how to grow artichokes as an annual

Hallelujah! After 2 failed attempts, I have finally – successfully! – grown artichokes. If you’ve ever tried to grow them and not had much success either, hopefully my journey this year will inspire you to try again. If you’re not familiar with me or my site, I live in Northern Illinois, which is Zone 5. Previous attempts at growing these failed, due to the fact that we tried starting them directly in the garden. I credit my husband for inspiring me to try and grow these in the first place – he was the one who bought and planted the first seeds.

Growing artichokes in Zone 5 is tricky, mostly because you need to treat them as annuals, even though they’re perennial plants in warmer climates. We may try and over-winter them, just to see if we can do it, but I’m happy as a clam no matter what happens from here.

The first trick is to grow Imperial Star artichokes. These artichokes are specifically bred to be grown as annuals and I ordered my seeds this year from Sustainable Seed Company.  The second tip is to definitely start your artichokes inside in late winter. I started mine the first week of February and here’s what one of them looked like on February 28:

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You can see that I started them in peat pots, to try and lessen the planting shock that happens when you put them in the ground. When I start any of my seeds indoors, it’s with a base of basic potting soil with about a 2 inch top of seed starter, which is a light mix that is perfect for seed starting. I don’t use any special lights or anything…just a small portable greenhouse with a plastic cover that helps keep the heat and moisture in and helps the seeds germinate. I bought my 3 level one years ago for about 35 dollars and it’s held up well. I keep it in front of a sunny window and it works like a charm. I admit that I have huge walls of windows in my dining room and living room that makes starting and growing plants a breeze. Even before having this luxury, I’ve had much luck with just a mostly-sunny window for a portion of the day.

  • Buy Imperial Star artichoke seeds from a reputable source
  • Plant your seeds in January or early February
  • Use peat pots for planting
  • Use seed starter for the best results (again, I put an inch or two of seed starter on top of potting soil)
  • Keep in a sunny spot and keep damp but not overly-wet, until seedlings emerge
  • Once seedlings emerge, keep damp but not wet, letting dirt dry out a bit in between
  • A few weeks before planting outside, place peat pots outside in a sunny spot, to help them become acclimated to the cooler temperatures, wind and sun. Make sure you continue to water your plants as they harden off.

I planted my 2 artichoke plants in our garden mid-May, making sure to add a healthy chunk of compost and rotted manure to the soil before planting. On June 12, here’s what one of my plants looked like:

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Needless to say, I was pretty excited already with their progress.

  • Select a spot in your garden that will receive lots of sun and has good drainage. You want to water your artichoke plants, not drown them.
  • When planting in the garden, dig a hole large enough to set the peat pot in, plus extra room for compost
  • Add well-rotted compost and/or manure to the hole
  • Bust open the bottom of the peat pot and set into the hole
  • Fill hole with dirt so that the dirt reaches just the bottom of the plant and pack the dirt around it well
  • Soak well with water
  • Continue to water when the soil dries out

Fourth of July weekend, here’s the progress of my artichoke plants:

lola_rugula_how-to-grow-artichokes_7.4.15

Crazy, right? I’ve always know they were part of the thistle family but they were actually more attractive than I thought they’d be. They’re big though, have no doubt. I planted mine with a good 2 feet in between plants and I’m glad I did.

  • Continue to water your plants as they grow, making sure they don’t go prolonged (aka: weeks) without water. Artichoke plants are heavy feeders.
  • If your plants seem to be struggling (or you just want to give them some added oomph), toss on some more compost and/or manure and gently work it into the ground with a trowel. Be sure not to dig too deeply, so as not to disturb the roots of the plant.

On August 1st, my efforts were finally paying off and the first small choke made an appearance:

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-artichokes-8.1.15

Only my true garden nerd friends will probably get this but I was practically jumping up and down with excitement. I’d actually achieved a real, live, honest-to-goodness artichoke.

Their growth was really rolling now and just a few weeks later, on August 19, here’s one of my plants:

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-artichokes-8.19.15

Isn’t that crazy? I was amazed at what just a few weeks could accomplish. I was in artichoke nirvana.

  • While artichokes are growing, make sure to keep them watered but let them dry out between waterings
  • I noticed that black ants really liked my artichoke plants, so I lightly dusted them with organic food-grade diatomaceous earth a couple of times, early on in their growth, and that problem was solved.
  • Do not let your artichokes start to open; this means they’re going to flower and you don’t want that. Harvest your artichokes by cutting them with an inch or two of stem. (if your stems are large enough, you can peel them and prepare them along with the rest of your chokes…they’re yummy)

Labor Day weekend, I took this shot of my strongest plant, which had a good 11 artichokes growing at one time. This is after I’d already harvested 4 or so artichokes off of this plant. So if you’ve ever wondered how many artichokes one plant can produce, now you know.

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I actually harvested my first artichoke on August 10 – that’s right, August 10 – and have to admit that I was gloating just a bit. I felt this was well-deserved though, after a couple of years of effort. Behold, my very first homegrown artichoke:

lola_rugula_how-to-grow-artichokes_in_zone_5

Victory is mine!

I will tell you though, one of my plants was much more productive than the other, which makes me suggest that you should definitely plant more than one plant for the best results. Also, these artichokes are not the size of the huge artichokes you find in the store, but they have more flavor and are more tender.

lola-rugula-how-to-grow-artichokes

It’s now mid-September and one plant is still producing heavily, the other not nearly as much. I’m going to let the not-so-productive plant go to flower, and see if I can achieve a flower and seeds for next year. I may be a little late for this, but only time will tell.

Happy gardening!

8 thoughts on “how to grow artichokes as an annual

    • Lesley at Lola Rugula says:

      Thanks John. We had an unusual summer this year, with long periods of dry weather, then long periods of wet weather, then cooler than normal temps, and still these thrived. I’m beyond excited with the results, considering what I had to deal with weather-wise.

  1. Wow! I’m very impressed. I’ve seen artichokes growing in the UK and the coastal PNW, but you’ve given me hope that places with more extreme temperature variations can support artichoke life. 🙂

    • Lesley at Lola Rugula says:

      Thanks Gwynne! I kind of impressed myself with this one, even though lots of people in my neck of the woods have succeeded before me. 🙂

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