Mad About Berries

How To Grow Artichokes

Artichokes, with their distinctive appearance and delicious taste, are a favorite among both vegetable gardeners and culinary enthusiasts. Originating from the Mediterranean, these thistle-like plants are as much prized for their attractive form as for the edible flower buds they produce.

Artichokes stand out in the garden with their silvery-green foliage and impressive size, making them dual-purpose plants that offer both aesthetic appeal and tasty harvests. Whether grown as annuals in colder climates or as perennials in milder regions, artichokes bring a unique element to any garden setting.

Published: April 23, 2024.

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A Brief Intro to Artichokes

Artichokes belong to the species 'Cynara cardunculus', and there are two primary types cultivated for consumption: the Globe artichoke and the Jerusalem artichoke, though they are not closely related and differ significantly in appearance and cultivation.

Globe artichokes are the more commonly recognized type, known for their large, rounded buds which are harvested before flowering. Varieties of Globe artichokes include 'Green Globe', 'Imperial Star', and 'Violetto'. Each variety has its own specific characteristics, such as bud size, color, and spine presence.

Artichokes are perennial in nature, growing back each year from the same roots and producing multiple harvests for up to 5 years. They can reach up to 6 feet in height and width, requiring significant space to thrive.

Their growth habit includes forming a rosette of large leaves from a central stem, and during the second year, they produce a tall stalk on which the buds develop.

Climate and Soil Requirements

  • Climate Conditions: Artichokes thrive in cool, moist climates and are especially well-suited to coastal regions where temperatures are moderate. They require a period of vernalization - exposure to cool temperatures – to produce buds, making them ideal for growing in USDA zones 7 through 11. In regions with cold winters, artichokes can be grown as annuals, with some varieties bred specifically for this purpose.
  • Soil Preparation: Artichokes perform best in well-draining soil rich in organic matter. The ideal soil pH for artichokes is between 6.5 and 7.5. To prepare the soil for planting, incorporate generous amounts of compost or well-rotted manure to both improve drainage and increase fertility. It’s also beneficial to perform a soil test prior to planting to adjust pH levels and ensure the soil contains adequate nutrients for optimal plant growth.

These conditions set the foundation for successful artichoke cultivation, ensuring that the plants have the environment they need to produce their distinctive buds. Understanding these basics allows gardeners to better plan and care for their artichokes, leading to fruitful harvests and robust plants.

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Planting Artichokes

When and How to Plant Artichoke Seeds, Crowns, and Starts

Artichokes can be grown from seeds, crowns, or starts, with each method having its own set of guidelines:

  • Seeds: Start artichoke seeds indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost date. Plant seeds 1/4 inch deep in soilless potting mix, and maintain a temperature of around 70-75°F (21-24°C) for germination. Seeds typically take 2-3 weeks to germinate.
  • Crowns: Crowns are root sections from mature plants and can be planted directly in the garden. Plant crowns in early spring, burying them at the same depth they were grown previously, and space them about 3-4 feet apart to accommodate their large spread.
  • Starts: These are young plants that can be transplanted into the garden after the risk of frost has passed. Harden off plants by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over a week before planting them in the garden.

Tips for Indoor Seed Starting and Transplanting Outdoors

  • Indoor Starting: Use high-quality seed starting mix and keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. Provide plenty of light via a sunny window or grow lights to prevent seedlings from becoming leggy.
  • Transplanting: When transplanting, choose a cloudy day or late afternoon to minimize stress on the plants. Dig a hole that can accommodate the root ball without crowding, and set each plant so that the crown is just above the soil surface. Water thoroughly after transplanting to settle the soil around the roots.

Caring for Artichoke Plants

Watering and Feeding Requirements

  • Watering: Artichokes require regular watering to maintain moist soil, especially during bud formation. Avoid overhead watering to reduce the risk of disease. A drip irrigation system can be very effective in delivering water directly to the roots.
  • Feeding: Feed artichokes with a balanced fertilizer every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season. Artichokes are heavy feeders and benefit from additional side dressings of compost or well-rotted manure.

