Silvery green spiky leaves and flowers give artichokes a distinctive look that stands out in landscape and garden design. You would never suspect that a tender artichoke heart hides deep in those formidable layers.
Most commercial artichokes are grown in the coastal regions of California and Italy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow them in your garden.
If you’ve hesitated to grow this beautiful plant because it’s complicated, we’ve broken down the process to explain how to grow artichokes in any location.
Growing Artichokes in Any Location - How Artichokes Grow
Successfully growing edible artichokes depends on understanding how they grow and your growing zone.
The immature flower buds are the edible part of the artichoke plant. Left alone, these flower buds will blossom into beautiful purple flowers, attracting bees and pollinators. The artichoke plant will produce more flower buds each succeeding year until it stops producing around five years. However, side shoots can be divided and transplanted.
If you think you can’t grow artichokes because they won’t flower until the second year, we’ve got all the artichoke growing tips for you!
Artichoke Growing Cycle
Artichokes are a perennial vegetable. Or a better way to think of them is as a perennial flower. We expect a perennial flower to grow each year, blossom, and then die in the winter to come back in the spring. Artichokes grow very similarly.
And like some other perennial flowers, artichokes often don’t produce blooms their first year. They spend the first year growing roots and leaves instead. After they’ve gone through their first winter, then they will start producing flowers.
The secret to growing artichokes that you can harvest in the first year is to trick the plant into thinking it’s been through a winter season.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to go through months of snow and ice to grow artichokes. Artichoke plants just have to believe they’ve gone through winter. And they don’t even need that cold of winter, just temperatures below 50ºF. Once they’ve gone through a season of cold, the plant will start flowering. This is called vernalization.
If you want your artichoke plants to flower in your first growing year, you must put them through several weeks of cold temperatures. Depending on your growing zone, you can do it naturally or artificially.
If outdoor temperatures align with your growing season, you can place artichoke seedlings outdoors for 10 to 12 days when temperatures are above freezing but still below 50ºF. If the nights are too cold, bring them indoors at night but still keep them cool. 10 to 12 days is usually sufficient, but some artichoke varieties need a longer cold period of at least 14 days and up to 20 days.
How to Grow Artichokes from Seed
Depending on your growing zone, you can plant artichoke seeds in spring, late summer, or fall. Artichokes can take 85 to 120 days to mature to the harvest stage.
For planting artichokes in zones 6 and lower, start artichoke seeds indoors 8 -12 weeks before the last frost date. (For Globe Artichokes, cold stratify seeds for two weeks before planting.)
For planting zones 7 and higher, start artichoke seeds in August for October and November transplanting.
Tips for fail-proof artichoke seed germination
How to transplant artichoke seedlings
When it’s time to transplant your artichoke seedlings, there are some extra tips for growing a successful plant.
Artichoke seedlings usually need 2 to 3 months to grow before they are large enough for transplanting.
Timing the weather is essential for transplanting artichokes. Artichoke plants need a period of cold weather to produce buds - the part you want to eat. This is the vernalization mentioned earlier.
Ensure that your artichoke seedlings go through 10-12 days of temperatures under 50° once established to encourage budding. This signals to the plant that it has gone through a winter season and is mature enough to start producing flowers. Artichoke plants won’t flower if they aren’t chilled when young.
If your location has temperatures in this range at the right time, you can plant seedlings outside. Otherwise, you can put them in a cold spot for that period of time.
Plant artichokes in well-worked soil with good drainage.
Space artichoke plants up to 4 feet apart. Artichoke plants can grow large. They are typically 3 to 6 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet wide.
Keep weeds out when artichoke plants are small. Once the plants are larger and well-established, they often overtake the weeds.
In growing zones with mild winters, you can plant out seedlings in October and November.
They will be fine if temperatures don’t drop below 32ºF when the plants are still seedlings. Cover and protect seedlings when temperatures drop below 32ºF.
The secret to harvesting artichokes in the first year?
Trick the plant into winter!
How to grow artichoke plants
The unique beauty of artichokes lends them to being grown in all kinds of locations. They don’t have to be with all the other vegetables. You can grow them in any location with fertile, well-draining soil and full sun.
Artichokes need full sun to thrive and develop blooms. They must have a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sun. Otherwise, they won’t flower.
The soil pH is another important factor for artichoke flowering. Soil pH of 6 to 6.5 is optimal for growing artichokes.
Temperature also affects artichoke blooms. They prefer growing in moderate temperatures. If it’s too cold, they’ll freeze. If it’s too hot, they may bloom too early, and the buds won’t be tender.
Artichokes can be a perennial in growing zones with mild winters. To continue growing artichokes, protect them from temperatures below 25ºF.
