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How to grow Artichokes

Artichokes Growing Guide

Perennial crops offer their bounty year after year… for minimal effort. Expert grower Anthony Bennett looks at the Jerusalem and globe artichoke: two firm gardening favourites.

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Artichokes quick links

How to grow Artichokes

Types of Artichoke Plants

Both the Jerusalem and globe artichoke offer a culinary high point to the kitchen gardener’s year. The tightly held flower buds of globe artichokes contribute a delicate flavour that can’t be rivalled. The tubers of the Jerusalem artichoke boast a distinctive, roasted, nutty taste that’s softened by a slight sweetness.

Despite sharing the same name and exceptional eating qualities, the two vegetables are in fact completely unrelated. Jerusalem artichokes are members of the sunflower family, eaten for their autumn tubers, while globe types are thistle-like. 

Both are space-hungry plants, so it’s not recommended to grow artichokes indoors. Their different growing habits make them a must for inclusion somewhere in the garden or allotment. 

If you’re wondering if artichokes can grow in pots, the answer is no. The lanky Jerusalem artichoke can reach a lofty 3m in the right conditions. So, you might want to grow the plants in rows. Perhaps use the plants as a windbreak or as a shading screen on the south-facing side of the summer greenhouse. 

Globe artichokes are real stunners, sporting large, silver-grey and deeply cut leaves. These form the perfect foil for other flowering plants. This makes them perfect for inclusion at the back of an herbaceous border. Their bold form and height will create a real focal point.

Growing Artichokes in the UK

All varieties prefer a medium, well-drained but nutrient-rich soil. Jerusalem artichokes will do best in full sun but can still produce a reasonable crop in light shade. Bear in mind that they grow very tall, so place them at the back of vegetable beds. This means they won’t overshadow other crops.

Globe artichokes, however, need all the sun that can be mustered. Prepare growing sites the autumn before planting by digging in ample compost or well-rotted manure. Globe artichokes will occupy the same position for about five years, making thorough ground preparation essential. Pick a bed that is out of the crop rotation system for these types. 

Jerusalem types can be completely dug up each autumn. However, a few tubers invariably slip through the net to sprout up the following year. Aim to grow them as a perennial also, replanting some of the harvested tubers each spring.

Growing Jerusalem Artichokes

The name ‘Jerusalem artichoke’ is misleading. For a start, the plant is completely unrelated to the true artichoke, and doesn’t even come from Jerusalem. The confusion stems from the fact that the tubers have a taste reminiscent of the globe artichoke. The ‘Jerusalem’ part is a corruption of the Italian for the plant, ‘girasole’, meaning ‘turning to the sun’.

Another curious quality of this poorly-named vegetable is its starchy tubers. Whereas most tubers, including the potato, store their carbohydrate as amylose and amylopectin, those in Jerusalem artichokes are stored as inulin. 

Inulin does not easily convert to sugar in the human body. This makes the tubers a great choice for diabetics and the health-conscious. The indigestibility of inulin can, however, lead to increased wind. But don’t worry, as cooking the tubers goes a long way to lessening this unfortunate side effect!

Establish Jerusalem artichokes in February or March, as soon as the worst of the winter is over. Set out a stringline and use a draw hoe to create a furrow 15cm deep. Fresh tubers can then be placed, just like potatoes, into the bottom of the furrow at least 45cm apart. 

Cover them over to leave a 5cm ridge along the row. Sprinkle some general-purpose organic fertilizer over the top and tickle this into the soil surface. If you want to grow more than one row leave 1m between them.

The sturdy shoots of Jerusalem artichoke won’t take long to break through the soil. As they grow, earth them up just like potatoes. Draw soil up around the base every few weeks until the ridge is 15cm high. This will help to support the lofty stems. 

As they grow ever taller they will need further support. Knock in posts at either end of the row and secure horizontal wires between them. Tie the stems to the wires as they reach them so that they don’t rock in the wind.[Text Wrapping Break]

Growing Globe Artichokes

Unlike Jerusalem artichokes that grow underground as tubers, globe artichokes are planted using young plants, or suckers. These are planted about a month after Jerusalem types. So, there’s no need to be growing artichoke from seed. First, sprinkle some fertiliser over the ground and fork this in. 

