December 27, 2013

How to grow Artichokes in the North

If you've never considered growing artichokes in your northern garden, why not try some this year? Just remember that they need lots of room ( 9 square feet for each plant) and plan on a long row, if you want to have enough for a meal or two.

As the year comes to an end, and the seed catalogs begin to arrive in stacks, the summer vegetable garden can seem months away ( oh, right - it IS months away!), but there are some plants which need to be started in early January, which may help you overcome your winter blues. Sure, the Winter Solstice just occurred a week ago, but nature doesn't rest, and some plants need time to grow - pansies ( viola species and hybrids), geraniums ( the hybrid pelargoniums we all know as 'florist geraniums' need to be sown under lights by the New Year if one wants flowers in spring), and artichokes. Yes, artichokes. They can be grown here in the north, but prepare yourself, it will take some work, and now is the time to begin. Here is how I grew my globe artichokes last summer from seeds that I sowed the first week of January.

Artichokes have deep roots, so I use Root Trainers, a folding device not unlike a book, which allows one to raise tap-rooted plants and deep-rooted plants like Sweet Peas and artichokes and transplant them with little root disturbance.

Order seed for artichokes at Christmastime. Look for varieties that will perform well in your climate. Here in New England, we are limited to fast-cropping varieties. I prefer seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds, as the seeds are grown in the north, and they carry artichoke 'Imperial Star', a special variety that will bear bud within one year grown from seed. essential for northern gardens, as artichokes are perennial elsewhere, one must cheat a bit in the north. With 'Imperial Star' one can harvest large globe artichokes in late June from a January sowing, even in Maine.
Seeds are soaked in warm water for 12 hours, and then sown in the cells. Bottom heat at 70º ensures proper germination, but once the seedlings are germinated, I grow them at 60º under lights. Care must be taken not to expose them to cooler temperatures until March, when the seedlings are exposed to temperatures below 40º F for two weeks, which acts as an artificial winter ( vernalization). It sounds hard, but I just set the pots outdoors, taking care not to let frost hit them.

By April, the seedlings are ready for 6 inch pots.

After all risk of frost is past ( May 21 in our area), seedlings are planted out into the garden and fertilized well. Heavy feeders, I started  with a high nitrogen fertilizer for three weeks, and then turned to one with low Nitrogen and high phosphorus for the balance of the growing season. At no time were plants stressed with draught or nutrition.

Some plants were saved for the parterre, as the foliage is ornamental and completed the very Provencial-look I was going for with rosemary, lavender and lemons in front of the greenhouse.

By the Fourth of July, I was surprised to find buds as large as those in high-end markets from my own garden just outside of Boston. I could have waited for a second crop, but I pulled the plants to make room for a late crop of squash. There is nothing like fresh artichokes, which are less stringy, snappy-crisp and sweet.

Side buds will also form, and can be used as 'baby artichokes'. but I rarely bother with these. The stems on home-grown artichokes are tender too, so plan on picking longer stems to steam. Just peel, to remove the strings, and steam.

Full Size artichokes from a New England garden from artichokes plants grown as an annual.


  1. I've grown them successfully myself - 2 years in a row. Bought transplants though (locally raised). The plants seemed to like our cooler September weather when my 2 plants really started sending out side chokes. They're supposed to be winter hardy but not so last year. Will see how I fare this year.

  2. Barbara Blackburn11:38 AM

    Hi Matt, Can you tell me your source for the deep root pots you use for growing your artichokes and sweet peas?
    Thank you and always look forward to your blog updates!

    1. Anonymous12:24 PM

      Google Deeptrainers available on Amazon. Mine came a few days ago.

    2. Anonymous12:26 PM

      Try Malorgonite (sp?) fertilized available at HD keeps bunnies and deer away but must be redone after rain.Lucia

  3. Pat N.10:53 PM

    We tried growing them one year in CT, but the deer ate the plants to the ground just like they do everything else.

  4. Dawn R7:53 AM

    Does anyone know where I can buy seedlings in or around R.I? Never had any luck finding them in the past. Love Them! Tasty and Beautiful...

    1. Anonymous12:20 PM

      I am starting plants from seed for the second year. I live in Tiverton and will have plants for sale for very little at the Sogkonate Garden Club Sale in Little Compton the Saturday of Memorial day wkend.Organic. Lucia Palmer

  5. I'm in southern NY and found Imperial Star to be very easy to grow from seed. Start at the New Year, chill the seedlings --hard-- before April 1, and plant out.

  6. Hi--
    Now at the end of the season (Oct. 26). Has anyone had luck taking artichokes our of the ground putting in pots (?) and putting them in a greenhouse for next year? I have access to a greenhouse—live in northwestern CT. thanks for your help.

    1. I'm not sure. There has been some study with raising artichokes in hoop houses in the north. I would google it perhaps. I know that the used these short season selections. I Suspect that due to their tap roots that they may not transplant well. I am curious, though, need to look deeper into my notes.


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