Artichokes and cardoons are well known in the Mediterranean regions. They were brought to America by the French in the 1800s. Even though they are easy to grow, home gardeners are still not very familiar with them. Here is all you need to know on how to grow artichokes and cardoons in your backyard.
What are Artichokes and Cardoons?
Artichokes and cardoons are cousins from the thistle family from the Mediterranean region. Thistles are wild robust green plants that are very nutritious and have medicinal value. Growers were able to cultivate artichokes and cardoons for commercial production.
Artichoke plant and cardoons are pretty much the same. The main difference is that people grow artichokes for their flowers, while cardoons are grown for their leaf stems. However, there is no harm in eating artichoke stems too.
The plant can grow to reach three to five feet tall and two feet wide. The central stem is thick, hollow, with a ragged surface. The leaves are long with a thick midrib and sharp pointy blade.
The artichoke flower is quite striking if left to mature. The 7-inches wide thistle-like flower has a stunning lavender-blue color. It makes a great addition to flower arrangements or dried for an artistic display. You can also leave it on the plant for the wildlife to feed on.
When to grow Artichokes and Cardoons
In central Texas, plant artichokes and cardoons in early fall. The plants need about 180 days to establish a strong root system and produce in early spring. Due to the hot summer, the plants will look rather stressed and unsightly before dying back. They will eventually send new pups in the fall.
Are artichoke and cardoon plants perennials?
Artichokes and cardoons are perennial plants from zone 5 and up. They are cold hardy down to 25F (-4C). However, they do not appreciate high temperatures either. For central Texas gardeners, the plants will lose their vigor as soon as the heat settles. Not to worry though, they will send new shoots in the fall.
Growing artichokes and cardoons from seeds and rhizomes
Artichokes and cardoons can grow easily from seed. However, they need about 60 days for the seedling to be ready for transplanting. To plant in October, you should start the seeds in mid-summer around August or even July. And then, you will have to wait a year or two to get a vigorous plant.
On the other hand, growing artichokes and cardoons from rhizomes is more efficient and rewarding. Since the root system is already developed, the plant will need less time to reach its mature size. Another benefit to growing them from rhizomes is that more pups will appear each new season.
Where to get artichoke and cardoon seeds or transplants?
You can find artichoke and cardoon seeds at online seed sellers, such as Baker Creek, Johnny’s, and others. If you are looking for transplants, your best bet is local nurseries in the fall or spring seasons.
How to plant artichokes and cardoons?
Artichokes and cardoons are stalky leafy greens, so they need a lot of light to produce energy through photosynthesis. They need six to eight hours of direct sunlight anything less will stunt their growth and decrease production.
You need to plant artichokes and cardoons in rich and well-draining soil. If you have clay or sandy soil, amend it with a lot of compost to rectify it.
As mentioned above, artichokes and cardoons are natives of the Mediterranean region. They can withstand a short period of drought, but they will need some water at some point. Their taproot system can reach deep in the soil seeking water.
For home gardeners, it is important to feed you artichoke and cardoon plants. Fertilize with high Nitrogen ( first number) at the beginning stages of growth to promote leafy growth. Apply it every week to two weeks. To promote artichokes blooms, follow up with a high Phosphorus (middle number) fertilizer every two weeks once the plant is vigorous.
How to care for artichokes and cardoons?
Artichokes and cardoon plants are easy to care for if you provide the right growing conditions. Once the plant stops production and starts going dormant, trim it back to the ground. Cover the base with mulch to protect it from the harsh sun and heat. You can also leave the flowers on for the birds.
When to harvest artichokes and cardoons?
The edible part of the artichoke is the inner heart of the flower. The bud should be firm at harvest. If it starts opening up, it will be too late to harvest as there will be nothing left for you to eat. Use a sharp knife and make a swift cut at the base of the bud. You may get some of the stem, which you would peel before consumption. You can also eat use artichoke leaves just like you would cardoons.
Cardoons are grown for their stem or leaf midrib. The plant usually grows into a bundle like celery. For the harvest, you may wait until many stems have gathered, or harvest single leaves whenever you wish.
Use a sharp serrated knife to cut at the base of the leaf or the bundle. You will have to remove the leaf blade as the edible part is only the midrib. Clean it by removing the strings from the ragged side and maybe peel the inner side.
It is recommended to blanch or parboil cardoons before adding them to your recipe. This will reduce its bitterness.
How to propagate artichoke and cardoon plant?
You can propagate your artichoke and cardoon plants every two years. Wait until the new pups start showing up to locate your new plants. Use a sharpshooter to make a clean cut at the base. Lift the rhizome carefully from the ground.
Plant the freshly cut rhizome immediately and water right away. If you are not ready to plant it, place it in a bucket with some water.
Can I grow artichoke and cardoons in a pot?
It is possible to grow artichokes and cardoons in pots, but that can get quite challenging in central Texas for the following reasons
- To support the big plant, you will need a big pot that is at least five gallons.
- You will have to fertilize more frequently since potted plants ran out of nutrients fast.
- You will have to water regularly to prevent the soil from drying out.
- Make sure to use good potting soil to prevent rot due to high moisture.
Is artichoke a productive plant?
In the best-case scenario, one artichoke plant can produce up to nine buds, which you would have to thin down to four or five. But on average, you will get two to three buds per plant, so if you are an avid artichoke eater, plan accordingly.
What is the nutritional value of artichokes?
Artichokes and cardoons have great nutritional value, especially when eaten in season. They are rich in antioxidants, which help the immune system fight free radicals. They also help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol and promote a healthy digestive system with their high fiber content.
Artichokes and cardoons in the culinary world
Since artichokes and cardoon originated in the Mediterranean, there is no shortage of recipes. Between Southern Europe and North Africa, you can imagine the diverse dishes. But there is one way that all the countries in that region share, and that is artichoke salad.
The artichokes buds are boiled until soft until the petals are easy to pull apart from the heart. Dip the base of the petal in olive oil and lemon vinegarette. Then you suck on the dipped part scraping the soft flesh with your teeth. Once you reach the heart, you will have to remove the choke (the hairy part) before eating it.
Here is a short list of recipes ideas:
- Moroccan Cardoon Tajine
- Algerian Artichoke hearts.
- Artichoke Leaf Salad
- Italian Cardoon Zuppa
- Cardoon & Potato Gratin