Artichokes are fast-growing, edible plants that do well in most states. Artichokes make a bold and textured feature in any garden, with an interesting and structural appearance. Here are some tips on growing artichokes at home!
All about Artichokes
Artichokes are fascinating creations of the natural world. The heart of the artichoke is actually the flower bud, and the leaves or petals are actually known as bracts; a leaf type feature that looks like a petal to attract insects to help with pollination. They grow to a height of 40 – 60 inches.
Artichokes are part of the thistle family. They originated in the Mediterranean regions and Central Asia and as a result can handle dry summers, in just about every state. Commercial crops are almost all grown in California, however Floridians may have a challenge on their hands sustaining artichokes in the heat. Artichokes are hardy, with an interesting color range that includes greens, bronze and purples.
Types of Artichokes
A number of artichoke varieties are available. These include:
- Green globe – most common variety in the US
- Desert globe – which flowers earlier than the green globe
- Big Heart – a thorn-less variety
- Imperial Star – with an edible stem and happier in cooler climates
- Purple globe – hardier in cooler climates
Artichokes commonly grown overseas include:
- Purple of Romagna – an Italian heirloom variety
- Romanesco – producing large green flower heads with a purple tinge
- Gros Vert de Laon – a French variety
And if you’re wondering where Jerusalem artichokes are on this list, well, these crunchy, nutty tubers are technically not actually an artichoke at all, but rather a member of the sunflower family!
Planting Artichokes from seeds
To get your artichokes started, you have a few options. Artichokes seeds are commercially available and are best planted at temperatures ranging from 70-75 F. Some people sew seedlings into small containers that can be transplanted into the ground, but planting directly into healthy soil is also an option. Sew at ¼ or ½ inches deep. As some seeds don’t germinate in a true way, make sure you plant more than you want to establish in the long run.
When you are transplanting, make sure you allocate at least four feet between plants so that those babies have plenty of room to grow. Flowers won’t grow until the second year if growing from seed.
Planting artichokes from other plants
You can also start plants from existing plants, or dormant roots by using a knife to separate offshoots then planting them deep into good quality soil. Prepare your bed with compost, and take measures to address any acidity in the soil.
Soil and fertilizer for artichokes
Your artichokes will be forever grateful if you give them plenty of compost. This will help see them through more extreme temperatures, allowing for better drainage in winter and improved moisture retention in summer. Making sure the soil is prepared properly at planting time is vital for successful growth in subsequent years.
Artichoke likes and dislikes
Artichokes prefer slightly warmer conditions and don’t mind sandy soil. They are happiest in a sunny and well-drained spot, with plenty of space. Plants in more tropical climates might see decreased flower size. Artichokes will struggle in chilly winter conditions and don’t do well when there is frost about. If you live in an area prone to cold nights, mulching and pruning will help add longevity to your plants.
Tips to help your artichokes
- Artichokes are perennials, and you’ll get between three and five years from them
- Keep the plant productive by removing any shoots at the base
- A good pruning back can help you add another season to the lifespan of your artichoke plants
- Well watered plants will produce a more succulent flower- water up to three times a week during hot spells
- Artichokes will do okay in a pot, but make sure you select one at least 3 feet wide to be able to accommodate new growth
Once your plants are matured, you can expect ripe heads in June and July- just in time for Summer! As your plants become established, follow this annual time-line to get the best results.
- Spring – plant your artichokes
- Late Spring – mulch
- Summer – harvest
- Late Autumn -remove offshoots
Drooping of the outer leaves of your artichoke plant may occur if you didn’t compost; in winter this could be due to water logging, in summer it could be a result of drying out. Crown rot has also been noted in humid climates. Some viral and fungal diseases can occur, worsened by humidity and wet, warm weather.
If you have a problem with slugs or snails on your artichokes, consider using slug traps, or simply remove the cheeky critters by hand. You might get a few aphids, caterpillars or plume moths on occasion, so keep an eye out.
When to harvest artichokes
You’ll know you are about ready to harvest your artichokes when you see those distinctive flowers forming on the top of the stems. Many stems produce more than one flower bud, you will notice the top flower, or king’s head, ripens first. Lower buds are less likely to be successful or won’t flower at all. Timing is important; try to grab them when they are firm and tight, and before they turn entirely purple. Use a knife or secateurs to take the flower and about 4 inches of stem, and then cut back each stem another few inches further.
Health benefits of artichokes
Once you have harvested your artichokes, they should be stored in the refrigerator where they will last about two weeks. Make sure you rinse them before ingesting. As you enjoy your produce in salads and pastas or on a pizza, you will also be gaining the health benefits of eating artichokes which include:
- Packed with antioxidants that absorb nasty free radicals
- Reduces cholesterol and improve blood flow
- Detoxes the liver and digestive system, aiding gut health
- Excellent source of fiber, aiding with digestive conditions
- Improves skin health and appearance
- Provides iron to improve blood health
The bottom line: Whether you are growing them for their beauty or for your barbeque, artichokes are a hardy, happy plant that can give a decent yield.