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The Complete Guide to Growing Artichokes in Any Climate: Tips for Every Gardener

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The artichoke (Cynara scolymus), with its majestic presence, can transform any garden into a showcase. Typically standing up to 5 feet in height and breadth, this striking perennial veggie flaunts large, silvery leaves with deep serrations and impressive flower stalks crowned with the buds that we savor as artichokes.

In ideal conditions, a flourishing artichoke plant can yield dozens of these delicious buds throughout its life.

Artichokes thrive predominantly in California, making up nearly all of the U.S.’s commercial production, thanks to its perfect growing conditions.

However, that doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate these edible delights elsewhere. They adapt surprisingly well to various climates, including the less expected subarctic regions. Yes, you read that right—artichokes can prosper in the north!

Historically tied to the Mediterranean and lower Americas, artichokes belong to the thistle family and are related to the cardoon. Innovations in breeding have made it possible to grow artichokes as annuals, significantly broadening their geographical growing potential.

These plants have a unique requirement for a brief chill under 50 degrees Fahrenheit to bloom, and they flourish in the cool summers typical of subarctic areas, which unexpectedly meets their needs perfectly.

With their distinctive silvery-green, spiky leaves and blooms, artichokes not only add intrigue to your meals but also enhance your garden’s aesthetic. While many are grown in coastal regions like California and Italy, with a bit of know-how, you can successfully raise them right in your own backyard.

If you’ve been hesitant about growing artichokes because it seems daunting, fear not. This guide simplifies the process, encouraging gardeners at any latitude to embrace the challenge. Let’s dive into the world of growing artichokes, even in the coolest of climates!

Introduction to Artichokes: A Unique Vegetable

Artichokes are truly a gem among vegetables, offering a uniquely luxurious taste when freshly picked and cooked. It’s fascinating to think that these delicious plants are actually a type of thistle.

They spread out quite a bit and don’t produce much per area, but in the right mild and moist conditions, they thrive as perennials, often producing for over five years. In cooler areas, however, it’s best to grow them as annuals because their roots can’t survive harsh winters. They’re pretty easy to care for, demanding very little attention.

Native to the Mediterranean, the Globe Artichoke has been cherished since ancient Greek times. What makes them special is that the edible part is the flower bud, specifically the scales and the base.

There’s nothing quite like walking down to your garden, plucking a fresh artichoke, and prepping it as a starter. I like to steam it and pair it with melted garlic butter mixed with a dash of fresh lemon juice. Eating it leaf by leaf, dipped in butter, is a divine ritual, especially when paired with a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc.

Globe artichokes belong to the thistle family, and they are versatile enough to be grown in various climates, either as perennials or annuals. In warmer zones (7–11), they can be grown as perennials, where they last beyond two years. In cooler zones (3–6), treat them as annuals, completing their lifecycle in one season.

This is fine, as it aligns with the life cycles of many other vegetables. Some varieties are even specifically bred for annual growing.

Introduction to Artichokes
Credit: Gardener’s Path

Artichokes not only mirror the life cycle of perennial flowers—emerging each year, blooming, then dying off in winter to return in spring—but also typically don’t bloom in their first year. Instead, they focus on developing their roots and foliage.

To encourage flowering in their first year, you can simulate winter conditions through a process called vernalization. This doesn’t require actual snow; just temperatures below 50ºF for a few weeks. Depending on your climate, this chilling period can be managed naturally or artificially, ensuring your artichokes bloom splendidly in their initial year.

Growing Artichokes in Any Location

Artichokes are versatile and can thrive under various conditions, although they have specific cultural requirements. These robust plants love soaking up the sun in either full or partial shade. They’re quite hungry too, so enriching your soil with a few inches of compost before you plant them is crucial.

Artichokes aren’t fans of soggy soil, especially during the cold months. Opt for a well-draining spot to plant and lay down a good layer of organic mulch to keep the roots cool when temperatures climb, which also helps suppress weeds.

Regular watering is key to keeping artichokes happy, particularly when they start developing their flower stalks and buds. If they dry out, you might find the buds blooming into purple, thistle-like flowers prematurely, and you won’t be able to eat them.

Most artichokes won’t produce their edible buds until the second growing season, although some types can be treated as annuals. This makes winter care crucial, especially in cooler climates. Your approach to growing them will vary based on your local conditions.

The success of your artichoke garden hinges on your familiarity with their growth cycle and your specific growing zone.