The Importance of Mulching and Proper Spacing

  • Mulching: Apply a thick layer of organic mulch around artichokes to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Materials like straw, bark, or compost are effective mulches for artichokes.
  • Spacing: Proper spacing is crucial to prevent overcrowding and promote air circulation, which reduces the risk of disease. As mentioned, space plants about 3 to 4 feet apart.

Managing Pests and Diseases

Common Artichoke Pests and Diseases

  • Pests: Artichokes are susceptible to aphids, slugs, and artichoke plume moths. Regular inspections and prompt removal of pests are essential.
  • Diseases: Artichokes can suffer from fungal diseases such as powdery mildew and botrytis, especially in humid conditions.

Organic and Chemical Control Options

  • Organic Controls: Neem oil and insecticidal soaps are effective against aphids and other soft-bodied insects. Encouraging natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings can help manage pest populations.
  • Chemical Controls: Fungicides and pesticides can be used as a last resort. Always choose products that are specifically labeled safe for use on artichokes and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.

Encouraging Artichoke Growth

Techniques for Encouraging Thriving Artichoke Plants

  • Pruning and Deadheading: Regular pruning helps to maintain plant health and vigor. Remove any dead or damaged leaves and stalks to encourage more growth and prevent disease. Deadheading, or removing spent blooms, is essential after the harvest to promote additional blooms and maintain plant energy.
  • Soil and Nutrient Management: Continue to enrich the soil with organic matter and ensure that artichokes receive adequate nutrients throughout the growing season. A balanced, slow-release fertilizer can help sustain growth and productivity.

Stimulating Second-Year Production in Colder Climates

  • Mulching: Apply a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plants to insulate the roots from freezing temperatures.
  • Cutting Back: In late fall, cut the artichoke plant back to about 8-10 inches and cover with a protective layer of straw or leaves to help it survive the winter.
  • Using Cloches or Row Covers: Providing a physical barrier, such as a cloche or row cover, can protect artichokes from severe cold and frost, enabling them to produce a crop the following year.

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Artichoke Companion Plants

Growing artichokes with other plants can improve the health and growth of artichokes. These plants include:

  • Tarragon: Tarragon is believed to enhance the growth and flavor of vegetables grown near it, including artichokes. Its aromatic properties may also help repel pests from the artichokes.
  • Basil: Basil emits a strong scent that can help repel many garden pests, including aphids and beetles, which might otherwise target artichokes.
  • Sunflowers: Sunflowers can provide partial shade and wind protection for artichokes, especially in very sunny and windy areas. They also attract pollinators, which are beneficial for the overall health of the garden.
  • Cilantro (Coriander): Cilantro helps to repel aphids, which can be a nuisance in artichoke gardens. It also attracts beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, which prey on common garden pests.
  • Marigolds: Marigolds are known for their ability to repel soil nematodes and other pests through the natural chemicals they release into the soil, protecting artichokes from underground attacks.
  • Peas: Peas are nitrogen fixers, which means they help increase the nitrogen content in the soil, benefiting nutrient-hungry artichokes.
  • Yarrow: Yarrow attracts beneficial insects, including predatory wasps, which help control pest populations that might otherwise damage artichokes.
  • Mint: Mint repels a variety of pests, including ants and aphids, and its strong scent can mask the artichokes, making them harder for pests to locate. However, mint should be grown in containers to prevent it from spreading uncontrollably.
  • Nasturtiums: Nasturtiums serve as a trap crop for aphids, luring them away from artichokes. They also add a splash of color to the garden and are edible.
  • Garlic: Garlic helps deter pests such as aphids and certain beetles from artichokes. It also has mild antifungal properties that can help prevent fungal diseases.

These companion plants not only support the healthy growth of artichokes but also help create a more balanced and productive garden ecosystem.

