Artichokes are delicious to eat roasted, grilled, fried or steamed, and in the garden they provide incredible ornamental value with their structural form, silver-green foliage and blazing neon purple color when allowed to bloom. If you want to grow artichokes in your garden, here’s what you need to know.
You can also download my How Do I Grow Artichokes? one-sheet and keep the free resource handy for your reference.
Commercially, nearly all artichokes are grown in coastal central California, with mild winters and foggy summers. In such conditions, artichokes can produce as perennials for years.
Artichokes grow best in zones 10 and 11, which are humid and frost-free. In zones 7 to 9, artichokes just might overwinter. In cooler climates, artichokes can be grown as annuals.
Artichoke Seeds and Divisions
For gardeners in central California, artichoke divisions are easy to come by at local nurseries in-season. Divisions, called crowns, have the benefit of being identical to the parent plant, so you know exactly what you are getting.
Ensure that divisions are from a reliable source and free of disease.
Artichoke seeds, even from trusted seed companies, will not always grow true to the variety on the seed packet. This is just a quirk of artichokes and how they reproduce. If you live in an area where artichokes can’t be grown as perennials, then seeds are perhaps your only option — but that’s OK. Any slight variation is tolerable.
Seeds should be started indoors early, 10 to 12 weeks before the last frost date in your area. Plant seeds ¼ inch deep in seed starting mix. The soil temperature must be 60 to 80 degrees for the seeds to germinate, so a heated seed-starting mat can be used to ensure the proper temperature. In 10 days to three weeks, the seeds will germinate. Thin to one seed per cell.
Where, When and How to Plant Artichokes
In a site that gets full sun to partial shade, plant artichoke crowns or transplants after all risk of frost has passed — two weeks after the average last frost date. Avoid an area where plants will have to compete with trees for water and nutrients. If growing as a perennial, avoid annual planting beds where the frequent turnover may disturb the roots of artichoke plants.
The two most common reasons artichokes fail are drought in summer and waterlogged soil in winter. To avoid both of these situations, the soil should retain moisture yet drain well too.
Artichokes will be very unhappy in heavy soil, like clay. The best possible soil is a sandy loam generously amended with compost.
Allow plenty of room between plants, since at maturity they can span over 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Plant on mounds or in raised rows, so excess water can drain away more easily.
Loosen the roots of transplants before placing them in a hole just as big as the root ball. Backfill the hole until the roots are completely covered, and water in. Add more soil if applying water exposed the roots.
Crowns should be planted 6 to 8 inches deep. Planting time could be as early as August or as late as December, depending on your local climate. If they are for sale at your local nursery, chances are it’s the correct time to plant them, but you can always check with your local cooperative extension for the correct timing for your area.
If planning to grow artichoke as an annual, you’ll want a variety like Imperial Star, which was developed to mature a bit faster than other varieties. It takes 85 days from transplant to harvest.
Green Globe is a reliable cold-weather producer that is hardy in zones 7 and above. It is intended to be grown as a perennial, and it flowers in early summer.
The Italian classic Violetto is famous for its purple heads. While later maturing than Green Globe, it produces greater yields. It’s hardy in zones 6 and above.
Colorado Star is a variety that is new to the market in just the past couple of years. It is an early-maturing annual like Imperial Star (both were developed by breeder Keith Mayberry) but Colorado Star is purple rather than green. It can become a perennial if grown in zone 7 or warmer.
Artichokes are heavy feeders. Planting artichokes in compost-rich soil provides them with a good range of nutrients and a good start, but the soil should be supplemented with a balanced all-purpose organic fertilizer.
Mature artichoke plants can be side-dressed with high-nitrogen fertilizer. In a region where artichokes grow as perennials and produce all year long, apply fertilizer in fall. In regions where perennial artichokes die back in winter, do a spring feeding when new crowns begin to grow.
Artichokes should receive about an inch of water weekly during the growing season, and even more when it’s quite hot. If there has been less than an inch of rainfall in a week, make up the difference with supplemental watering.
An inch or two of organic mulch applied around plants will help retain moisture between waterings.
If soil is heavy and fails to drain, pull back on watering, as artichokes plants do not like wet feet.
Artichoke Pests & Diseases
Artichokes attract few pests and are rarely affected by disease.
Slugs and snails are the biggest pest concern. You may never see a slug, because they are active at night, but you will notice the holes they leave. For a minor infestation, slugs can be removed by hand. If slugs prove hard to keep up with, you can use Sluggo or similar products with iron phosphate as the active ingredient. Iron phosphate is a pet-safe, organic slug control.
Artichoke plume moth is a pest in areas where artichokes are grown as perennials. The larvae feed on bud stalks and eventually enter leak stalks and eat the plants from the inside. Any buds or foliage affected by these wormy larvae should be removed and destroyed. Check under leaves and on stalks for single, tiny greenish-yellow or orange-yellow eggs, and scrape them off.
Curly dwarf is a virus that stunts the growth and vigor of artichoke plants. Leafs curl and buds are fewer, misshapen, and small. If a plant becomes affected by curly dwarf, remove it, and do not use any divisions from that plant.
Blight sometimes affects the older leaves of artichoke plants. To manage blight, remove leaves as soon as you notice an issue, and dispose of the leaves outside of the garden. This should keep blight in check.
Keeping artichoke plants healthy will yield tall stems with multiple flower buds. For most varieties, this starts in early summer.
Cut buds when they’re firm and still closed, and about 3 inches in diameter. To make handling easier, leave about 2 inches of stalk below the bud when you cut it. Take care not to bruise the bud leaves.
If the bud has opened, consider simply leaving it on the stalk and enjoy it for its amazing flowers because once a bud begins to open, it loses its tenderness and won’t be as appealing to eat.
Once you’ve harvested all buds on the stalk, go ahead and cut it back to the ground. Harvest increases as the plant matures, so if you can overwinter it, all the better. The key is to protect the roots since the top growth will resprout the following spring. Apply a few inches of organic mulch, such as shredded leaves, over the winter to protect from prolonged severe frosts.
If growing where frost is rare, artichokes can give a first crop in fall and continue producing throughout the winter until peak production in spring, after which stalks can be cut down to the ground so new stalks may grow back in time for the next fall harvest.
Bud size will vary from one variety of artichoke to the next, so take note when planting so you’ll know when to harvest.
Use artichokes as soon as you harvest them, or refrigerate them for up to two weeks.
Do you grow artichokes? Let us know in the comments below.
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Links & Resources
Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below.
joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Three popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; and seed starting!
joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out.
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