Castroville, California, bills itself as "the Artichoke Capitol of the World," but you don't have to live in the Golden State to grow these gems, thanks to new varieties that do just fine, thank you, in gardens from Maine to the Rocky Mountains.
- Gardeners in mild climes can grow any artichoke variety that strikes their fancy. If your growing season is short, good choices are Imperial Star or Grande Beurre. In the Southwest, try Texas Hill; it's bred to perform in high heat, alkaline soil and warm winters.
- Call nurseries in your area to find out what varieties they carry and when their shipments begin arriving from the growers. At large garden centers, they usually start several weeks before the last frost date, with new stock arriving weekly through the planting season.
- If you start artichokes from seed, promote early flowering by soaking the seeds in water for 8 hours, and then refrigerating them for two weeks in a jar filled with slightly moist sand.
- Buy plants at your local nursery for planting after all danger of frost has past; otherwise, start seed indoors 8 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost.
- Choose a site that gets full sun, where the 4- to 5-foot-tall plants won't shade shorter crops and, if you're growing them as perennials, where they won't be disturbed.
- Look for rich, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 to 7.0. Dig the soil deeply, and add plenty of organic matter that is rich in phosphorus and potassium.
- Harden off your seedlings, whether homegrown or store-bought, and then plant them at least 3 feet apart in rows that are 5 to 6 feet apart. In mild regions, set plants into the ground so that the crown is just above the soil surface; set them deeper in colder regions.
- Keep the soil moist'mulching will help retain moisture - and feed with fish emulsion or other organic fertilizer from spring to midsummer.
- Treat artichokes as annuals in cold climates. In milder regions, cut the plants back in mid to late fall. In zones 8 through 10, they should need no winter protection. In zones 4 through 7, cover each plant with an inverted bushel basket and mound pine needles or leaves on top.
- Harvest artichokes before the buds start to open and they're still green and tight. The central bud usually ripens first, followed by the smaller ones that form on side shoots.