Growing Artichokes

artichoke plant buds in garden landscape

Artichoke plants produce one large bud on a stalk and several smaller buds below it.

Globe artichoke is an heirloom vegetable grown for its tender, edible flower buds. With their large, silvery-green leaves and thick stems topped with pinecone-like flower buds, artichoke plants add a strong architectural element to vegetable garden plantings.

Thomas Jefferson reportedly raised artichokes at Monticello, his Virginia home, as early as 1767. Today the majority of commercial artichoke production is along coastal sections of Central California, where the weather suits them perfectly.

Here are some things you need to know about growing artichokes. Artichoke plants thrive best where mild winters and cool, foggy summers prevail. In such growing conditions, they are perennials, yielding harvests for up to 5 years. Where winters dish up only a few frosty nights, plants will sometimes overwinter when pruned and mulched (zones 8 and 9). In colder regions, you have to treat artichokes as annuals planted in spring. They are best planted in fall in the humid, subtropical, frost-free areas of zones 10 and 11.

Soil, Planting, and Care

In zones where artichokes are perennial, select your site considering that plants will be in place for up to 5 years. Give plants room to spread, since mature plants can reach 3 to 4 feet tall and up to 4 feet wide. Artichokes thrive in full sun to partial shade. They also need light, fertile, well-drained soil—sandy or loam is ideal. Prepare the soil by working 5 inches of compost into a trench 8 inches deep and equally wide. Two reasons artichoke plants fail are summer drought and winter soil that’s waterlogged. Adding compost improves soil’s ability to retain water in summer and drain in winter.

Plant artichoke seedlings atop the amended soil, spacing plants 4 feet apart. In zones 6 and colder, you can plant artichokes more closely, 2 to 3 feet apart, because frost will prevent the plant from reaching its mature, established size.

After artichokes are established and unfurling new growth, fertilize plants once a month with a liquid fertilizer such as Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food. Keep soil moist throughout the growing season. You can apply a liquid high-potassium fertilizer (often called a potash fertilizer) every 2 weeks during periods of active growth to encourage flower buds to form.

Keep weeds out of artichoke beds. Give plants a thick mulch, especially in northern growing areas. Mulch with an organic material, such as dry grass clippings, straw, aged manure, or a mixture of these. As buds begin to form, remove mulch, and apply a 4-inch-thick layer of compost around each plant, extending from the base of the plant outward 12 inches.

Troubleshooting

Artichoke has few problems. Slugs may attack young foliage, and botrytis blight can coat older leaves. Beat slugs with slug bait or slug traps. If only a few leaves are infected by botrytris blight, remove and destroy them. Treat the plant with a fungicide such as neem oil.

Harvest and Storage

Artichoke buds that are opening on the plant will not be as tender as artichokes harvested when the bud is tight.

The large buds on this artichoke plant are beginning to open and should have been harvested sooner for better flavor and tenderness. If buds are left to open on the plant, they can’t be eaten but they do make beautiful flowers in the garden.

Flower buds form in early summer atop tall stems that soar out of the center of the plant. Each stem forms several flower buds, with the top bud ripening first. Harvest buds while they’re tight and firm and hopefully at least 3 inches in diameter; if buds begin to open, they lose their tenderness. Fully open buds are inedible but produce striking, large, lavender flowers. Cut a 1- to 3-inch section of stem with each bud to make it easier to handle. The lower buds that develop later won’t grow as large as the top bud. When you have harvested all buds on a stem, cut the stem to the ground. For large, established plants, prune the entire plant back by a third to spur a fall harvest.

Artichokes keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Uses

artichoke plant blooms with purple flowers in landscape garden bed beside house

These artichokes are left to bloom for ornament. This is especially useful in areas where they are perennial.

Because harvest increases with plant age, it’s best to try to overwinter artichoke plants. Some gardeners have reported success at overwintering plants as far north as zone 5 using the techniques described below for zones 6 and 7.

For zones 8 and warmer: Following fall harvest, cut plants back to ground level or slightly below ground level. Cover with 3 to 4 inches of an organic mulch such as straw or shredded leaves.

For zones 6 and 7: Cut plants back to roughly 12 inches tall. Mound organic mulch over the plants, then cover plants and mulch with an inverted bushel basket. Feel free to use compost as this first mulch layer. Add a layer of mulch (straw is great at this point) over and around the bushel basket. Drape a rainproof cover over the mound, taking care to anchor the edges.

In spring, after the ground is no longer frozen and before growth begins, remove the winter covering. When new growth begins, fertilize plants again with Bonnie Herb, Vegetable & Flower Plant Food and add a 1-inch layer of compost or well-rotted manure around the plant.

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FAQs

How do I water artichokes?

Artichokes need watering about once a week, but that can vary. If your soil is heavy and holds moisture well, water less often. For hot regions, water more frequently. Don’t allow artichokes to stand in water; plants won’t survive. Too little water results in loose buds with poor taste.

Should I remove the shoots that have appeared at the base of my artichoke plants?

If you garden in Zones 4 to 6, where artichokes are treated as annuals, remove suckers as soon as they appear, snapping or clipping them from plants. In warmer regions, where artichokes are perennials, if you allow stems to develop, you’ll have a few transplants you can use to enlarge your artichoke patch or share with friends. In this case, remove only the weakest shoots, permitting heartier ones to grow. If you don’t want transplants, remove all the shoots.

How do I know when to harvest artichokes?

As soon as flower buds begin to form, check plants daily. You want to pick buds just before the petals begin to open. If you wait too long, the buds become fibrous and stringy – impossible to eat. If your plants have experienced ideal conditions, buds may be as large as 3 inches across. The center bud ripens first. Once you harvest that, check plants daily as the side shoots develop. Side shoot buds don’t grow as large as the center bud. Remember to cut buds with 1 to 2 inches of stem below the base. Handle buds carefully; they bruise easily.

Can I do anything to improve my artichoke harvest?

The area in California where artichokes grow best experiences those famous fogs that roll in off the ocean. You can mimic those growing conditions in two ways. First, plant artichokes where they’ll receive some afternoon shade. It also helps to mulch roots as summer temperatures soar. Aim for a 4-inch-thick layer of mulch. Second, install an auto mister programmed to create a fog around plants in early morning. It’s wise to give plants as ideal growing conditions as possible. Artichokes raised in hot, dry conditions mature buds so quickly that they easily become over-ripe and tough.