September Grow your own

About artichokes

Artichokes are considered a gourmet vegetable due to the delicate flavour of the ball-like flowerheads, which are picked and eaten before they have a chance to bloom. Although plants can be grown from seed, this is a long-winded process and it's far easier to buy ready-rooted suckers to plant in the spring.

These stately plants, which grow to 1.5m x 1m (5ft x 3.25ft), make big clumps of arching, jagged silvery leaves. They make good structural plants as well as having edible flowers. Plants can be grown in groups, 60cm (2ft) apart with 75cm (2.5ft) between rows, but as each produces up to 12 edible heads, one plant may be enough for your needs.

What to do

Soil preparation

Choose an open, sunny spot with well-drained soil. The architectural good looks of artichokes means the plants are perfect for the back of a border.
Add plenty of well-rotted manure to the planting site and add horticultural grit to clay soil to improve drainage.
Rake in some general fertiliser before planting, spreading it at a rate of 60g per sq m.
How to plant

Dig a hole bigger than the sucker and plant so that the soil mark on the stem sits at the same level as the surface of the soil.
Fill the hole with soil, ensure the plant is held firmly and water well.

Water plants well until established, ensuring that they don't dry out in hot weather.
Cut back stems in autumn and protect the crown over winter with a thick mulch of bark chippings, straw or other material.
In early spring add a mulch of well-rotted manure to help boost growth.

In its first year, plants need to put all their energy into making growth, so remove any flowerheads as they form.
In the second year, allow the edible heads to develop for harvesting in summer. Pick the terminal bud (the one at the top) first, when it's large and swollen, but before the scales have started to open - cut off with a few centimetres of stem attached. Pick the side buds when they have reached a decent size.

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