I think more people would be growing artichokes if they had the chance to taste this vegetable in its freshest form. Too often, people who say they hate artichoke are talking about the canned version. Though the canned stuff isn’t terrible, it doesn’t have the same incredible flavor of artichoke fresh out of the garden.
Fresh artichoke often ends up being a rare treat because it's either tough to find at grocery stores or it’s not always in the best condition. Even if you can find it in season and in good shape, it’s usually pricey. But I can never seem to get enough of that creamy center that tastes like a nutty asparagus-broccoli hybrid.
What’s fun about artichokes is that even if you’re not a fan of the vegetable itself, the plants are a beautiful ornamental addition to the garden. In fact, an artichoke you dine on is actually the closed bud of a flower. It’s an exotic plant to add to your edible landscaping mix. Artichokes are also perennial in certain climates, and I'm a big fan of plants that come back each year.
Unfortunately, in my area, I can only grow them as an annual because our winters are way too cold for the plants to survive. But whether you grow them as an annual or perennial, artichokes are a tasty, gourmet treat for the home gardener. Our guide includes planting recommendations, a list of optimal varieties to try, maintenance tips, and more, so you can snack on these delicious veggies straight out of the garden.
Wondering which artichoke variety to try? Here are a few options for growing this delicious plant in your garden.
- Tavor (aka Imperial Star) – The perfect variety for those in less than ideal climates for artichoke. It produces the edible flower portion in the first year of planting so that it can be grown and eaten without an overwintering period. The plant itself is nearly spineless, and the artichokes have a buttery, delicate flavor. Matures in 90 days.
- Green Globe – This large plant gets 4 feet tall and wide and can handle part shade. Ideal for warmer climates since second-year buds from this plant taste best. More buds appear each subsequent year. Perennial in zones 8-11.
- Wonder – A hybrid artichoke variety without spines that produces high, early yields. The pear-shaped heads have a firm, flavorful center.
- Purple of Romagna – A purple-tinged artichoke variety best for warm climates. More tender than the typical green globe.
- Violet de Provence – An heirloom artichoke variety with a purplish hue. It has a mild flavor and attractive appearance.
- Chianti – This large, dense variety has red and green tapered leaves. It's less bitter than some types.
- Omaha – Omaha artichokes can reach 6-inches in diameter, with a big, globular shape. It has a rich, meaty consistency and isn't as bitter as some others.
- Fiesole – This wine-colored plant has a fruity flavor and a tender stalk. It comes in a miniature variety that is almost entirely edible.
- Cardoons – Cardoons are a heartier relative of the artichoke plant. It looks more like a thistle than an artichoke, and you eat the stem rather than the flower bud. They must be blanched while growing to produce the best flavor.
The first thing you need to know about growing artichokes is that climate matters significantly. You must choose your variety carefully for success with this gourmet treat. Traditionally a perennial, the plant is not usually ideal for colder climates.
To be able to harvest artichoke buds in colder areas, you need to select a variety that has been bred to be grown as an annual and start it in the late winter indoors. Otherwise, you won’t get much of a harvest.
In warm areas, this plant can provide for multiple years. The ideal climate for the perennial flowering plant is in zones 10 to 11. Some folks may be able to overwinter artichokes down to zone 8. Grow as an annual in zone 7, though some people have even had success in zones 5 and 6.
You can start this plant from seed indoors. As a perennial, seeds should be started at least 8 weeks before the last frost. In the fall, start 100 days before the first frost date. If you are growing it as an annual, you may need to start seeds as early as late January for planting in May.
If you're a beginner, I suggest using dormant roots from a nursery to start growing artichokes. It’s one less setback to worry about with this moderately challenging plant.
Another way to start growing artichokes is by planting shoots from a friend or family member’s established plant. You can also order or purchase roots from seed companies to start artichokes in your garden.
Seed Germination and Transplanting
Plant seeds one-fourth inch deep. Seeds germinate in a little over a week but may take several weeks to sprout depending on conditions. Be sure to keep seeds evenly moist but not soggy.
Transplant once the danger of frost has passed, typically about two weeks after the last frost date. Wait until the plants are about 8-inches tall and harden them off for about 10 days.
Artichokes seedlings require a chilly period to signal the plants that they should work on flowering. A couple of weeks of exposure to temps right around 50°F will do the trick.
Sun and Soil Requirements
Provide full sun to your artichoke babies, and they’ll thrive. Some varieties can handle part shade.
Soil should be fertile and well-drained, with a pH between 6.5 and 7.
