At first glance, an artichoke is an intimidating vegetable to grow and eat, but once you peel away the bracts and reveal the heart of the artichoke, it is delicious to eat and simple to grow.
The artichoke that we love to eat, is actually the edible flower bud of a native Mediterranean thistle-like plant. Artichokes are grown as a perennial in the warm sunny zones of 7-11, and are easy to grow if you have room. Artichokes can be grown as an annual in the cooler zones.
Helpful vocabulary for artichokes:
Botanical name: Cynara scolymus
Common names: Artichoke, Globe Artichoke, French Artichoke, Green Artichoke
- Bud or Head: Contains heart, and is topped by fuzzy flowers.
- Choke: Center of head containing fuzzy flowers, edible when young.
- Bract: Green scales protecting tender inner-part of the artichoke bud that we call the heart. Sometimes mistakenly called leaves.
- Heart: Tender, inner edible flesh at base of artichoke bud.
- Stalk: Stem, edible when harvested young; leave 2-3 inches of stem intact when harvesting.
Learn how to grow artichokes with these 5 tips:
1. How to grow artichokes: Understand how artichokes grow
- When artichokes are grown as a perennial, the plants will produce leaves the first year and may form a few bulbs.
- Buds are edible when harvested young, before opening and developing into flowers.
- At the end of flowering, plants should be cut down to ground and mulched heavily with compost.
- In subsequent years, bulb production will increase and bud production will continue for the next 4-5 years.
- Plants will also produce side shoots which can be allowed to develop and then removed when less than 10 inches tall, and replanted to start additional plants or shared with friends.
2. How to grow artichokes: Plant the correct variety at the right time
Green Globe and Purple Italian Globe are varieties that grow well in warm climates like Arizona. Plant artichoke seeds or transplants in November in Arizona, and allow them to grow through the winter to become well-rooted. You can also plant transplants from the end of January through March in Arizona. The plants’ growth will take off in the spring, and should begin producing bulbs in April or May each year.
In cooler climates, Imperial Star Artichokes are bred to produce in a single season as an annual. Use transplants from the local nursery or start seeds indoors in late winter or early spring, and set out once the danger of hard frost has past. Harvest will occur in the fall.
3. How to grow artichokes: Give artichokes room to grow
Plant artichoke starts 4 feet apart to allow plenty of room for mature plants which can be up to 4 feet wide and 3 to 4 feet tall. Artichokes grown as annuals can be spaced closer together, up to 3 feet. In Arizona, artichokes prefer a little afternoon shade. Artichoke plants typically live 4-5 years, so choose the location well. Soil should drain well; waterlogged soil will cause root rot.
4. How to grow artichokes: Give artichokes plenty of food and water
Water artichokes evenly throughout the growing season, and do not let them dry out during the rest of the year. As buds develop, provide plenty of water for large, dense bulbs. Artichokes are large plants with deep roots, and are heavy feeders. Amend soil well with lots of compost, and feed hungry plants at least once a month with fish emulsion or other organic fertilizer during the growing season.
5. How to grow artichokes: Harvest artichokes correctly and at the right time
When is the perfect time to harvest artichokes? When the bottom bud scales begin to separate from the base of the bulb, it is time to harvest! Buds should be harvested while tight and firm, and around 3 inches in diameter. To harvest, cut stem 2-3 inches below bud with a sharp knife. Store harvested buds in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
If buds begin to open, they become tough and inedible, and it’s too late to harvest them. The unharvested buds mature into brilliantly colored flowers. The beautiful blooms attract pollinators; enjoy the beauty they add to the garden. Harvest the seeds from dried blooms if desired.
If growing as a perennial, after blooms are spent or all buds are harvested, cut plants back to ground and cover with at least 2 inches of organic mulch. A vining plant such as malabar spinach or Armenian cucumbers grown over the crowns in the summer can cool the roots and help them survive the hot summers of Arizona.