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How to Grow Cardoon

cardoon growing in gardenCardoon is a tender perennial vegetable grown as an annual. Sow or transplant cardoon into the garden 3 to 4 weeks after the average last frost date in spring. Start cardoon from seed indoors 6 weeks before transplanting it into the garden. Cardoon, which is grown for its young leaf-stalks, will be ready for harvest 120 to 150 days after planting.

Description. Cardoon looks like a cross between burdock and celery. It is grown for its young leaf-stalks which are blanched and eaten like celery. Cardoon has heavy, gray-green, fuzzy leaves that are deeply cut leaves and a heavy, bristled flower head. Cardoon is a member of the artichoke family and can grow up to 4 feet (1.2m) tall and 2 feet (.6m) wide.

Yield. Plant 1 or 2 cardoons for each household member.

Planting Cardoon

Site. Grow cardoon in full sun; cardoon will tolerate partial shade. Plant cardoon in well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Prepare beds in advance with aged compost. Cardoon prefers a soil pH of 6.0 to 7.0.

Planting time. Cardoon is a tender perennial vegetable grown as an annual. It is best grown from transplants set in the garden 3 to 4 weeks after the average last frost date in spring. Start cardoon from seed indoors 6 weeks before transplanting. It germinates best at 75°F (24°C). Cardoon will be ready for harvest about 120 days after planting.

Planting and spacing. Sow cardoon seed ¼ inch deep. Thin cardoon from 18 to 24 inches (45-61cm) apart. Space rows 36 to 48 inches (76-122cm) apart.

Companion plants. Perennial vegetables such as asparagus; not root vegetables or vines.

Container growing. Cardoons do not grow well in containers. Chose a 5-gallon (19 liter) container to grow one cardoon.

Cardoon stalks
Cardoon is grown for its young leaf-stalks which are blanched and eaten like celery.

Caring for Cardoon

Water and feeding. Evenly water cardoon but allow plants to dry out between watering.

Add aged compost to planting beds before planting and again at midseason.

Care. Cardoon is commonly blanched to improve the flavor and to make it more tender. About 3 to 4 weeks before harvest, when the plant is 3 feet (.9m) tall, tie the leaves together in a bunch and wrap paper or burlap around the stems to about 18 inches 45cm) high, or hill up soil around the stems.

Pests. Aphids can attack cardoon. Pinch out infested foliage or spay aphids off plants with a blast of water.

Diseases. Cardoon has no serious disease problems.

Cardoon in kitchen
Steamed cardoon

Harvesting and Storing Cardoon

Harvest. Cardoon will be ready for harvest 4 to 6 weeks after blanching. Cut stalks off at ground level and trim away the leaves.

Storing and preserving. Cardoon stalks will keep in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks. Wrap them in paper or plastic. Cardoon can be frozen, canned, or dried; handle it like celery.

Cardoon Varieties to Grow

Varieties. ‘Large Smooth’; ‘Large Smooth Spanish’; ‘Ivory White Smooth’. Grow any variety available in your area.

Common name. Cardoon

Botanical name. Cynara cardunculus

Origin. Europe


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    • There are many cultivars of cardoon and the flower heads often look like an artichoke flower. Cardoon is sometimes called “artichoke thistle.” While the cardoon is closely related to the artichoke, the edible part of interest is the large leaf stalk not the flower head. The flavor of cardoon stalk is near to the flavor of the artichoke flower head.

  1. I love growing cardoon for its foliage; this year, however, I’d like to blanche it in place, and try eating it. Is there a “best time” to wrap it for blanching? I’m curious about the timing of blanching as it relates to flower production. Many plants get bitter when using their sugars to produce flowers/seeds. If I notice it start to “bolt,” might that be the time to blanche it?

    • Don’t wait for cardoon to bolt or flower before blanching; the plant will already have transferred sugars to the blossoms. Blanch cardoon as soon or after the leaves are large enough to eat. The stems will be most tender when the plant is young.

    • The flowers will draw natural sugars away from the stalks which can leave the stalks a bit bitter flavored. You can harvest the stalks ahead of flowering or soon after.

  2. Could you talk about seed saving and propagating from saved seed with this plant? I’m in zone 6 and my “ornamental” cardoon came back after last winter and grew 6’ and had multiple flower heads this year. The bees loved it! (So did the aphids and ants!) I’d like to plant more of them. Tell me what to do.

    • Blanch cardoon 3 to 4 weeks ahead of harvest; blanching will improve the flavor and texture of the stalks. After harvest, cut the plant back to just after ground level and heap straw atop the crown; if the winter is not bitterly cold, the crowns will survive and releaf next spring.

  3. Since Cardoon is in the thistle family, do I need to worry about it reseeding and causing a later problem? We already have issue with Milk thistle. We raise sheep and don’t want to cause any further invasion of thistle plants. Thanks.

    • Cardoon stalks are harvested for preparation in the kitchen. If you allow the plants to flower and drop seed, they could become weedy, especially if you are in a warm winter zone (Zones 8 to 11). If you are growing them as perennials, remove the flowers before they open and the plants won’t be dropping seed.

  4. I love cardoon, it is stringy and shaped like celery. Take a potato peeler remove the strings. Cut in Approximately 3 inch pieces to make it easy to handle. After cutting immediately immerse it in water with lemon to keep it from browning. Boil in salted water with lemon slices till slightly tender. Dry, flour, egg, bread crumb, deep fryer and you will always have a spot in your garden for cardoon! It taste very similar to artichoke, and it’s easy to make a big basket for yourself. Serve with a Diablo marinara, Or Ketchup….
    I like to thank the Italian club of Tampa Florida for introducing me to such a wonderful vegetable.

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