The part of the artichoke you eat is actually the immature flower bud. If left unharvested, these buds will turn into striking purple flowers that attract bees and other pollinators. With each year, an artichoke plant will continue to produce more buds for about five years. After this, production may taper off, but you can propagate new plants from side shoots.

Worried that artichokes won’t bloom until their second year? Fear not—we’ve got all the tips you need to get your artichokes flourishing in no time!

Choosing the Right Artichoke Varieties

Artichokes typically thrive as perennials, but in cooler, subarctic regions, you’ll need to select specific types tailored for these conditions. The key is to opt for artichokes that are bred for annual harvesting. Notably, ‘Imperial Star’ and ‘Green Globe’ are two varieties well-suited for colder gardens.

Imperial Star Artichoke
Credit: Johnny’s Selected Seeds

The ‘Imperial Star’ is a standout for its ability to yield fully matured green artichokes in its first year from seeding, typically within about 85 days. On the other hand, the ‘Green Globe’ takes a bit longer, around 120 days, but is equally capable of adapting to harsh climates.

Imperial Star Artichoke
Credit: Victoriana Nursery

Additionally, there are other intriguing options like the ‘Colorado Star’, which produces distinctive purple buds, and variants such as ‘Tavor’ and ‘Violetto’. While ‘Imperial Star’ and ‘Green Globe’ remain popular, newer strains like ‘Purple Imperial Star’ also offer unique aesthetics with their vibrant hues.

However, if you’re new to growing artichokes in cold environments, it might be wise to start with the green varieties before venturing into the more temperamental purple types, which are often more challenging to cultivate successfully.

Also, keep in mind that while some artichoke variants claim to have annual growing capabilities, their seeds can be hard to come by, such as ‘Madrigal’ and ‘Symphony’. So, when planning your garden, it’s crucial to source seeds or plants from reliable suppliers to ensure a fruitful growing season.

Growing Artichokes in Warm Climates

Artichokes thrive as a perennial in USDA zones 8 and higher, although they struggle in the deep South due to high summer temperatures. To successfully cultivate artichokes in these warmer regions, approach them as true perennials.

Opt for varieties suited to warmer weather, such as the Green Globe, Imperial Star, Symphony, Green Globe Improved, or those with purple buds like Opera, Tempo, and Concerto, which are ideal for these conditions.

You can start your artichoke plants from seeds, root cuttings, or divisions at the onset of spring. Expect them to yield artichokes for five to 10 years, starting from their second year. Once the plants begin to decline in production, they will need replacing.

The initial harvest typically begins in the second spring. After collecting the spring artichokes, trim the flowering stalks back to the base to promote a second round of crops in late summer or autumn.

For those in USDA zones 8 or higher, preparing artichokes for winter involves cutting them down to ground level after the fall harvest and covering them with a three-inch layer of straw or shredded leaves. When spring is around the corner, simply remove the mulch to make way for new growth.

Growing Artichokes in Cooler Climates

Thinking about cultivating artichokes in zones 5, 6, or 7? Here’s what you need to know. You can opt to grow these tasty veggies as either annuals or perennials, depending on your gardening goals.

Annual Artichokes

Start by choosing varieties like Northern Star, Emerald, or Imperial Star, which are suited for cooler temperatures and shorter growing periods. Kick off the process by planting seeds indoors under grow lights around 10 to 12 weeks before your area’s last frost date is anticipated.

Keep your seedlings under grow lights to maintain their vibrant green color and compact form, and use a heating pad to warm the soil and encourage germination

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As they grow, transfer them to progressively larger pots. You’ll want to move these seedlings outside about three to four weeks prior to the last expected frost. Briefly exposing young plants to cooler temperatures, specifically between 35 and 50 degrees F for about 10 to 14 days, triggers them to flower in their first year.

Delaying their outdoor transition until warmer temperatures arrive may hinder their ability to produce artichokes during their initial season. After the harvest in late summer or fall, you can compost the plants or attempt to overwinter them.

Perennial Artichokes

If you’re aiming for a perennial setup, select robust varieties like Northern Star, Violetto, or Grande Buerre, which can generally endure temperatures as low as 20 degrees F. Start these plants from seeds, divisions, or root cuttings, and allow them to grow throughout the season, although they typically won’t bloom in the first year.

Prepare them for winter by cutting the plants down to about 12 inches after the first mild frost and encasing them in a wire cage filled with compost and topped with straw or leaves. Cover the setup with a tarp to secure it until spring, then remove the mulch a few weeks before the anticipated last frost.

For those grown as perennials, expect flowering stalks to emerge in early spring of the second year. Post-harvest, cut these back to encourage a secondary yield in the fall.

