Growing Artichokes: Common Questions From Readers
Growing artichokes is such a joy. ♥ Here in Southern California artichokes are easy to grow. They love our mediterranean climate and are fantastic candidates for those of you looking to create an edible, low-maintenance landscape. If you go to the grocery store, you’ll see that good artichokes are both hard to find and expensive. That fact alone, makes them a prime candidate for growing at home.
I am thrilled to write this article for you because it is based off the many questions that you have submitted to me via Instagram. As much as I would love for everyone to grow artichokes, please keep in mind that, for some climates, it can be a struggle and may not be as worthwhile. I personally think growing plants that thrive in your unique climate is the key to gardening with less stress and making the most of your resources. Find your gardening zone HERE.
The climate for growing artichokes
Did you know that the Central coast of California not Southern California is typically said to be the ideal climate for artichokes? When I first started to research growing my own, everything talked about artichokes loving cooler summers and mild winters. Apparently, in these areas, artichoke season can be all through Summer until they die back in Fall.
Therefore, I’ve seen some differences while growing in an extremely hot, dry Summer environment. From my experience growing artichokes here in Southern California, I’ll say that they tend to do most of their production in Spring (when it is cooler here). Artichokes that form during the Summer result in a tougher artichoke that I usually just let bloom. I do observe wilting from my artichokes if I don’t water them on a hot day, but as soon I as I give them a good drink, they bounce back.
How do I water my artichokes? Well, we utilize multiple forms of irrigation all around our yard, but the artichoke bed is a drip emitter system. We select special drip emitters to come off of dripline tubing. When we don’t want to water that area anymore, we can simply shut off the emitters or change them to allow less water flow. For watering information read Watering & Irrigation Basics~ Insights From Our Garden.
Soil quality for growing artichokes
Another surprising thing I’ve learned about growing artichokes is how well they tolerate more clay-like soils with less organic matter. While I do top with compost about once a year, I have my artichokes planted in our mostly native soil—which contains a lot more clay. I’m also happy to report that my mom had the same experience with the artichoke plant that I gifted her. She planted it in her mostly clay soil and the artichoke has flourished. Most online resources say that artichokes like a sandy, loam soil with lots of organic matter, but I would say that in my garden they have demonstrated that they aren’t really finicky—as long as they get enough water!
Preparing the soil to grow artichokes is pretty straightforward. If your ground is really compact, you’ll need to use a shovel or garden to fork to loosen up the soil. Add in some compost (and optional organic amendments) and break apart clumps with your hands. For a full breakdown of how to amend garden soil organically, read HERE.
How much space do artichokes need? Mine are huge! At least 4 feet in diameter. My honest opinion is that the “ideal” situation for artichokes is to be spaced at least 3-4 feet apart, in the deepest bed possible (or in-ground). They establish a very large taproot. As with all things gardening, the “ideal” isn’t always possible and that’s okay. I’ve seen artichokes growing beautifully in raised beds, wine barrels, and large pots too. You’ll still get artichokes!
Want to see how huge my artichoke plants are now? I posted this fun video on Instagram.
Don’t forget to put them in full sun!
Are artichokes worth the space?
For a second, let’s pretend everyone likes artichokes, because if you don’t like artichokes you wouldn’t be interested in growing them. Yes, artichokes do take up lots of space, but when you grow your own you have the power to choose when you pick them for optimum quality and flavor. You can even grow a mixture of different varieties of artichokes that you can’t find in a grocery store.
Last time I saw artichokes in the grocery store, they were on sale for 2 for $4.00. I’m not sure if that is the usual pricing, but my plants put off more than 10 artichokes per plant each season, so I’m producing more than $20 worth of high quality, organic and delicious produce from one plant.
Artichokes are perennials in mild climates (see notes on growing from seed for colder climates), so you only need to start plants once and then you can technically have plants forever if you care for them properly.
So, to answer the question, I do believe artichokes are worth the space.
Growing Artichokes from Seed
Is it hard to start artichokes from seed? It is actually very easy to start artichokes from seed. All of mine were started from seeds in 4″ pots using this mix of Improved Globe and Purple of Romagna artichokes. The main concern when starting from seed is: when will you get your first harvest? In general, artichokes that are started from seed in Spring might not reach producing status until the following Spring (depending on weather and vigor). This can be an obstacle for those of you growing where the Winters are cold enough to kill the plants. I started my artichoke seeds in Fall of 2018 and had a wonderful crop that Spring 2019. It also might be possible to start your seeds indoors in early Winter for transplant in early Spring—to try and get a crop that same year. Bottom line, they take some time to establish. I would definitely start my seeds in Fall (for Southern CA) or early Winter or Spring.
For colder growing zones, look into growing artichokes as annuals. I recently saw this variety from Johnny’s Selected Seeds that was specifically bred for growing as an annual in colder climates.