When spacing out artichoke, make sure you give plants some breathing room. Remember, growing artichokes get tall, and they have a generous spread. You’ll need at least 4 feet of spacing around each plant. As annuals, you can plant artichokes a little closer together since they will die before reaching full size.
Artichokes grow pretty tall, so place them accordingly. If you’re in a warm zone, your plant may survive for a few years. Choose a spot where your artichoke will establish itself. You can also grow them in containers if you prefer, but you’ll need a large pot.
Caring for Artichoke
Water regularly and carefully. It’s essential to avoid drying out, but if the soil is too moist, your plant will suffer because drought and overly wet soil will both kill your growing artichokes. Keeping soil moisture balanced is the key to succeeding with this plant.
Artichoke prefers warm temps and will die with exposure to frost, but keep in mind that it requires a period of chilling to ensure budding. The process varies depending on whether it's grown as an annual or perennial.
Use a balanced fertilizer on artichoke on a regular basis every 2 or 3 weeks, since growing artichokes are hungry feeders. When transplanting or planting, heap compost manure around the plant and use an organic fertilizer.
Pruning is more important for perennially grown artichokes than for plants growing in colder climates. Keep leaves in check so they don't crowd surrounding plants. Once you’ve harvested all the flower buds, trim the stem to the base.
Remove weeds continuously to prevent them from disrupting artichoke growth and spreading disease. Use mulch to suppress weeds.
Artichoke Problems and Solutions
Artichoke seedlings are particularly susceptible to disease, and unless you’re taking proper care to sanitize tools and supplies, you may end up with limp, lifeless seedlings due to damping off.
Slugs and Snails
Slugs are a common issue for fragile young artichoke plants and are a problem in humid and moist areas. Use traps to get rid of slugs and avoid excess moisture and humidity by watering selectively.
Artichoke is also susceptible to a host of leaf sucking insects including aphids. The bugs are annoying and often carry and spread disease. Since artichoke has plenty of foliage for pests to hide in, you may not be able to spot bugs at a glance. Careful inspection of leaves is vital.
While a strong burst of water from a hose might dislodge the little suckers, it’s not ideal since the excess moisture may bring about fungal infections. Instead, pick off critters and drop them in soapy water. A soap spray is another alternative to get rid of pests on foliage.
Cutworms also like to munch on growing artichokes. Till your soil in the fall and keep up on weeding during the growing season. Put cardboard collars on plants or spread diatomaceous earth around your growing artichokes.
Artichoke Plume Moth
This 1-inch brown moth feeds on all of the parts of growing artichokes. They are primarily a problem where artichokes are grown as perennials. Parasitic wasps and other beneficial insects can help control infestations. Pick any infested buds and dispose of them.
Painted Lady Butterfly Larvae
While this bug, also known as the thistle caterpillar, can feed on artichoke plants, they rarely require control and can actually be beneficial in the garden. Look for the spiny black caterpillar with the yellow stripe, pick them off and move them outside of your garden.
Botrytis Blight should be treated by removing infected foliage. For more extreme cases use a fungicide to stop the spread of blight.
Powdery mildew can be caused by overwatering and watering from above. You’ll spot the disease by its white patches on foliage. Monitor water levels and only water in the morning so plants have time to dry during the day. Water at the base of the plant rather than from above.
Companions for Artichoke
Best Companion Plants
Peas are an ideal companion for this heavy feeder since they provide well-needed nitrogen for artichoke plants. Grow the peas behind the tall artichoke stems on some type of trellis, so the two don’t end up competing for space. Sunflower will help control pests that can harm growing artichokes.
Worst Companion Plants
Don't plant anything that needs lots of space next to artichokes, since they're large and spread out quite a bit. Plant artichoke too close to other vegetable and you might end up crowding it out. You should also avoid planting next to corn.
Harvesting & Storing Artichoke
Artichoke buds eventually open up into beautiful flowers, so harvesting must take place before the buds open. Pick the artichoke buds when they are still tightly closed.
Harvesting time varies depending on whether you’re growing artichokes as an annual or perennial. Annual varieties are harvested in the summer. Perennial artichokes are harvested in the spring 2 years after planting.
While they taste best eaten fresh, you can store them in the fridge for about a week or two or you can pickle them.
If you've never eaten them before, there's a trick to getting to the meat of this prickly plant. Peel back the artichoke leaves to reveal tender edible part on the underside and base – they are delicious dipped in butter. The real prize is the heart of the artichoke, which is the most tender and flavorful portion of the bud.
Steamed with butter, roasted in the oven or baked with cheese, artichoke is one of my favorite snacks. It takes a bit of patience to eat, but it’s oh-so-worth-it.
Ready to get planting? We can't wait to hear how it goes. Let us know in the comments!