A Guide to Growing Globe Artichokes
What is related to a common weed, eaten as a vegetable before it blooms and grown as an ornamental plant after it blooms? Globe artichokes, of course. They’ve been used for thousands of years. Homer mentions them. The Greeks ate them. Medieval Arabs improved them and then passed them on to Italy. They had made it to France in the late 15th century and grew in Henry VIII’s English garden in the 16th century. Finally, in the 19th century, they made it to the New World transported to Louisiana by French immigrants and California by Spanish immigrants.
What are they?
Globe artichokes are relatives of the thistle. They are native to the Mediterranean area. The plants are large growing between 4 ½ and 6 ½ feet tall. The leaves are deeply lobed and grey green in color. They can grow up to 3 feet long. In zone 7 and higher, they are perennial. The plants are usually replaced with new plants every four years. In colder climates, they are grown as annuals.
Globe artichokes are grown for both their flower buds and their flowers. The pinecone shaped buds are eaten, prepared in different ways. Unharvested, the buds will open into beautiful purple flowers that are similar to thistle flowers. The striking leaves and beautiful flowers are very architectural and make wonderful landscape plants.
Best Varieties For Your Garden
- ‘Northern Star’ – hardiest in northern climates
- ‘Imperial Star’ – best annual
- ‘Green Globe’ – heaviest producer
- ‘Violetta’ – best heirloom
- ‘Opera’ – fastest maturing
How do I grow them?
Globe artichokes are easy to grow. You can start them from cuttings, divisions or seeds. Start your seeds indoors in late winter, approximately 2 months before your last frost date. They will germinate about a week after planting. Transplant them into larger containers as they grow. You can start hardening them off 6 weeks before your last frost date. Then 3 to 4 weeks before your last frost date, you can transplant them outdoors into your garden. You want to plant them out early because the plants need temperatures below 45⁰F to trigger flowering. Give them enough room in your garden by spacing them 3 feet apart.
How do I harvest the buds?
In early summer, globe artichokes send up a stalk from which the buds will develop. By mid- to late-summer, you will see a large central bud with smaller buds growing out of the stem below it. The large central bud should be harvested first. When it reaches 3 inches in diameter, using a sharp knife, cut it off from the stem leaving a 1 to 3 inch “handle” on it. The smaller, lower buds, can be harvested 1 to 2 weeks later. They will not be as large but it is important to harvest them before they start to open. Once all of the buds have been harvested, cut the stem off down to the ground.
Artichoke buds will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. For longer storage, you can freeze them.
What if I want the flowers?
Once the buds start to open, they become too fibrous to eat. Allow them to open fully and you will be rewarded with a large purple flower that looks like a giant thistle. You can save the seeds by allowing the flowers to turn brown and shrivel up. Cut the flowers off the stem and store in a paper bag for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, you can break open the dried flowers and gather the seeds to plant the following year.
© 2017 Caren White