The artichoke plant can quickly spread up to six feet across. It will make a bold statement in any garden. The silvery green foliage is attractive and it grows fairly easily in a variety of climates. Many people are fearful of growing the artichoke however, it’s not that difficult and there are a few different ways to get started.
Artichoke Starting Options
There are three basic ways to start artichokes. That is from seed, from the shoots of existing plants and from the dormant root. When starting artichokes from seed, don’t be alarmed if the end result is nothing like the seed packet describes, this happens about 20 percent of the time. Be sure to plant extras so that you can cull the ones that aren’t up to par. This way, you’ll be assured of only the best plants.
You can start seeds in a greenhouse or you can start them under grow lights. In February, you can start them indoors. Sow them into 4 inch containers that you can place into the ground. This will give your seedlings plenty head start to produce artichokes during the first year.
Your seedlings are going to require a lot of nutrients. Be sure to use a good fish emulsion to fertilize them. Transplant your new seedlings at approximately 8 to 10 inches tall. They should have stocky stems and at least two sets of full leaves.
Plant your artichokes at least four feet apart as they will require plenty of room to spread out and grow. You can also start your artichokes with roots or rooted shoots. To do this, remove a rooted shoot with a long knife and separate the offshoots form the rest of the plant. Cut a ring around the shoot with space and place it deep into the ground below the roots.
This is best done while the plants are smaller than 10 inches. Again, be sure that you’re spacing them from 4 to 6 feet apart so that they have plenty of room to spread out and grow. You can replant each rooted shoot.
Artichokes thrive in mild winters and cool yet foggy summers. In these ideal growing conditions, they will be perennials. As perennials, they will yield fruit for up to five years. Zones 10 and 11 are ideal climates for artichokes to be perennials. Here they can be planted in the fall.
In zones 8 and 9 artichokes may go as both perennial and annual depending on how cold the winter is. They can handle a few frosty nights, but not many. They will require plenty of pruning and mulch in these zones to ensure their growth. You’ll have to plant them in the spring for these zones.
Planting And Care
For Perennials choose an area that will be suitable for the next five years. Plants will require plenty of room to spread out and grow. Keep in mind that mature plants can reach up to 3 or 4 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide.
You’ll want to have full sun and partial shade for your plants. Use a light, well-drained fertile soil for your plants. A sandy or a loam soil is an ideal choice. Prepare the soil and work about 5 inches of compost into an 8 inch deep and 8 inch wide trench.
Two of the main reasons that artichoke plants fail is that they are either too dry or waterlogged. When compost it added into the soil it helps the soil to retain the right amount of water in the warmer summer months and to drain properly.
Plant the artichoke seedlings on top of the amended soil. Space the plants at least 4 feet apart from one another so that there will be plenty of room to grow. If you’re in zone 6 or colder, they can be planted closer together up to 3 feet apart. The frost will prevent these plants from reaching full size but they will still produce.
Artichokes are heavy feeders. You’ll need to work at least one cup of organic fertilizer into the soil or shovel in aged chicken manure or heavy compost prior to planting. Then, apply ½ cup of blood meal or feather meal and ½ cup of bone meal per plant. If you have rabbit manure, you can also add in a layer of 2 to 3 inches of this as well.
They will also require a mid season fertilizing of aged manure as well. This is especially true if you’re in an area with very poor soil.
Once the plants are well established, be sure that you’re fertilizing them at least once per month with a liquid fertilizer. Soil should be moist but not overly wet to keep plants from root rot. When flowers begin to form or the plant is actively growing add some liquid fertilizer that is high in potassium to the plant to encourage more flower buds to form.
Weed plants frequently to ensure healthy vigorous growth. A thick mulch will work well to help retain water and discourage weeds. You can use dry grass clippings, aged manure, straw or a mix of all to ensure quality plants.
After the plants bud remove the mulch and apply a thick layer of compost around the plant to help extend it up to 12 inches out from the edges. This will help to feed the plant.
Artichokes are pretty easy to care for and have few issues. If slugs are attacking you can use slug traps or simply remove them by hand. Use a fungicide like neem oil if they appear to have any fungus.
For zones that are 8 and warmer cut the plants back to ground level or slightly below. Cover them with 3 to 4 inches of mulch like straw or shredded leaves.
In zones 6 and 7 cut them to 12 inches tall and mound them with the mulch and cover them with an inverted basket or container. Add more straw and compost over the inverted basket or container and place a rainproof cover over the plant. Anchor the edges to help prevent any frost or cold from entering in.
After the ground thaws and before the plants show new growth, remove the winterization covering and when the new growth begins fertilize the plants and add in an inch of compost or manure over the plants.
Harvest and Storage
In the early summer, the flowers form on top of the tall stems that are in the center of the plant. Each of the stems will have several flower buds. The top of the bud will ripe first.
Harvest the buds when they’re firm and tight and about 3 inches in diameter. If the bud opens up it will lose its tenderness. When the buds are open all the way, they will produce lavender colored flowers.
The lower buds on the plant will not produce flowers as large as the top flower buds. If you’re seeking additional harvests, you can prune the plant back and cut the stem to the ground for a third harvest.
Your artichokes will remain fresh for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
Photo by JeepersMedia