how to plant, grow & care for artichokes
complete growing guide
I love globe artichokes both for their thistly good looks and their amazing taste. It's worth planting a few different varieties so you get a good successional system going. They can be picked, cooked and eaten at golf ball size, Italian style, or allowed to grow bigger so that you can dip each scale into a delicious sauce or melted butter, leaving the sumptuous heart until last. I also paint the dried flower heads silver and use them at Christmas and they look fantastic.
- Common name Globe Artichoke
- Latin name Cynara scolymus
- Type Hardy perennial vegetable
- Height & spread 1.2-1.5m x 1m
- TLC rating Easy
- Aspect Full sun
- Spacing 1m
- Yield 10 globes per plant
- Suitable for pots No
- Grow in a greenhouse? No
how to grow artichokes
where to grow artichokes
Soil type: Plant artichokes in well-drained fertile soil.
Aspect & Position: Choose a spot in full sun in the kitchen garden or the middle of the border.
when to plant artichokes
Sow artichoke seeds under cover in late February and early March. They can also be sown direct into garden soil from April until July.
how to plant artichokes
sowing artichoke seeds
Sow your artichoke seeds under cover in late February and early March. You will not need that many plants so sow in individual modules or small pots. Pot on into a 9cm pot and continue to grow under cover until the roots fill the pot.
planting out artichoke seedlings
Harden off your artichoke seedlings to get them accustomed to the outside world and then plant out into a sunny border or section of the kitchen garden.
Make sure the soil has been improved with well-rotted organic matter as these plants will be in for several years, so will need a good root system. They are a Mediterranean vegetable after all, so need a well-drained spot, incorporate grit if you are worried about waterlogging. The plants are also very decorative, so can hold centre stage in a border as long as they have space for their large glaucous leaves to spread. Leave at least a metre between them or anything else that will vie for space at the height of summer.
how to care for artichokes
Once your artichoke plants are established, they will not need much water as their roots go down to find it.
Artichoke plants should not need staking, but if the garden is exposed it is worth putting in a few twiggy sticks to stop the heavy flower buds waving around and causing wind rock.
In their first summer your plants may produce some small artichokes. Don't allow them to grow to full size as they will hamper the development of the plant. Instead, remove them at golf ball size; they are delicious cooked and eaten whole as the Italians do.
The harvest in the following years will be most prolific in July. You can tell when they are ready to pick by looking closely at the flower buds. If you want to eat them scale by scale, dipping them into a sauce until you get to the delicious choke, they will need to be at least the size of a cricket ball. The scales need to be tightly closed to be at their best for eating. If they are showing the slightest signs of opening it is too late, so allow them to flower and you can use them in arrangements or dry them for Christmas.
After the first crop of flower buds has been harvested, we cut the whole plant down, leaves and all. They will regrow and give a second crop later in the summer. This will take a lot of energy from the plant, so it is worth either mulching with compost or sprinkling some organic fertiliser around the roots after cutting back the leaves.
Although artichokes are hardy, some exposed sites warrant a straw or bracken mulch around the crown in autumn to offer some protection against a heavy frost.
Artichoke seedlings are notoriously variable, with some resulting plants being much more prolific, attractive and tasty than others. So if you want to propagate from a particularly productive plant you can take off-shoots from it in the spring. These will be exactly the same genetically, and as they should also have a root system established, they will even crop in their first year.
As the leaves emerge in early spring slide a spade down the side of the plant between an off shoot and the parent plant. Give it a hard shove as the roots of an established plant will be quite woody. With luck you should then be able to lift out the young plant with a decent root attached. Plant it straight away in a piece of well composted ground and water in well. If there is a lot of leaf already, chop some back so that the root doesn’t have quite so much to support, and it will soon catch up with the parent plant.
If you have a very ancient artichoke plant that is becoming unproductive, then it is best to dig the whole thing up and split it, ideally in early spring. This is easier said than done as the tap roots can go down a long way. Once you have it out of the ground you should see younger plants around the edge that can be taken off and replanted with roots attached in fresh ground. Throw away the older woody central section.
- February/March: Sow seeds indoors.
- March: Propagate the offshoots from established plants.
- April/May: Sow seeds direct outdoors, plant seedlings.
- June/July: continue to sow direct outside.
- Harvest throughout the summer.
- Cut back leaves after first crop.
- Protect crowns in cold sites with straw or bracken.
- Decide which varieties to plant in the spring.
pests, diseases & common issues
slugs and snails
Tender young artichoke seedlings can be attacked by slugs and snails, so watch out for the tell tail slime trails and take appropriate defensive or offensive action with our various environmentally friendly products (or a pair of secateurs).
Young artichoke shoots can attract greenfly, so as soon as you see the bugs appear, squash them, and watch the natural predators come to your rescue. Once the plants are established and growing well they are too tough for many pests to attack. The mature leaves contain a very bitter tasting chemical, cynarin, that repels most animals, and you will know it if you lick your fingers after cutting the leaves.
fungal leaf spot
If brown patches appear on the leaves this could be a sign of a fungal attack caused by warm moist conditions. Remove affected leaves and ensure there is enough air circulation.
artichoke crown rot
If the centre of the plant begins to turn slimy and foul smelling, this is likely to be a bacterial or fungal rot that sets in after heavy rain. Affected plants should be dug out and removed, and new seedlings started off in a better drained area of the garden.
frequently asked questions
what is the yield per artichoke plant?
An established plant can produce up to ten edible sized flowers each year, and even more if you cut down to the ground in late July and get a second flush in September.
how big do artichoke plants grow?
Some varieties are bigger than others, but they are usually 1.2 – 1.5m tall and a metre wide once fully established. If you have a similar looking plant that is twice that height it is likely to be a cardoon, closely related, but grown for its edible stems rather than flowers.
how far apart should artichokes be planted?
Artichokes should be planted at least a metre apart to allow space and air flow.
how to cut back artichoke plants?
If the plant has finished flowering you can cut it right back down to the ground using shears or even a pruning saw through the toughest stems. This will encourage new shoots to sprout from the base, with a fresh crop of flower buds. Make sure you give the plant a feed with compost or organic fertiliser after you cut it back.
what to do with artichoke plants in winter?
Most plants will be quite happy over-wintering without any protection; indeed they often have lush leaves that look amazing in the frosty winter garden. However, some colder areas might need a loose covering of straw or bracken to keep the really hard frost at bay.
should I let my artichoke flower?
In their first year it is best to remove the flower buds at golf ball size, to allow the plant to establish well. These can still be boiled up and eaten whole, Italian style, with melted butter or a more exotic sauce.
do artichoke plants come back every year?
Yes, they are a perennial vegetable, so will last for many years. They will become less productive after about six years, so it will be time to lift and split.
how do you propagate an artichoke plant?
You can either grow them from seed or propagate them vegetatively (take cuttings). See the ‘Propagating’ section above for more information on taking cuttings from artichoke plants.
how long does it take for an artichoke plant to produce?
Most young plants will try to flower in their first year, but it is best to remove those buds at golf ball size to allow the plant to concentrate on getting established. The second year will have a smallish harvest of larger heads, and year three will see it in its prime.
what to grow with artichokes
If you are growing artichokes in the border there are various other flowering plants that combine really well with them. Alliums come into flower in the late spring before the artichokes do, and their scruffy leaves are hidden by the luxuriant artichoke leaves. The scent of alliums might even help deter the aphids from the tender young shoots. Then just as you are ready to cut the artichokes down for a second flush, dahlias can begin to fill the space, taking over the flowering baton at the end of the summer.