With long, silvery leaves and strikingly attractive blooms, the artichoke is a unique addition to your vegetable garden. Growing artichokes isn’t difficult, and with the proper planting, watering and pruning, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of edible chokes.
Many people think of thistles as prickly weeds, and no gardener wants a weed in their vegetable garden. But the artichoke, scientifically known as Cynara scolymus, proves that not all thistles are a nuisance. Eaten by the ancient Greeks and Romans, this member of the thistle family has been cultivated as a gourmet food for centuries.
Where do artichokes grow? Although the artichoke isn’t traditionally a hugely popular plant in the United States, it can actually be grown in almost all US growing zones. Artichoke growing zones range from Zones 3-11, while artichokes grow as perennials in Zones 7-11. Colder zone gardeners can still grow artichokes, but only as annual vegetables. Most of the plant is edible, but the portion usually eaten is the immature flower bud in the center, formed before the artichoke blooms.
Members of the thistle family are known for their ability to grow in almost any location. Because artichokes require lots of room and a long growing season, how to grow artichokes and achieve large harvests is a primary concern for many growers.
Artichokes love to eat up all the nitrogen from soil. If you’re planting artichokes in your vegetable garden, good artichoke companion plants include peas, cabbage, sunflowers and tarragon. These plants will not compete for nutrients.
To prepare your artichoke bed, dig your row at least 8 inches deep and work in 5 inches of compost. For a large artichoke garden, mix in 100 lb. of manure for every 100 square feet of garden space.
With a height of 3 to 4 feet and a mature diameter of up to 6 feet, artichokes take up a lot of space. Artichoke plants require full sun, so if you plant them too closely together, the large plants can shade smaller ones. Plant your artichoke transplants in a row at an interval of 4 to 6 feet. Placing rows 6 to 8 feet apart will allow room to easily water, fertilize and harvest. Building the row up in a mound or with irrigation channels will help improve soil drainage.
Extremely hot summers can cause artichoke buds to open quickly into flowers. To prevent this from happening, overhead irrigation can keep the temperatures down so buds won’t open. Mulching around each plant can also help reduce soil temperatures and water evaporation.
After harvesting the center bud, the artichoke plant will produce side shoots with small buds between 1 to 3 inches in diameter. These side buds are extremely tender and flavorful.
Trimming an artichoke is not difficult once you understand the process. Artichokes require just a bit of work after harvest to become edible.
The many different varieties of artichokes mean you can choose the perfect variety for your garden. Some of the most popular types of artichoke include:
While overwhelmingly hardy plants, gardeners should be on the alert for a few of the following common pests and diseases for artichokes.
The artichoke season depends on your climate and variety. In the extremely warm coastal areas of Zones 9-11, artichokes grow throughout the winter and begin bud growth in May. Harvest continues into mid-June. In the mid-range zones of the country, artichokes live through winter under the soil and begin new growth once the ground begins to warm in the spring. Annual artichokes can be transplanted into the garden after the last frost.
Artichokes thrive in areas with mild winters, cool summers and plenty of moisture. As a perennial, artichokes perform well in hardiness Zones 7-11. Colder zone gardeners can grow artichokes as an annual vegetable or over-winter their perennial varieties in a sheltered area.
Transplanting artichokes is the ideal method of planting. Artichoke seeds are usually only 80% true to their parent plant. Transplants from indoor starts or dividing ensures you grow exactly what you want.
While mature artichoke plants do have a somewhat bushy appearance, there actually is no such thing as an artichoke bush or an artichoke tree. The artichoke is a member of the thistle family and grows large stalks with edible buds that are widely used in culinary dishes around the world.
Perennial varieties of artichokes usually begin budding in their second year of growth. In ideal growing conditions – such as the coastal areas of California – artichoke plants produce buds throughout the entire year. For the rest of the country, buds begin to appear in early summer. The center bud matures the fastest, followed by the side buds for the rest of the growing season. Most artichoke plants reach harvest in 85 to 100 days.
Size is the primary way to tell if an artichoke is ripe. The central choke bud should be harvested when it is between 3 to 5 inches in diameter. If you wait too long, the artichoke becomes tough. The secondary side buds are best harvested when between 1 to 3 inches in size. If you wait too long to harvest, the bud will open into the artichoke flower – a surprisingly fragrant and beautiful flower.
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