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Artichoke Growing Problems: Troubleshooting

Artichoke buds1

Artichoke budsArtichokes grow best in areas of long mild winters and cool summers. Artichokes do not grow well where the summers are very hot, and where winters are cold and the ground freezes, artichokes must be replanted each year. Perennial artichokes should be cut back to about 12 inches in winter and the roots and crown heavily mulched with leaves or compost. For artichoke growing tips see Artichoke Growing Success Tips at the bottom of this post.

Common artichoke growing problems with cures and controls:

Crowns of plant rots becoming slimy and foul smelling. Botrytis rot or crown rot is a fungal disease common in rainy weather. Remove and destroy infected plants. Keep weeds out of garden where fungal spores may harbor.

Young stems chewed. Young earwigs feed on plant shoots and eat holes in foliage. Most often the damage is tolerable and the infestation is light. For heavy infestation, use traps of rolled wet paper or old flowerpots stuffed with paper to catch earwigs at night. Dump them in soapy water. Keep garden free of plant debris. Spray with hot pepper and garlic repellent.

Jagged holes in leaves, stems. Snails and slugs scrape holes in foliage at night; during the day they hide beneath boards and garden debris. Handpick and destroy slugs and snails in the evening. Place saucers of beer at soil level to attract and drown snails and slugs. Dust with diatomaceous earth around plants.

Holes in stems and leaves; discolored spot on bracts. The larva of the artichoke plume moth is ½-inch long green or yellowish caterpillar with black shield marks; the adult is a brownish moth with featherlike wings. Cut plants to soil level once a year; remove and destroy plant debris. Cover trimmed plants with 6 inches of soil. Use Bacillus thuringiensis and predaceous nematodes are effective.

Sticky honeydew on leaves and chokes; black sooty mold on plant. Aphids are tiny, oval, and yellowish to greenish pear-shaped insects that colonize on the undersides of leaves. They leave behind sticky excrement called honeydew which can turn into a black sooty mold. Spray away aphids with a blast of water from the hose. Use insecticidal soap. Control ants that farm aphids.

Curled leaves, dwarfed plants; chokes are small and misshaped; yield is reduced by nearly half. Curly dwarf virus is usually spread in propagation from infected plants, not seed. Remove and destroy infected plants immediately. Use virus-free stock for new plants. Control aphids which spread many viruses.

The edible leaf bracts are tough and leathery. Summer heat can cause buds to open and leave the tissue tough. Harvest buds when they are closed tight and before they have started to open.

Artichoke Growing Success Tips:

Planting. Grow artichokes in full sun. Artichokes require well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Add aged compost to planting beds in advance of planting. Artichokes grow best where daytime temperatures do not exceed 70°F and nighttime temperatures do not fall below 55°F. In warmer regions, plant thornless artichoke varieties which are more heat resistant.

Planting time. Artichokes are most easily grown from bare-root divisions purchased from a nursery. Set divisions in the garden on about the average date of the last frost in spring. Artichokes also can be grown from seed; sow seed 8 weeks before the last expected frost in spring. Start seed indoors if you are growing artichokes as an annual crop.

Care. Perennial artichokes require a dormant period each year to trigger a new round of flowering the following year; this usually comes in the cool of winter. In warm winter regions, cut back plants to soil level when the foliage dies back after harvest. Do no water or feed plants during the dormant time. About 4 months later, dress the plants with compost and begin watering again; foliage will re-sprout and plants will produce new flower buds.

Annual artichokes do not require a long dormant period to promote flowering. Artichokes grown as annual should be exposed to a chilling period of 8 to 10 days before going into the garden. About two weeks before the average last frost date in spring, place annual artichokes in a coldframe where temperatures will stay above freezing but below 50°F. After the 10-day chilling period and after the last frost, transplant artichokes into the garden. ‘Imperial Star’ is a good annual artichoke choice for chilling.

Harvest. Perennial artichokes bud in spring. Annual artichokes produce flower buds in early summer. Cut buds before they open. Leave about 1 to 1½ inches of stem attached to each bud.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. Harvesttotable.com has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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  1. My artichoke plants are on their third year. I let them go to full bloom, because the bees love them. Previously, they’ve been leaf full, and under 5′ tall. This year, the stems have only a few leaves, and are over 6′ with the globes on top. What do they need? Thanks for any info.

    • Artichokes are perennial plants in mild-winter climates. They can live for about six years. To remain healthy and productive, you will want to feed the soil. At the end of the bloom time or in early spring, feed the plant with an all-purpose organic fertilizer such as 10-10-10. You can also enrich the soil by mulching around the plant with aged compost or a commercial organic planting mix. When you renew the nutrients in the soil, the plant will produce both leaves and blooms.

  2. I repotted my 1 year old Artichoke plant to a larger pot and moved to a more after noon sunny area of the yard facing the west side of my house. New potting soil was added. Looked like it was growing well nice and green foliage. Then I notice ants all over it, so I sprayed home remedy of avfid killer. Water Castile soap and neem oil. No more ants. Then I notice the plant was droopy, which I figured it needed water, so i watered it immediately and noticed I had my first globe in the center. So excited like finding out your going to have a baby. Ha! Next morning the plant was back to it’s healthy self, but i notice couple lower leaves were yellow so i pulled them off. Confused as I thought that was a sign of too much water. There is 4 drain holes in my in the pot, but wondering if it’s not enough. If not when can I remove the plant from the pot to put more holes for drainage? The weather is starting to get hotter now near 90 degrees. Since it’s in a pot I could move to a more shaded area from a tree if that would help. I’m in Clearlake Oaks, CA and summer get in the high 90’s-100’s.

    • Transplanting now with a developing artichoke flower could result in transplant shock and loss of the bloom. Yellowing leaves could be too much water. Is it possible to drill another hole or two in the bottom of the container without disturbing the plant? As for the sun, you could place a frame around the plant and place shade cloth on top so the plant does not get midday sun, but still gets morning and late afternoon sun.

  3. We have two mature artichoke plants in different areas of our large yard. Both are in sun to partial shade. The older one looks great but has produced nothing this year. The younger one is producing fairly heavily (probably 14 or so artichokes — but most of the plant leaves (not the artichokes themselves) seem diseased. They almost look like they are covered heavily with dust, but it’s definitely something internal. This hasn’t affected this year’s production, but we definitely need to deal with it at the end of the season. What steps should we take? We live in the Central Valley of California, in zone 8. BTW, I think we probably need to replace the older artichoke, as it seems to have oulived its productive years Thanks for all the great advice you’ve given to everyone!

    • Artichokes are perennials with an average life of 3 to 5 years; you can feed the plants with a dilute solution of fish emulsion or water time often with compost tea; this should help them live a long life and be productive. The “dust” may be a fungal disease such as rust (brownish) or gray mold (gray-white). You can spray the leaves with a fungicide to slow the spread.

  4. My Artichoke plant is in its 1st year of full growth and amazingly has lots of buds. The only problem is the leaves ar3 splotchy brown and the buds are opening but not flowering. They are turning brown and drying out. I keep the soil moist and I think Im over watering a bit after reading sone here. Any ideas?

    • The soil should not be overly moist; let the soil dry between waterings. Artichokes buds are harvested before they open. Feed the plants with a 5-10-10 liquid organic fertilizer.

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