Soil for Artichoke Plants
Prepare the soil before planting artichokes. These Mediterranean natives prefer sandy soil that is also fertile. The best soil for growing artichokes must drain well to prevent the roots from rotting and retain enough water for the plants to draw on during hot weather.
Watering Artichoke Plants
Artichokes have deep roots and need lots of water for good flower bud development. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. One to two inches of water per week is usually sufficient.
Loose buds can be a sign of not enough water. Another sign of not enough water can be black tips on the artichoke plants. But the color won’t affect the edible parts of the artichoke.
Mulch heavily to keep the soil moist and the ground cool. Grass clippings, straw, and compost are all good mulches to use around artichoke plants.
Fertilizing Artichoke Plants
Artichokes are heavy feeders, so prepare your soil ahead of planting and plan to apply fertilizer throughout the growing season.
Prepare your soil for artichokes by adding compost before transplanting. After transplanting, use a nitrogen fertilizer every four weeks. When applying fertilizer, remember to side dress or apply fertilizer near the base of the plant but not too close to the stem, where it could burn the foliage.
If you are growing artichokes as perennials, you don’t need to fertilize them during the dormant phase. But you can apply extra phosphorus. Phosphorus is one of the three primary nutrients that plants need. It is used for cell division and will help with root growth and early plant development.
Solutions for artichoke pests and diseases
Artichokes don’t have many pests or diseases.
Aphids can be a problem, but they can be managed with natural methods.
Diseases for artichokes mostly happen in wet conditions, such as botrytis and powdery mildew.
Spacing artichoke plants far enough apart will give them room for good airflow and help mitigate diseases and pests.
Artichokes have one main bud and several side buds. The central bud is usually the largest. You can have many side buds depending on how many years the plant has been growing.
Artichokes are ready to harvest when they are about three inches in diameter. The bud should still be fairly tight with the bracts (bud leaves) not open. Just the very bottom bracts will be starting to pull away.
Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle, about 2 to 3 inches below the bud. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears. Use the artichokes immediately or store them at 32ºF for 1 to 2 weeks.
Once the side buds have finished producing, you can cut back the plant so new stems will grow.
You can grow new artichoke plants from the offshoots when artichokes are grown as perennials. These new growth shoots can be divided and transplanted into new spots.
Cut off artichoke shoots below the soil, where they are attached to the root ball. Pull off the shoot with the roots still attached and transplant them to their new space.
Perennial artichoke plants will continue producing for up to five years.
It is possible to grow artichokes as perennials in many growing zones. The secret to growing perennial artichokes is to keep the root crown from freezing. As mentioned earlier, artichokes need a season of cold to signal the plant to create new flower buds. But temperatures below 25ºF will kill the roots.
Covering artichoke plants can keep them warm enough to survive the winter. You will need to add at least 12 inches of straw mulch to protect the artichoke plants in mild winters. In some locations, 18” is necessary for sufficient warmth.
After covering the artichoke plants with straw, cover the plants with a row cover, basket, or anything else that can hold in heat and provide protection. Hoop houses and tunnels will also keep the snow and ice off the plants, but artichoke plants will still need the thick, 12-inch layer of mulch.
FAQs about Artichokes
When do you plant artichokes?
The best time to plant artichokes depends on your growing zone. In zones with mild winters, such as California and Texas, artichokes are usually transplanted into the garden in October and November. Seeds will need to be started 8 to 12 weeks before transplanting. In cooler growing zones, artichokes are started from seed in January and transplanted outdoors when temperatures are above freezing but below 50ºF.
Are artichokes annuals or perennials?
Artichokes are considered short-lived perennials because they last about five years. They are often grown as annuals in climates with cold winters.
Why didn’t my artichoke plant flower?
Artichokes need a chilling period to flower. Ten days of temperatures between 45-50ºF will signal the plants to create buds. Make sure your artichoke seedlings experience a period of cold. This vernalization will let the plants know it’s time to produce flower buds.
Can you grow artichokes in containers?
Yes, you can grow artichokes in pots. It will take some extra maintenance to keep the pot watered and fertilized. Artichokes also need a lot of room to grow, so use a big enough container, at least 3 gallons or 20”.
Artichokes can be grown for their edible tender hearts or for the beauty and interest they add to the landscape. When left to flower, they are visited by bees and other beneficial insects.
If you love eating artichoke hearts, you’ll want to grow your own artichoke plants. And once you understand the lifecycle of artichokes, it simplifies the growing process. With these growing tips and reliable heirloom seeds, you can successfully add artichokes to your edible landscape or permaculture garden.
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