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Growing Artichokes

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Large, bushy perennial. Set out plants or roots in early spring; harvest ‘chokes the following spring.

Long, mild winters and cool summers are needed to produce the heavy vegetative growth that supports the large, edible flower buds of this delicacy. Highly decorative, massive plants have huge, deeply cut leaves. These well up into a silvery green fountain that can spread to 6 feet wide. Flower buds that escape harvest ripen into large, violet pink thistle blossoms that can be dried for arrangements and will last for several years.

artichokes

Three or four established plants will provide plenty of artichoke buds for a small family.

Recommended variety. ‘Green Globe’ is usually the only variety available.

How to plant. You can grow artichokes from root divisions either purchased or separated from a desirable mother plant. Divide roots in autumn when foliage has died back. Expose a side shoot with a sharp spray of water. Cut it off 6 to 8 inches below the crown. Rangy plants with small, late-maturing buds may result if you start from seeds.

In early spring, root divisions are available in nurseries or garden supply stores and by mail order. In the West and along the Gulf and Southeastern coasts, you can plant the divisions any time after late winter.

Choose a spot that has well-drained, fertile soil and is warmed by full sun, except in very hot areas where artichokes appreciate afternoon shade. For each root division, dig a hole 18 inches deep and 4 to 5 feet apart. Fill the hole with water and let it soak in. For each plant, mix a bucketful of organic matter with some of the removed soil and partially refill the holes. Position the roots vertically, covering the old root with soil but leaving the base of the new, leafy shoots just above the soil line. Water again to settle the soil and complete filling the hole. Water every other day until new growth appears.

Care. Pull or hoe weeds or spread a straw mulch under the leaf canopy. Weeds steal water and nutrients from the plants. Every week or two during dry weather, let the hose trickle for an hour or two at the base of the plants.

Artichokes are heavy feeders and will respond to high nitrogen, water-soluble fertilizers applied every three to four weeks. Feed after a heavy watering. Follow the feeding with a light watering to dissolve and flush the fertilizer down into the root zone.

Pests. Aphids, earwigs., and worms sometimes get between the leaf bracts in the artichokes. If you think this has happened, right after picking immerse the artichokes for 10 minutes in warm salt water. The critters will crawl out. Give the buds a final upside-down shaking to force out the stubborn ones.

Harvesting. Each plant should bear a few buds the first season. From the second year on, plants should produce from 24 to 48 buds from late winter through midsummer. The harvest period will be earlier where winters are warm.

Cut the buds before the fleshy, edible bracts begin to open in preparation for flowering. Leave a 11/2-inch length of stem on each bud when you cut it. After each major stem has completed fruiting, it will begin to dry up and can be removed. New, fruiting shoots will form throughout the season.

In containers. These handsome plants will thrive in containers with a soil capacity of at !east 2 cubic feet.