Alternative Overwintering Method

Artichokes can thrive as perennials in various climates if you protect their root crowns from freezing temperatures. To ensure they survive the winter, it’s essential to use a deep layer of straw mulch—about 12 inches should suffice, although 18 inches might be needed in colder areas for adequate insulation.

When prepping artichokes for winter, start by layering them with straw. Then, add an additional layer of protection using row covers, baskets, or similar materials to trap heat and shield the plants.

Structures like hoop houses or tunnels are also beneficial as they prevent snow and ice from accumulating directly on the plants, although they still require that crucial layer of mulch.

For those in particularly harsh climates, another viable method to overwinter artichokes involves cutting the plants down to the soil line at the end of the growing season and excavating them.

Carefully remove the soil from their roots and store the bare-root plants in a box filled with peat moss located in a cool, yet above-freezing, space like a garage or basement. Come spring, these artichokes can be replanted in your garden, ready for another season of growth.

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Growing artichokes from seed

Growing artichokes from seed can be a rewarding venture if you know when and how to plant them based on your climate zone. For those in cooler zones (up to zone 6), it’s best to start your seeds indoors roughly 8 to 12 weeks before the last expected frost.

If you’re growing Globe Artichokes, remember to pre-chill (cold stratify) your seeds for two weeks to prepare them for planting. In warmer areas (zone 7 and above), aim to sow your seeds in August, planning for a transplant in late fall, around October or November.

Here’s how to get those artichoke seeds to germinate without a hitch:

  1. Cold stratify your seeds—this helps mimic their natural growing conditions.
  2. Sow your seeds a quarter inch deep in a quality seed starting mix.
  3. Maintain a warm, moist environment to help the seeds sprout, which should happen within 10 to 20 days.
  4. Use grow lights to encourage strong, healthy growth.
Growing artichokes from seed
Credit: hortmag

When it comes to transplanting, timing is everything. Artichoke seedlings need a good 2 to 3 months of growth before they’re ready to move outdoors. They require a spell of cold weather to trigger bud formation—this process is called vernalization.

Make sure they experience 10 to 12 days of temperatures below 50°F once established to promote budding. Without this cold spell, your plants might never flower.

Choose a well-drained spot in your garden and space the plants about 4 feet apart, as they can grow quite large. It’s crucial to keep the area weed-free while the plants are young and more vulnerable. In regions with milder winters, planting out in October and November is ideal, just ensure that the seedlings are protected if temperatures dip below 32°F.

And if you’re hoping to enjoy your own home-grown artichokes in the first year? The trick is to fool the plant into thinking it has already endured a winter, encouraging it to start producing those delicious buds sooner.

Growing artichokes

Growing artichokes can add a touch of unique elegance to your garden, and they don’t need to be confined to the typical vegetable patch. Thriving best in fertile, well-drained soil that catches plenty of sunlight, these plants require at least six to eight hours of direct sun daily to flourish and produce their distinctive blooms.

The soil’s pH levels are crucial for encouraging artichokes to flower, with a slightly acidic range of 6 to 6.5 being ideal. Temperature also plays a significant role; artichokes favor moderate climates. Extreme cold can harm them, while excessively warm conditions may cause premature blooming, resulting in less tender buds.

In regions with mild winters, artichokes can be cultivated as perennials. To ensure their survival, it’s vital to shield them from temperatures dropping below 25ºF. When preparing your garden, choose sandy, yet rich soil which ensures adequate drainage to avoid root rot while retaining enough moisture to sustain the plants in heat.

Growing artichokes
Credit: Gardener’s Path

Artichokes are deep-rooted and demand substantial watering to support their bloom development—aim to keep the soil consistently moist, providing about one to two inches of water weekly. Signs of inadequate watering include loose buds and black tips on leaves, although this discoloration doesn’t affect the edible parts.

To maintain the soil’s moisture and coolness, apply a thick layer of mulch. Suitable materials include grass clippings, straw, and compost.

Since artichokes are heavy feeders, enrich the soil with compost prior to planting and keep up with nitrogen-rich fertilizer applications every four weeks after transplanting. Be cautious to fertilize around the base of the plant without touching the stem to prevent damage.

For those growing artichokes as perennials, it’s not necessary to fertilize during their dormant stage, though a boost of phosphorus can promote robust root growth and plant development early on. Phosphorus, a critical nutrient for plants, aids in cell division and overall vitality.

