How To Grow Artichoke
The artichoke is an easily recognizable vegetable best known for its delicious heart. But many varieties of artichokes provide edible pieces throughout the entire plant. The most popular type of artichoke, the globe artichoke, also has flower buds that are soft and flavorful. Big, silvery-green stems, leaves in the shape of pinecones, and thick flower buds give artichokes a unique visual appeal in a home vegetable garden.
Artichokes were reportedly raised by Thomas Jefferson at his home, Monticello, in the state of Virginia since 1767. Nearly all large-scale artichoke production occurs along coastal portions of California. Near the central valley of the state, warm weather, light rainfall, and a heavy dose of sun provide a great balance for artichoke plants.
Artichoke plants flourish best in places with light mist during a mild summer and moderate winters without heavy snow. Artichokes are perennials, producing harvests for five years. Plants will occasionally survive throughout the winter with consistent care in Zones 7-9, where the small number of freezing nights present only a small threat to artichoke plants. In colder areas, artichokes must be treated as annuals, planting them in spring. In normal conditions, artichokes thrive when initially planted in autumn within Zone 10 and Zone 11.
If you want artichokes to thrive year-round, choose your area well, considering that the plants are going to grow for approximately five years. Seedlings are planted atop the soil. Give room for plants to spread; fully-grown artichoke plants will be as high as five feet and take up more than four feet of width. In colder areas (Zone 6), artichokes can be grown closer, 2 to 3 feet apart; plants reaching its mature size will better prevent frost. Artichokes boom in full sunlight with some areas of partial shading also acceptable. Additionally they need consistent light, productive, great drainage and soil with some type of sand-based growing medium. Ready the soil first by beginning with a mixture of compost in a wide ditch in the main garden. At least eight inches of depth are required for optimal spacing and growing conditions for artichokes. Plants often die in drought conditions during the summer or in soggy, wet soil during winter. Adding compost increases the ground’s capability to keep water in summertime and drain quickly in cold temperatures.
To keep weeds from attacking entire groups of artichoke plants, be sure to spread a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil. The colder the growing area, the more important that artichoke plants are properly protected from threatening weeds. Use mulch with organic material (for example: dried out bunches of grass, clipped foliage, clean straw, animal manure that has been dried out, or even a mixture of all types of materials). Add mulch from the stalk of the plant out 12 inches. As buds start to grow then remove mulch and place a large bunch of compost near every stalk until all plants have at least four inches of protection from the ground soil.
After artichokes are unfurling, fertilize plants monthly with a liquid fertilizer (for example: Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food). Keep soil moist through the growing season. A high-potassium fertilizer (frequently referred to as a potash fertilizer) can be used every 14 days during intervals of active development to support flower bud growth.
Because the volume of artichoke produced goes up as plants get older, it is best to try to keep your plants alive throughout the entire winter. Unfortunately areas in the north are too cold to sustain outdoor artichoke plants. Growers in Zones 5 or lower will likely need an indoor space or greenhouse to maintain crops throughout the cold. For slightly warmer zones such as 6 or 7, cut the plants to one foot as winter approaches.
By piling organic mulching material onto the entire surface of artichoke plants, you can protect crops from initial stages of cold. Placing a large basket on top of the pile of mulch and plants will then shelter your plants from direct snow or freezing rain. Use as much compost as possible and protect every portion of the plant from direct exposure to the elements. As a final step, use some form of waterproof covering on top of the basket, mulch, and organic mulch.
For warmer zones, plants should be trimmed down to the base level of the ground soil. Cutting artichoke plants to even below the level of the ground is fine after the harvest has been completed. Make sure to pile organic mulch on top of the plants just as in colder zones to protect them from cold rain. Once the ground has thawed during the spring then any protective cover should be taken off of all plants. Even for the coldest growing zones, spring ground thaw determines when winter covers should be removed. After the plant begins to sprout for the new season then spread more organic material or compost along the entire base of the plant.
Growing artichokes presents a few potential difficulties. Young foliage may be attacked by slugs, while older leaves can be coated with Botrytis blight (a common fungal disease also known as gray mold). Killing these dangerous slugs by using specialized traps or baits is the only way to prevent them from killing your artichoke crop. If only several leaves have Botrytis blight on them then simply remove and dispose of infected leaves. Care for the plant using a fungicide (for example: neem oil).
In early summer the tall stems of the artichoke plant will create flower buds in the middle of the plant mass. Every single stem will produce multiple flower buds. The earliest bud to ripen is the strongest bud in the plant. When buds are still in a tight grouping of at least three inches (measured by full diameter), they are in ideal harvest conditions. Once the buds start to fully open they will cease to be as tender as less mature plants. After the entire flower bud has opened then they become inedible. Full flowering artichokes are a pretty garden decoration. If you trim a few inches of the stem with every bud you pick then it becomes easier to handle the entire plant. Unfortunately the buds that grow on the lower portion of the stem or buds that flower later will not be as good as the earliest bud. After you have harvested all the buds on one stem then trim the stem all the way down. Pruning the entire artichoke plant will cause a brand new crop to blossom during the next season.
Artichoke plants bloom with purple blossoms and are immensely useful as decoration in landscape gardens even when they are not eaten as a delicious vegetable. Artichokes keep within the fridge for approximately 14 days after they are harvested.