Artichoke is a bold plant with huge silvery-green leaves that are finely cut and divided, giving them a thistlelike appearance. The plant’s big flower buds (the outer petals end in thorns that soften when cooked) rise above the clumps of foliage. They have been prized by gourmands for decades, making them some of the more expensive vegetables at the grocery store. If you love these buds, too, growing your own artichoke is a great way to save money. Harvest the flower buds before they bloom, then steam or boil them before scooping out the fleshy inner layer of each bract, as well as from the heart at the base of the bracts.
This South American plant is a close relative of cardoon, and like cardoon, grows well in large containers, garden beds, and borders. This plant behaves as a perennial in Zones 7 and warmer. In areas with colder winters, it can be treated as a long-season annual if started early in spring with harvest in late summer to autumn.
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Artichoke Planting Ideas
Make the most of this exotic vegetable by planting artichoke in a spot that shows off its impressive size and texture. Artichoke makes a fabulous focal point, especially in a formal garden. Or grow it in the back of the border where its airy foliage helps make your space seem larger. Because artichoke is relatively deer resistant, it is an excellent choice for planting around the perimeter.
Accent artichoke's silvery gray-green leaves by planting it in a container make of concrete or metal. Or create a bold contrast by selecting colorful containers in saturated shades of blue, red, or orange.
Caring For Artichoke Plants
Though artichoke is native to areas of South America, it appreciates Mediterranean-type growing conditions: lots of sun (at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun is best), average to low relative humidity, and well-drained soil. (Soggy soil will likely damage the plant's crown and root system.) Give artichokes plenty of room to grow by planting them every 4 to 6 feet in rows that are about 6 to 8 feet apart.
Water plants well for a couple of weeks after planting, then add a 2- to 3-inch-deep layer of mulch to reduce weeds and help keep soil-moisture levels consistent. Adding a time-release fertilizer into the holes at planting time can help the plants, especially if your garden has nutrient-poor soil. Other than watering artichoke during times of drought, it requires little other care.
Each artichoke produces shoots that invade the parent plant's space, reducing the amount of light the parent gets. Maintain a vigorous crop of artichokes by dividing the plants every few years. Use a sharp gardening knife to separate rooted shoots, then dig them up with a spade.
More Varieties of Artichoke
Easy-to-grow in most areas, this variety of Cynara cardunculus a good choice for Northern gardeners. Reliably produces tender, flavor-packed artichokes. If left on the plant, buds open to spectacular purple flowers. 85 days to harvest. Zones 6-11
This cultivar of Cynara cardunculus is bred specifically for growing as an annual, and produces rounded green buds. 85 days to harvest. Zones 7-10
'Violetto' is an extra-ornamental selection from Italy with large, silvery leaves and big purple buds. 90 days to harvest. Zones 6-11