The artichoke plant (Cynara scolymus) is native to the southern Mediterranean areas of Europe. In itself, it is a handsome perennial plant specimen, well suited to the background of a perennial border with its large silvery green leaves and fountain like growth habit. The plant grows to 4 feet tall and sometimes as wide and should be spaced accordingly. If the “chokes” are not harvested, spectacular purple blue 6” thistle flowers stand above the clump. These can be cut and used in arrangements. Of course, artichokes are grown mainly for the young, tender budded flowers that we use as a vegetable.
Artichokes are grown commercially along the cool summer coastal strip of California where they produce September through May. In other Bay Area climates, these plants grow well from spring through autumn, with most chokes produced in early summer.
Plant artichokes in late winter or early spring. Prepare the soil to a depth of 1 to 1 ½ feet with Loam Builder or Planting Mix. When the new growth commences, feed with Maxsea All Purpose or EB Stone All Purpose Food at the recommended rate. Place the plants in full sun. Water weekly after growth starts to produce a good crop. If grown only as an ornamental, they will tolerate some drought. After the chokes have been harvested, or finished flowering, cut the stems back to ground level. In cold winter areas, protect the plants by cutting back to 1 foot then tie the stems into a tight clump and cover with straw or other loose mulch to protect the crown.
The most damaging pests of artichokes are slugs, snails and aphids. Slugs and snails can be controlled with the application of Sluggo, a non-toxic bait to non-target animals. Apply in the fall and early spring around the plants. Aphids appear in mid-spring and can either be hosed off with water or sprayed with Bonide All Seasons Oil. Insecticidal soap is also effective. Available at all Sloat Garden Centers!