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HOW to PLANT and GROW ARTICHOKES - plus TIPS for growing

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Get a Head Start: Expert Tips for Growing Artichokes

Artichoke plants (Cynara scolymus) are perennial herbaceous plants that belong to the Asteraceae family, a group that includes thistles, dandelions, and sunflowers.

They are short-lived perennials in warmer climates but are generally grown as annuals in cooler regions. Artichokes are generally grown for edible flower buds, which are harvested before the flowers open.

Although still extremely popular in their native Mediterranean region, artichokes are not commonly grown in the United States; California is the only state with a large commercial artichoke industry.

The peak of the growing season there is March through May, but if you plant it indoors, you may have artichokes ripening all summer long. However, make sure you have room; these are very large plants.

The leaves of the artichoke are silver-green in color with an elongated, arched shape. Although they appear soft, the leaves can be quite prickly.

The stems of the plant are thick and fleshy. The flower buds are the pieces that are sold in the production halls. At the base of the bud is the tender and tasty "heart" of the artichoke.

When allowed to bloom on the plant, artichoke flowers open into large purple dome- or muffle-shaped thistles, which are surprisingly fragrant.

Artichokes are planted at different times of the year, depending on the climate. When grown as annuals, they need to be planted in spring.

In warmer areas, where they survive as perennials, they are usually planted as seeds in late summer or as young plants (or transplants) in mid-fall. They generally need 85-100 days to reach harvest.

Botanical NameCynara scolymus
Common NameArtichoke, globe artichoke, French artichoke, green artichoke
Plant TypeHerbaceous perennial
Mature Size3 to 6 feet tall, 4 to 5 feet wide
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeLight, fertile, well-drained
Soil pHNeutral (6.5 to 7.5)
Bloom TimeLate summer, early fall
Flower ColorPurple
Hardiness Zones7 to 11 (USDA)
Native AreaSouthern Mediterranean regions
ToxicityNon-toxic

How to Plant Artichokes

Since artichokes generally take two years to flower, they are usually sold as pot plants in the second year or as established rooted crowns.

They grow into large plants and should be at least 4 feet apart; 6 feet is even better.

The plants were grown as annuals, or where the buds will be destroyed by frost, they will not be as large and can be spaced a bit more. Pick the buds to eat before they turn into thistle flowers.

If you're growing them as annuals, cut them down to ground level after the flowers have wilted and covered them with straw for the winter.

Artichokes are often described as architectural plants, and one look at a tall, branching specimen will tell you why.

Since few animals attack artichokes, don't be afraid to plant them in their ornamental borders as edible landscapes.

You can still harvest them at will, but the stately plants and textured leaves will add visual interest throughout the season.

Artichoke plants should produce for three to five years and will develop lateral shoots at their bases. At this point, you can breed, divide, and replant the new shoots.

Artichoke Care

Light

Artichokes grow best in full sun. They can tolerate some shade, but flower buds will suffer a bit.

Soil

Artichokes prefer sandy, well-drained but fertile soils. The best is a slightly alkaline pH. Slightly sandy soil (think: Mediterranean) is ideal. Good drainage is essential to prevent root rot, especially in areas where they will overwinter.

However, the soil must also be able to hold water long enough for the roots to absorb it during hot summers.

When growing artichokes as perennials, it is especially important to correct the soil before planting to ensure that it will grow well for years to come. If your garden soil is poor, consider growing artichokes in raised beds.

Water

Water frequently and abundantly, one to three times a week. This will keep the buds fleshy and soft and will develop a strong root system that will keep the plants upright.

Temperature and Humidity

This plant prefers warm and relatively dry climates, such as those found in the Mediterranean region and California. Excessive heat will cause the plant to flower prematurely.

When grown as perennials, artichokes prefer areas with mild winters (50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit) and cool, humid summers (70 to 80 degrees F).

Very hot soil will cause the plants to bloom very quickly, so apply a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plants to keep the soil cool.

Fertilizer

Apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks during the growing season.

Artichoke Varieties

  • 'Big Heart' is a thornless variety that can handle some heat.
  • 'Green Globe' is the variety most often grown commercially in California, but it does not adapt as well to less-than-ideal growing conditions.
  • 'Imperial Star' is widely adaptable, easy to grow from seed, and bred to be grown as an annual. This is the variety recommended for gardeners in zones 6 and colder.
  • 'Purple of Romagna' is a tender Italian heirloom favored by chefs.
  • 'Violetto' is an Italian heirloom prized for its production of dozens of small side shoots.

How to Grow Artichokes From Seed

Start the seeds indoors, at least eight weeks before the date of the last frost. Harden seedlings before planting them outdoors, but don't wait until all danger of frost has passed - artichokes need to undergo slight cooling (not freezing) before sprouting.

This can be done by placing your plants outside in mid-spring and exposing them for a week to 10 days in temperatures around 50 degrees Fahrenheit or a little lower.

If you try to save your artichoke seeds, they may not grow, producing plants that vary greatly from their original plant.

You will be most successful with purchased seeds that have been grown under controlled conditions.

Common Pests and Diseases

Few parasites attack artichokes. Snails can be a problem during rainy weather, especially with more tender and tender leaves.

Aphids can become a nuisance too, but they can be washed off before they take over. Giving plants enough space to allow air to flow freely will help minimize aphid problems.

Botrytis, or gray mold, can affect the leaves and flower bracts.

It is most common on damaged leaves, which turn brown and then grayish.

Remove affected leaves as soon as the disease is evident. For severe infections, use a fungicide labeled for edible plants, such as neem.

Harvesting

Under ideal conditions, stabilized artichoke plants produce buds periodically throughout the year. However, in most areas, shoots begin to form in early summer.

The central bud matures first and can be harvested as soon as it reaches about 3 inches in diameter. Pick while the bracts are still well bent and the button looks firm.

You can cut a part of the stem 1 to 3 inches together with the button, to facilitate the work.

After cutting the center button, the side shoots will start to produce smaller buttons. Harvest when they are firm and reach 1 to 3 inches in diameter.

Small sprouts can be extremely soft and flavorful, requiring only slight heating before being consumed.

Winter Care

If you want to grow artichokes as perennials, adapt your winter methods to your climate:

  • Zones 8 and higher:  After the last harvest in the fall, cut the plants to ground level and cover with 2-4 inches of organic mulch, such as straw.
  • Zones 6 to 7:After the last harvest in the fall, trim the plants to about 12-18 inches. Cover the plant with organic mulch, such as straw, leaves, or even compost, and then cover it with a large basket. Place another layer of straw or leaves on top of the basket and cover everything with a waterproof tarp.
  • Zone 5 and cooler: You can try the method outlined for zones 6 to 7 or you can report your plants, move them to a dark place that remains cool, but above freezing, and water them occasionally during the winter. In spring, take the pots outside, after all the danger of frost, and replant the artichokes in the ground or continue growing in pots.

Whatever your area or method, remove all covers in the spring as soon as the ground thaws and there is no forecast of frost.

Enjoy This Video Tutorial About How to Grow Artichokes Start to Finish

Source: MIgardener

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