Managing Pests and Diseases in Artichokes

Artichokes are pretty tough when it comes to pests and diseases, but they’re not completely immune. One common foe is the aphid, which can be effectively dealt with using natural remedies like blasting them with a strong stream of water.

While serious diseases rarely plague artichokes, they can occasionally succumb to issues like botrytis and powdery mildew, especially in damp conditions.

A good tip to keep these problems at bay is to space your artichoke plants properly. This allows ample airflow around each plant, which is crucial for preventing both pests and diseases. Keep it simple and natural, and your artichokes will thrive!

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Growing In Containers

Growing artichokes isn’t just for sprawling gardens or fields; they thrive equally well in containers, which is a game-changer for gardeners in cooler climates. Instead of bundling up in-ground artichokes with heaps of mulch, those of us in the north can simply tuck our container-grown artichokes away in an unheated garage or root cellar when the cold sets in.

As winter approaches, trim the plants down to their base, and stash the pot in a spot that stays between 35 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. During these chilly months, a splash of water every four to six weeks is all they need.

While artichokes aren’t too fussy about needing warm soil, they do appreciate it. In places with subarctic climates, the inconsistent ground temperatures can make it tricky for artichokes to flourish reliably. Some years might yield a good crop, but others? Not so much. That’s why container growing can be a stellar alternative.

Here at Harvest Savvy, we favor black 5-gallon buckets outfitted for sub-irrigated watering, which helps us sidestep the soil temperature issue. Any container does a better job than the unpredictable earth!

Regarding space, artichokes like their elbow room. Under the generous glow of the midnight sun, these plants can get pretty sizable, ideally needing about 24 inches of space between them. However, we’ve found that even with a snugger 18-inch spacing, our artichokes still thrive and produce bountifully.

Growing Artichokes In Containers
Credit: Balcony Garden Web

Harvesting Artichokes

When it comes to harvesting artichokes, the process remains consistent no matter where they are grown. It’s important to snip the buds off the plant before the scales begin to spread apart.

You’ll want to use a sharp knife to sever the bud along with about two to three inches of the stem. The primary bud is typically the largest and is flanked by smaller, yet equally tasty, side buds.

Artichokes reach their prime harvesting size at about three inches across. At this stage, the bud should be compact, with only the lowest bracts starting to splay slightly.

For cutting, angle your knife or pruning shears at 45 degrees and make the cut two to three inches below the bud. It’s best to use your artichokes right away, although they can be kept at a chilly 32ºF to extend their freshness for a week or two.

Harvesting Artichokes
Credit: Edible Northeast Florida

After the side buds are done producing, trim back the plant to encourage new growth. If you’re cultivating artichokes as perennials, this is a great time to propagate new plants. Simply divide the young shoots that appear at the base and relocate them.

Perennial varieties can yield crops for up to five years. As for preserving artichoke hearts, they can be canned to enjoy when they’re out of season, and should be stored at 60-70°F.

When stored in your refrigerator’s vegetable drawer, they’ll stay fresh for about a week—just make sure not to wash or cut them until you’re ready to use them to keep them as fresh as possible.

FAQs about Artichokes

  • When is the ideal time to plant artichokes?

The perfect timing for planting artichokes varies based on your climate. In regions with milder winters, like California and Texas, you should ideally plant artichokes around October and November.

If you’re starting from seeds, begin 8 to 12 weeks prior to planting them outside. In colder climates, sow the seeds indoors around January and move them outside once the temperatures are consistently above freezing yet still under 50ºF.

  • Are artichokes better as annuals or perennials?

Typically, artichokes are short-lived perennials, thriving for about five years. However, in areas experiencing harsh winters, it’s common to grow them as annuals.

  • Why aren’t my artichokes flowering?

For artichokes to flower, they require a chilling period. A stretch of about ten days with temperatures ranging from 45-50ºF will encourage the plants to start budding. Ensure your young plants get this necessary cold snap, known as vernalization, to kickstart their flowering process.

  • Is it feasible to grow artichokes in containers?

Absolutely! Growing artichokes in containers is doable but requires diligent care, including regular watering and fertilization. Since artichokes need ample space to flourish, opt for a large container, ideally one that holds at least 3 gallons or measures around 20 inches in diameter.

Growing artichokes not only provides you with delicious hearts but also enhances your garden’s aesthetic appeal. Their presence attracts bees and other beneficial insects, especially when allowed to bloom.

By understanding the growth cycle of artichokes and using quality heirloom seeds, you can successfully integrate these plants into your edible garden or permaculture landscape. Whether for their taste or their decorative value, growing artichokes can be a rewarding endeavor.

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