Plant the suckers at the same depth as when they were in the nursery pot. Plant them about 1m apart in each direction, and water them in well. If you’re lucky enough to know a gardener with an established artichoke, ask if you can have a few shoots.

When they are about 22cm high in spring, carefully ease a spade down vertically into the clump and lever out fresh shoots. Make sure these have plenty of root attached and then plant them as for bought suckers.

Globe artichokes won’t need too much attention in their early stages, except for watering in dry weather. A mulch applied in May will also help to reduce the stress from planting, and lock in the moisture. During the first few weeks, young suckers may also need protecting from drying winds or harsh sunlight. Once they’ve found their feet, they quickly get away.

Keep watering globe artichokes in their first year and cut away any artichoke flower buds that appear. While this may be frustrating, preventing flowering in this way will concentrate all the plants’ energies into forming a solid crown. Next year, your patience will be rewarded with a stronger, more prolific crop of buds.

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Growing Artichokes month-by-month

January

Place your orders for Jerusalem artichoke tubers and globe artichoke suckers. Continue to lift and enjoy the former through the winter.

February

By the end of the month it should be warm enough to plant Jerusalem artichoke tubers. Set them in furrows 15cm deep and 45cm apart.

March

Begin to earth up the soil around Jerusalem types as they grow. Keep the rows weed-free and set up supports for later on in the spring.

April

Plant globe artichoke suckers this month. Make sure that they sit in the ground at the correct level – not too deep or proud of the soil surface.

May

Water young plants thoroughly to encourage them to get off to a good start. Finish earthing up Jerusalem types and start tying in stems.

June

Begin harvesting flower buds from established globe artichokes. Cut away the central king head first of all. Secondary ones will follow.

July

Continue cutting globe artichokes. Never leave the flowers to open, as they become tough and inedible at this point.

August

As in July, continue cutting your globe artichoke hearts.

Must do this month!
September

This is a quiet month on the patch. Pull away any weeds, as well as yellowing or dying leaves from globe crowns.

October

Trim Jerusalem types to 30cm above the ground, and prune globe types to leave new shoots. Begin harvesting Jerusalem artichoke tubers.

November

Prepare growing positions for your plants by digging in plenty of organic matter. This will settle down over winter in time for spring planting.

December

Check that globe artichoke shoots are properly protected from the worst of the winter weather. Cover with fleece during exceptionally cold spells.

Caring for your Artichokes plants + problems

Sky-high Jerusalem artichokes may require some additional watering in dry weather, though well-prepared ground will hold plenty of moisture. If the soil becomes weedy, pull unwanted plants by hand to ensure all water goes to the vegetables themselves. 

The eruption of leaves from globe artichokes is likely to suffocate any weeds that attempt to muscle their way in.

During October, your plants will begin to die down. Cut back Jerusalem types to within 30cm of ground level, and remove all top growth to the compost heap. Dead leaves can be cut away from globe artichokes to reveal new shoots. These will overwinter to next year, but in northern gardens, they may need some protection from cold spells. 

Draw up soil around the shoots and surround this with bracken or straw. Leave the tops of the shoots clear. Keep protection in place with wire netting, and in extreme cold, add a further temporary blanket of horticultural fleece. Remove all protection in spring.

How to harvest Artichokes

Jerusalem artichoke tubers may be left in the ground and dug up as required. If you don’t want a repeat crop next year, then you’ll need to scour for every last tuber. Those left in the ground will re-sprout in the spring to start the growing cycle all over again. To ensure a consistent and evenly-spaced crop, it’s best to lift the entire harvest and replant select tubers in early spring.

If you’re wondering ‘how long does it take for artichokes to grow’: the answer is two years. By the second summer, you will be able to begin harvesting globe artichokes. Allow a maximum of six flower stems to develop per crown to guarantee good-sized buds. Cut out any others that begin to form. 

Large flower buds, known as king heads, will appear first of all at the end of each stem. These will be followed by several smaller lateral heads. Harvest the flower buds once they have reached a good size, but before they open. Remove each head with secateurs, leaving a few inches of stem attached for the best possible flavour.

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