What not to plant with artichokes

When planting artichokes, certain plants should be avoided as they can compete for nutrients, space, or attract pests that could harm artichokes. Here is a list of plants that are not recommended to be planted near artichokes:

  • Potatoes: Potatoes and artichokes can compete for soil nutrients and space. Both are fairly large and demanding in terms of the nutrients they extract from the soil, which can lead to poor growth for both if they're too close.
  • Tomatoes: Like potatoes, tomatoes are heavy feeders and can compete with artichokes for nutrients. Additionally, they are susceptible to similar diseases, which could easily spread between them.
  • Corn: Corn has a high nutrient demand, particularly for nitrogen, which can deplete the soil and starve artichokes of the necessary nutrients they need to thrive.
  • Fennel: Fennel secretes substances from its roots that inhibit the growth of other plants nearby, a phenomenon known as allelopathy. This can adversely affect the growth of artichokes planted nearby.
  • Cabbage and other Brassicas (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, kale): Brassicas can attract pests like aphids and cabbage moths, which may also target artichokes. Furthermore, they require a lot of nutrients, potentially leading to competition.
  • Pumpkins and other squash varieties: These plants have sprawling vines that can overtake nearby plants, including artichokes, thus competing for space and sunlight.

Avoiding these plants in the vicinity of artichokes will help ensure that your artichokes have enough space and nutrients to develop properly without undue competition or increased risk of disease.

For more about this topic, feel free to check the Artichoke Companion Plants article.

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Harvesting Artichokes

How and When to Harvest Artichokes for Peak Flavor

  • Timing: Harvest artichokes when the buds are firm and fully formed but before the petals begin to open. This is typically in late spring or early summer, depending on your climate.
  • Method: Cut the artichoke stem with a knife or pruning shears, leaving about 1-2 inches of stem attached to the artichoke. This helps preserve the freshness of the bud.

Signs That Artichokes Are Ready to Be Picked

  • Appearance: The leaves (bracts) of the bud should be tightly closed and not splayed open.
  • Touch: The bud should feel firm when squeezed gently. If it feels soft or begins to open, it is past its prime for culinary use but can still be left to flower for ornamental purposes.

Overwintering Artichokes

Strategies for Overwintering Artichokes in Various Climate Zones

  • Mild Climates: In zones where winter temperatures are moderate, a simple layer of mulch may be sufficient to protect the roots.
  • Cold Climates: In areas with harsh winters, more intensive protection is needed. After cutting the plants back, cover them with a thick layer of straw or mulch, and consider using a burlap wrap or a frost cloth for additional insulation.

Protective Measures to Ensure Plant Survival During the Cold Months

  • Watering: Before the onset of winter, give the plants a good watering to help them withstand the dry cold. However, avoid waterlogging the soil as this can lead to root rot.
  • Ventilation: If using covers such as cloches or plastic, ensure there is adequate ventilation to prevent moisture buildup, which can encourage mold and disease.

Implementing these techniques and strategies will help your artichoke plants not only survive but also thrive from season to season, yielding delicious buds and enhancing the beauty of your garden.

Uses and Recipes

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Suggestions for Using Harvested Artichokes in Cooking

Artichokes are a versatile ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. Freshly harvested artichokes can be steamed, grilled, roasted, or marinated.

The tender heart is particularly prized for its flavor and texture and can be used in salads, pastas, and dips.

A Few Simple Recipes to Inspire Garden-to-Table Meals

  • Classic Steamed Artichokes: Trim the tips of the artichokes, rinse them under cold water, and steam them over boiling water for about 30-45 minutes until tender. Serve with melted butter or a lemon-garlic aioli for dipping.
  • Grilled Artichokes: Halve the artichokes and remove the chokes. Pre-cook them by steaming, then brush with olive oil and grill until the edges are crisp. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
  • Artichoke Heart Pasta: Sauté artichoke hearts with garlic, olive oil, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Toss with cooked pasta, fresh parsley, and grated Parmesan cheese for a quick and satisfying meal.
  • Artichoke Dip: Combine chopped artichoke hearts with cream cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, grated Parmesan, garlic, and a dash of hot sauce. Bake until bubbly and golden brown for a delicious appetizer.

Growing artichokes offers a rewarding blend of challenges and joys. From preparing the soil and nurturing the plants to harvesting and cooking the fruits of your labor, each step provides a learning opportunity and the satisfaction of engaging directly with nature.

Artichokes are not only delicious but also add striking visual interest to your garden. Gardeners are encouraged to embrace the entire process, experiment with different cultivation techniques, and enjoy the unique flavors that only home-grown artichokes can offer.

For more about growing artichokes, feel free to check the following:

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