Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
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 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 to California by Spanish immigrants.
What are Globe Artichokes?
Globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) 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 warmer, 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. 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 with slits cut into it for air circulation for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, you can break open the dried flowers and gather the seeds to plant the following year.
The striking leaves and beautiful flowers are very architectural and make wonderful landscape plants.
How to Divide Globe Artichokes
Globe artichokes grow by sending up what’s known as offshoots which are baby plants attached to the main plants. You can remove the offshoots to make new plants.
In the fall or the winter when the plants are dormant is the best time to divide them. When the offshoots are at least 8 inches tall, you can separate them. Using a sharp knife, cut the offshoot away from the larger plant. Try not to disturb the plant or the roots of the main plant. Once you have severed the offshoot completely from the main plant, use a spade to carefully dig it up. Again, try not to disturb the roots of the main plant.
You should have a root ball that has roots that are 6 to 8 inches long. Plant it in a hole that is deep enough to accommodate the whole root system. If you have more than one offshoot, plant them 4 to 6 feet apart.
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 to Grow Globe Arichokes From Seed
Start your seeds indoors in late winter, approximately 2 months before your last frost date. Plant them ½ inch deep in containers filled with pre-moistened soil. 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 when they are 8 to 10 inches tall. 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 4 to 6 feet apart.
How to Harvest Globe Artichokes
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.
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How to Store Globe Artichokes
Artichoke buds will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week in a plastic bag. For longer storage, you can freeze them.
Questions & Answers
Question: What is the best position for globe artichokes to face? Also, do they prefer rich, fertile ground?
Answer: It depends where you live. If you live in a warm climate (Zone 7 or warmer), a south facing wall may get too hot during the afternoon. If you live in a northern climate (zone 6 or colder), a south facing wall could prolong your growing season as well as protect your plants from late frosts.
Like all vegetables, globe artichokes like rich, well-drained soil. I use lots of compost in my veggie garden. It enriches the soil and improves the texture.
Question: Will goldfinches eat the seeds from the globe artichoke flower?
Answer: I'm assuming that since globe artichokes are members of the thistle family that goldfinches eat the seeds. Goldfinches are partial to thistle seeds.
Question: I have the Globe variety of artichokes. What would cause the lower leaves to pull away from the artichoke?
Answer: It means your artichoke is about to bloom! Artichokes are related to thistles. If you don't harvest the "bud" (the part that we eat), the bud will open into a beautiful purple flower that looks like a thistle flower.
Question: Are the leaves of artichoke plant edible?
Answer: Yes, the leaves are edible. They are usually dipped into melted butter, garlic butter, or mayo and eaten raw.
© 2017 Caren White
Caren White (author) on November 18, 2019:
Globe artichokes are nomally grown from seed. You can order seed from any reputable seed catalog. If you prefer not to start them from seed, check your local nursery early in the spring. They may have seedlings that you can plant in your garden.
John Mastrangelo on November 17, 2019:
I would like to try and grow artichoke which type produce the edible flower in one season. Are they planted from seed or can I mail order tubers if tubers are the way to produce the edible part in one season please provide a source that I could order from.
Caren White (author) on July 16, 2018:
Linda, you guessed right! Globe artichokes are deer resistance because they are prickly. You might be able to grow them in your yard since they prefer full sun, but can tolerate some shade. Try them and let me know how they grow for you!
Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on July 15, 2018:
Do you know if they are "deer" proof (I'm thinking/hoping that the prickly leaves would discourage them but they eat blackberry foliage). And, do they need full sun? That's a rarity in my garden.
Caren White (author) on May 03, 2017:
Thanks Donna for the pin! Glad you found the hub helpful. I've grown globe artichokes as ornamentals. They are spectacular! Hope you enjoy yours.
Donna Herron from USA on May 03, 2017:
Thanks for this informative hub! I've never actually seen what artichokes look like while still on the plant. As much as I enjoy eating artichokes, I think their purple flower is really stunning. I'm thinking of growing some of these plants just to see that beautiful flower in my garden. Pinned to my gardening board for next summer!