How to Grow Artichokes: Your Complete Guide

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Artichokes are delicious in both raw and cooked form in a variety of dishes and are a widely loved food around the world. They are also quite a beautiful plant and a joy to grow. While most people grow them for food, the flowers they produce are beautifully purple and decorative.

In this guide, we cover the botanical classification of the artichoke, its native range, characteristics, and the most important information you need to know in order to grow a successful crop.

All right, let’s do it!

Artichokes: Botanical Classification, History and Properties

If you come across an artichoke plant before it produces its buds, it’s easy to mistake them for thistles, as their leaves are strikingly similar to one another. Both plants belong to the Asteraceae family, which includes over 32,000 species in 1,900 genera. Artichoke is currently classified as Cynara cardunculus Var. scolimus and is a domesticated descendant of the herbaceous perennial cardoon plant (or artichoke thistle), Cynara cardunculus. While you eat the stalks of cardoon, the edible part of artichoke plants is the immature flower bud.

The wild ancestor of the artichoke is native to the western and central Mediterranean, where the domestication process that led to the emergence of the cultivated artichoke began in the first century AD. This domestication likely occurred in Sicily, where farmers selectively bred large, non-prickly heads that increased the edibility of the flower buds.

Cultivated artichoke plants typically grow up to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide with their flower spike. They produce deeply serrated, lobed and jagged leaves that look almost identical to the thistle plant. The edible part of the artichoke is the immature buds, which emerge from tall stalks that form a large terminal head with several smaller buds. As the buds mature, they produce light purple flowers that resemble thistles.

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Today, people enjoy artichokes for their earthy, slightly nutty, and herbaceous flavor. The petals tend to have a crunchy texture, while the heart (the base of the flower bud) is much softer.

Flowering Artichoke
As artichoke buds mature, they produce light purple flowers that resemble thistles.


How to grow artichokes

To successfully grow artichoke, you need to know what climates this plant is hardy in, understand its ideal soil and sunlight conditions, watering and fertilization requirements, and how to grow it from seed and transplanting. Below we’ll look at each of these categories to help you ensure your artichokes thrive.

USDA Hardiness Zones for Artichoke

To grow artichoke as a perennial, you must live in USDA hardiness zones 7-11, as this Mediterranean plant is not particularly cold hardy. If you plan to grow artichoke outside of these zones, you must either grow it as an annual or overwinter this plant indoors.

How to Grow Artichokes: Ideal Soil Conditions

For best results, grow artichokes in sandy to loamy, deep, well-drained, moist, and fertile soil. Their soil pH preference is slightly acidic to neutral (6.0-7.0). These plants can develop a deep root system of 3-4 feet, so providing an ideal soil structure that is at least that deep will help your plants thrive.

Because of their delicate, deep root system, artichokes don’t do well in compacted or rocky soils that prevent them from spreading adequately. If you have soil that is mostly clay, you will likely need to build up healthy soil on top of the soil, as changes incorporated several feet into the soil can cause further compaction problems, requiring you to till your garden deep every year .

For soils that are mostly sand, you can add peat, well-ripened compost, and manure to retain moisture and nutrients.

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Ideal sunlight conditions

Artichokes can grow in partial to full sun but definitely prefer at least 6 hours of full sun. Growing in south-facing beds is ideal for this sun-loving plant. When planting, it’s best to space them about 4 feet apart to allow room for growth, but also to prevent larger plants from shading the smaller ones.

Artichoke plants like to be in full sun
Artichoke plants prefer full sun for at least 6 hours.


How to grow artichokes: watering requirements

Artichokes require plenty of water to produce their tasty flower heads. They require about 1-2 inches of water per week during their growing phase, spread out over about 2-3 applications per week. Your goal is to completely soak the root area but not create puddles. Puddling is a sign that the roots are no longer absorbing moisture and that the soil is having trouble draining the excess water. If your soil is sandy, you can put a layer of mulch around the plants to retain moisture.

How to grow artichokes: fertilizer requirements

These plants are heavy feeders and need a lot of nitrogen in their fertilizer mix. For best results, apply 2 teaspoons of a high-nitrogen fertilizer once a month to encourage heavy leaf and flower bud production. For this plant you can use NPK mixes (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) like 21-0-0 and 16-4-8 NPK liquid mixes to apply when watering your plants.

If you are growing from transplants, you can wait 3-4 weeks after transplanting before applying fertilizer. This can prevent root burn on the plants as they are already in a delicate condition from transplanting.

Growing artichokes from seeds

If you plan to sow your artichoke seeds directly outdoors, you will need to wait for the soil to warm up enough for them to germinate successfully. Some plants require exposure to cold to trigger seed germination, but artichoke is the opposite. These heat-loving plants need soil temperatures of 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit before you can seed them directly into the garden.

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Because you have to wait many weeks for spring temperatures to raise soil temperatures to this level, many gardeners choose to grow their seeds indoors or in greenhouses. You can start them in seed trays and plant them 1/4 in moistened potting soil. Place the trays in a sunny spot and keep the soil slightly moist. Artichoke seeds usually take 10-14 days to germinate. Once your seedlings have emerged and reached a height of 2-3 inches, it’s time to transplant them into small pots while you wait for ideal outside temperatures.

Most artichoke varieties reach harvest maturity from seed in 85-100 days.

How to grow artichokes: transplanting

Whether you buy young artichoke plants from a nursery or grow them indoors from seed, the process of transplanting your seedlings outside is the same. You must first harden them to the outside conditions for about 10 days, depending on the weather conditions. This will ensure that the young plants do not succumb to transplant shock. To successfully acclimate your seedlings outdoors, follow the steps below:

  1. Choose a mild, cloudy, windless day with temperatures above 60 degrees and place your seedlings in a shady spot for 2 hours. Then bring them back inside. Repeat this first step for days 1-3.
  2. On the fourth day, place your plant outside for 2 hours in partial shade and 2 hours in full sun. Repeat this second step for days 4-5.
  3. Place your plant outside on days 6-7 for 2 hours in partial shade and 4 hours in full sun. If temperatures don’t drop below 60 degrees, leave the plants outside overnight.
  4. Leave your plants outside on days 7-10 for at least 6 hours in full sunlight and overnight if weather permits. At this point, your seedlings should be much better prepared for outdoor cultivation.

Once temperatures are regularly above 70 degrees and any danger of frost has passed, you can transplant your seedlings outside. They should be around 8 weeks old by this point and have 4-5 healthy leaves with a springy, erect stem. To transplant artichoke seedlings, dig holes about an inch deeper than their containers, then space them about 4 feet apart with rows of 6 to 8 feet.

Artichoke seedlings
Before transplanting your artichoke seedlings outdoors, you must first acclimate them to outdoor conditions over a period of about 10 days.

©Svetlana Monyakova/


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