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Artichoke Grow Guide: How to Grow and Care for Artichokes

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Aug 7, 2020 • 5 min read

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If you’re looking for a large, striking, and exotic plant for your home garden, consider planting artichokes this year. The artichoke plant (Cynara scolymus) is in the thistle family, with huge leaves, harvested for its edible flower buds called artichoke hearts.

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3 Types of Artichokes

There are several different varieties of artichokes that you can grow in your vegetable garden:

  1. Green Globe. Green Globe artichokes are the most common in the US, especially in California, but aren’t as hardy as other varieties in unideal growing conditions.
  2. Imperial Star. If you’re looking for a hardy artichoke that will grow well as an annual, Imperial Star artichokes are ideal for artichoke gardeners in colder climates.
  3. Violetta/Violetto. The Violetta artichoke is an heirloom variety with purplish coloring on the artichoke buds. The plant is slightly smaller than other varieties, so it’s a good option for gardeners with space limitations.

How to Grow Artichokes in Different Climates

Artichokes can be grown in most places in the United States, regardless of climate. However, the climate you live in will determine how you grow your artichokes:

  • Warm climate. Artichokes grow naturally in the Mediterranean, with mild summers and cool winters, so they grow well as outdoor perennials in most of the United States—anywhere in USDA hardiness zones 7 or warmer (though hot Southern summers can be hard on the plant).
  • Cold climate. If your climate is colder than zone 7, you can still grow artichokes, though you’ll need to decide what to do during the cold winter. Most cold-climate artichoke gardeners simply grow artichokes as annuals, starting over their crop with seeds or transplanting mature plants into their garden every spring. Other cold-climate artichoke gardeners grow them in pots year-round, bringing the pots inside every winter to keep the plants sheltered from extreme cold.
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How Long Does It Take to Grow Artichokes?

Artichoke plants are slow growers—they can take anywhere from 85 to 120 days of proper spring and summer weather to produce flowers. In addition, most artichoke plants won’t start producing flowers until their second year. Some gardeners buy pre-started plants, annual varieties, or employ a “vernalizing” tactic when growing from seed, in which they trick the seedlings into believing they’ve made it through winter. Vernalization encourages the plants to produce flowers in their first year.

How to Transplant Artichokes

The easiest way to start harvesting artichokes in the first year of planting is to buy pre-started artichoke plants and transplant them into your garden. Wait until after the last frost date to plant pre-started artichoke plants.

  1. Choose the site. Artichoke plants need full sun, so choose a spot that gets at least six hours a day. They also grow tall and wide, so be sure to find a spot where each plant has about two feet of space on either side.
  2. Prepare the garden bed. As heavy root feeders, artichokes do best in well-draining soil rich in organic matter, so mix fish emulsion, compost, or other natural fertilizer in with the soil to give them plenty of nutrients. If you want to plant your artichokes in pots, choose a pot at least two feet wide. Planting in pots is especially useful if your winters get too cold and you need to bring the plants indoors.
  3. Dig holes. Dig a hole for each artichoke plant, spaced at least four feet apart. The root balls of artichokes are usually around the size of a large sweet potato, so you don’t need to dig especially deep or wide to accommodate the roots.
  4. Plant. Set each plant in the hole, making sure that the hole will fit the entire root ball. Then mound dirt back into the hole to secure the artichoke plant.
  5. Water. After planting, evenly water the artichoke plants to settle the soil and nourish the plants.

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How to Plant Artichokes From Seeds

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If you want to plant artichokes from seeds, be aware that many artichokes don’t germinate “true to seed,” which means that you may find some of your seedlings growing into completely different artichoke varieties than the ones you selected. When planting artichokes from seeds, plant more than you planned to grow to account for any varieties that you did not intend to grow.

  1. Prepare indoor trays with soil. To give your seeds a headstart on the growing season, you’ll want to start them indoors in late winter or early spring, at least two months before the weather outside is ready for transplanting. In terms of soil, artichokes need well-draining soil rich in organic matter, so mix fish emulsion, compost, or other natural fertilizer in with the soil to give them plenty of nutrients.
  2. Plant the artichoke seeds. Sow seeds three to four inches apart, about a half-inch deep.
  3. Water. Keep the soil bed evenly moist—but not too wet—as your seedlings start to sprout.
  4. Thin. As your seedlings grow, thin them so that only one plant is growing in each spot. Keep an eye on the seedlings for any that looks different from the rest; it can be a sign that certain plants aren’t true to seed and should be thinned.
  5. Vernalize. Just before you’re ready to transplant your artichoke seedlings outdoors, you’ll need to vernalize them—or trick them into thinking it’s winter—in order to encourage them to produce flowers in their first year. To vernalize your plants, simply leave them in temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit for ten days.
  6. Transplant. After vernalizing your seedlings, transplant them into your prepared garden bed.
  7. Water. After transplanting, water your seedlings to settle the soil and nourish your plants.

How to Grow and Care for Artichokes

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After planting, artichokes require certain basic care:

  • Water. Artichokes are a water-loving plant, so be sure to keep their soil moist (but not soaking wet) to avoid stressing out the roots.
  • Fertilize the soil. As heavy feeders, artichokes love soil rich in organic matter. At least once a month during the growing season, apply additional fertilizer to the soil to give your plants the nutrients they need.
  • Prepare your plants for winter. Depending on your climate, you may need to prepare your artichoke plants for the colder season by “overwintering” them. If your area has mild winters that don’t go below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, overwinter your plants by cutting them down close to ground level and covering them (with something like mulch, straw, or a tarp) to protect them from the elements. If your area gets much colder, you’ll need to pot the plants and bring them indoors or simply pull up the plants and plant new ones the following spring.

How to Harvest Artichokes

Artichokes are ready to harvest when the buds are full and firm and have not yet started to open into a bloom. To harvest artichoke flowers, simply use a sharp knife or gardening shears to trim the bud off two inches below the stem.

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