 12 hours of rain, I'll just check the state department of ag's weather station several miles away . . . it says that the soil temperature is 45F. That means my garden soil is probably warm enough to sow bok choy seed and see the plants pop up in about a week.

Both Johnny's and Kitazawa have Mei Qing Choi "days to maturity" at 40 to 50 days. We are still several weeks away from the last frost date here but I think it is reasonable to expect some plants to harvest by the 1st of June. Of course, I've got 'em beat since I've already started bok choy in the greenhouse and set plants out in the plastic tunnel!

Okay Clairdo2 - you must have 60 days between the time the soil temperature hits the high 40's and the time frost can be expected, right? (In Celsius that about 9C.) Bok choy can take frost at either end of the season but it slows down as the fall frosts arrive.

It is a cool-season veggie so it really should be okay in your summer season. I say, "Go for it!"


    Bookmark   April 16, 2012 at 10:01PM
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