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In the Garden: Artichokes require new seedlings each year here

Sun., April 28, 2013

Artichokes may be an unusual sight in Inland Northwest gardens but they are easy to grow and quite productive. (Susan Mulvihill)
Artichokes may be an unusual sight in Inland Northwest gardens but they are easy to grow and quite productive. (Susan Mulvihill)

Whenever someone hears I’m growing artichokes, their response is always the same: “Artichokes?! You can grow them here?”

Yes, absolutely you can grow artichokes in the Inland Northwest but you have to grow them as annuals which means planting new seedlings each spring.

Artichokes are a warm-season crop that I’ve grown the past two years, and I’m just crazy about them. For one thing, they are a fabulous addition to the veggie garden. They have large, gray leaves with interesting texture. But the best part is all of the delicious artichokes we’ve gotten to eat. Each of our plants has yielded an average of 10 artichokes.

I planted the seeds indoors in mid-March to give them plenty of time to grow before being transplanted into the garden in late May. I’ve grown Green Globe in the past but am also trying Imperial Star this year for a comparison.

If you didn’t have the luxury of starting your own plants indoors, Secret Garden Greenhouse, 7717 E. 18th Ave., in Spokane Valley, has Imperial Star seedlings available this season.

Artichokes are easy to grow. They don’t require staking, pruning or fussing with. When you move them out to the garden, give them some room as the plants are huge. I space mine 2 feet apart. Give them some organic fertilizer that is higher in phosphorus than nitrogen – remember that phosphorus is the middle number on fertilizer packages – to encourage blooming and the development of buds.

The buds should be harvested when they are firm and tight, which is when they are most tender. Once the buds start opening, they lose that tenderness. Cut the buds off of the stems of the plants, trim off the prickly tips of each green leaf and rinse them in cold, salted water. They should be steamed for 25 to 40 minutes.

If you completely miss harvesting some of the buds at the right time, you can always let them mature on the plants for use in fresh or dried floral arrangements. The flowers are quite stunning.

I mentioned above that artichokes are grown as annuals here but was surprised to discover some of last year’s plants had overwintered in our garden. This is very unusual but can be attributed to our relatively mild winter.

Another warm-season crop worth growing is basil, but it’s very picky about having warm soil. Because of this, you’ll want to wait until the end of May to plant them in your garden. An excellent variety is Lettuce Leaf, which I grow each year, but I’m also trying a new variety from Renee’s Garden ( called Italian Pesto.

I primarily use basil for making pesto, but the leaves are also wonderful in pasta dishes, panini sandwiches and when paired with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella.

Because basil doesn’t require a long season, it’s no problem to plant the seeds directly in your garden in late May or early June. They should be planted at a depth of 1/4 inch and spaced 4 to 6 inches apart.

Since you’ll be harvesting the leaves, you’ll want nice, bushy plants. To accomplish this, pinch off the tips of each plant once they are a few inches tall to encourage growth of more branches.

When the summer temperatures get hot, it’s natural for the plants to start blooming in preparation for setting seed and eventually dying. Any time you see tiny flower buds, remove them to encourage continued growth of leaves to extend your harvest.

Susan Mulvihill can be reached via email at Visit her blog at susansinthe for more gardening information, tips and events.

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