How to Grow Artichokes In the Northwest

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are a treat both in the kitchen and in the garden.  They are a member of the thistle family and if allowed to bloom, produce gloriously large, purple flowers that bees will make a “bee” line to enjoy.  If you want to enjoy artichokes on your plate, you can harvest them as soon as they reach about the size of a softball, but before they start to flower.  Either way, they are a tall, architectural statement in the garden, reaching about 5 feet tall with dramatic spiky leaves.

In our area (South Puget Sound) it can be challenging to get this perennial to behave  perennial-ish.  But with a little careful planting and care, you can enjoy your plants year after year.

Artichokes need sandy, fast drain468ing soil in sun.  Because they are so tall, some shelter from high winds is also a good idea.  Aside from this, they require regular water, particularly if you are growing them for the fruit instead of flower.  When first planting, amend the soil with an organic compost.  Plant starts in late spring and mulch well with straw to protect the roots and crown.  As they grow, fertilize with a balanced all-purpose organic or fish fertilizer.  Artichokes should be spaced 3×3 feet apart to allow them room to spread out.  Be sure to keep them well weeded to avoid nutrient competition.

The following spring you can detach any healthy offsets from around the edges of the crown and plant them on (or share with lucky friends).

Then in the fall, when the leaves are turning yellow, cut the plant back to about a foot from the ground, tie the stalks over the root crown and mulch heavily to protect the plant from frost.

Artichokes do best in areas that do not have wide swings in temperature, but with a little extra care you can enjoy them here too.

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