Want all my seed starting tips? Start by checking out The Basics of Growing From Seed.
How many artichokes does one plant produce?
While I’m sure it depends on variety, my current record is over 15 from one plant. Now, this wasn’t at one time, but that’s how many I harvested in one season from a plant. A happy artichoke will produce more than an unhappy artichoke.
Do you divide your artichokes? How to Divide Artichokes!
You can. Lots of people do to get free plants! Artichoke plants produce “pups” each season–usually appearing in early Spring. An artichoke pup is basically a mini plant that seems to be growing off the base of the artichoke (see photo above of a cluster of artichoke pups). When the pup is still small, you can use a shovel to separate it from the plant cluster. This process is called “dividing” because you are splitting up the root system and separating the pups from the mother plant. See my helpful tips below for transplanting artichoke pups! This year my artichokes got away from me and I did not divide mine. They are still growing and producing fine! I do wonder if never dividing them can result in over-crowding (and thus diminished production) but that is one answer I do not know.
To divide artichoke pups for free plants: When the pups are small (about 6-12 inches is ideal), simply place the tip of a large shovel between the pup and the mother plant, push down hard to cut/separate the pup from the main root system, and transplant elsewhere. Water extremely well for the next several days to ensure recovery! When you dig up the pup, just check that it still has some root intact so it can survive the transplant. See my newly transplanted artichoke pup below:
Do you cut your artichokes down to the ground in Winter?
You should. I did not cut my artichokes down this Winter on accident! I got too busy and before I knew it, they were already pushing out Spring growth. In my garden, the artichokes died back on their own, although I did remove any thick stalks that died in Fall because I didn’t want bugs to use the dead stalks as an access point or for it to be a place where disease could start. Now, in cold climates that need to overwinter artichokes, you would probably need to cut them down in Fall and cover with a protective layer of mulch to get through the Winter.
It’s time to cut back artichokes after they flower and start to look terrible. If you haven’t seen an artichoke bloom, you are in for a treat! I simply leave the last of the artichokes on the plant (usually I can tell the season is almost over and I stop harvesting them), and they will bloom! After the blooms fade and everything starts to brown, chop them down to soil level.
What are some plants that grow well with artichokes?
Artichokes do die back in Winter, so they aren’t necessarily around for year-round interest. The internet says that sunflowers are good companion plants for artichokes, which I can say my sunflowers did grow well with them last year, but we have also grown salvia in our artichoke bed and this year we grew dahlias. What I liked about the dahlias is that they are Summer bloomers so, as the artichokes started to end production, I would cut off the outer leaves to allow the dahlia plants to get sun. By the time the artichokes finished, the dahlias were ready to take over! I say try some different plants and see what works for you!
How do you prepare and eat artichokes?
I go into great detail about how exactly to prepare artichokes in my fire grilled artichokes post—including an instructional video. The most important thing to remember is THORNS. Artichokes leaves have thorns on the outside and the inner leaves have them too. The second most important thing is that younger artichokes taste better and are less difficult/fibrous to eat. I always try and harvest my artichokes before the petals start to separate at all. In fact, “baby” artichokes are often used by gourmet chefs, but they are really just artichokes that are picked at a small size. Another benefit to growing your own artichokes!
Here are some other recipe ideas for artichokes:
Make your own marinated artichokes. You’ll have to prep, pre-steam, and cool your artichokes before making them. I’ve used this recipe before, but switched the lemon juice and oil amounts because I like more bite to my dressings. They are not meant for canning or long term storage.
This Food Network recipe for marinated artichokes is also good (but more work).
Want a main dish? Check out this delicious stuffed artichoke recipe, Carciofi Ripieni
Roast your artichokes! If you’re looking for a delicious vegetarian side dish using artichokes, try this Roasted Artichoke Recipe
Raw shaved artichoke salad (I don’t have a go-to recipe, but there are lots of options if you search it).
Have you heard about cynarin?
An odd phenomenon can sometimes occur when you eat an artichoke. Have you ever noticed that sometimes water tastes sweet after eating artichokes? Or maybe other foods taste sweeter when paired with them? This is due to a naturally ocurring compound in artichokes called cynarin. Cynarin plays with your taste buds. When you bite into an artichoke, you won’t taste the cynarin, but it will remain on your tongue and as you eat or drink other foods, they will taste sugary sweet. From what I’ve read, some people can taste this effect more than others. In my years eating artichokes, I have found that the cynarin effect will be stronger or less present based on many factors such as the variety, age, and method of cooking the artichokes. I have never found any information to suggest this is unsafe, just one of those interesting science experiments!
What kinds of artichokes do you grow?
I purchased a seed mix from Botanical Interests (HERE) that contained both Purple of Romagna and Improved Globe artichokes. Both of them grow well in my garden.