I know that the snow is still on the ground here in Ohio, but it’s never too early to start planning your garden. With that thought in mind, I wanted to talk about artichokes – not the root kind (Jerusalem artichokes), but the leafy, delectable globe artichokes.
These plants are relatives of the thistle, and indeed, if you let an artichoke bloom, it will look exactly like a thistle flower, except on a giant scale. The plants themselves are attractive, too. Growing to more than three feet tall, they are wide plants with interesting silvery leaves.
But growing them in Ohio? Some say that it’s impossible, while others admit that you can grow them if you’re willing to do a lot of work. I’ve grown them myself, and I’ve found that it’s actually really easy. In fact, my first attempt at artichokes resulted in a harvest the first year, which means that if nothing else, you can certainly grow these plants as annuals. However, if you choose the right varieties and take a couple of precautions, you can get bumper crops from the same artichoke plants year after year.
Image Credit to Stan Dalone & Miran Rijavec
Why Grow Artichokes?
Aside from being extremely tasty, artichokes come with a number of health benefits. Many call these leafy vegetables a superfood, probably because they are extraordinarily high in antioxidants. In fact, a study of 1,000 different foods ranked artichokes as seventh for antioxidant levels. Antioxidants are one of nature’s miracles—they help prevent cancer, heart disease, neuronal degeneration, and they slow the effects of aging.
Best Varieties for Ohio
Depending on where you live in Ohio, your USDA cold hardiness zone is between 5b and 6b. The vast majority of Ohio is 6a, but a few isolated spots are cooler, while the southern tip of Ohio is warmer. This means perennials need to be able to withstand winter temperatures of -15°F.
Personally, I’ve had success with the “Green Globe” variety. This artichoke is rated for zone 7, which is much warmer than Ohio’s temperatures, but I’ve had several overwinter quite well. In fact, my first attempt at artichoke growing was with the “Green Globe” variety, and out of 20 plants, 15 survived a winter with absolutely no shelter or protection from the elements. Granted, that was a somewhat mild winter—no polar vortices—but with adequate protection, this variety will tolerate the worst winter can throw at us.
“Green Globe”—and most of the green varieties, such as “Imperial Star”—is a heavy-bearing plant. That is, they’re made to produce loads of delicious blooms. That was my experience. The artichokes I grew each produced at least five blooms during the first year, and most produced six to eight before the first heavy frost.
There are also the purple artichoke varieties, but I haven’t personally grown these. These include “Violetta,” “Opera,” and others. If you’re worried about cold hardiness, most purple artichokes are rated for zone 6, and some, including “Opera,” are fast maturing, which makes them great for our shorter growing seasons.
Caring for Your Artichokes
As I said, I’ve had artichokes overwinter quite well without any special precautions. However, if you want to guarantee survival, there are a couple of easy things you can do. First and foremost, choose a sheltered location. My new artichoke bed is along the southern wall of my home, which provides three big advantages:
If not for the polar vortices, that would likely be enough to guarantee survival. However, because the past couple of winters have been so nasty, I think it’s important to give the artichokes a little more protection.
In the fall, once the plants die back, cut away all the dead leaves and stems. Then cover the artichokes with at least 6 inches of mulch. If you’re really concerned about the cold, you can cover the bed with plastic garden sheeting before you mulch it. Alternatively, place plastic buckets or plant pots over each mulched artichoke. Make sure to use black pots so that they soak up as much heat as possible from the winter sun.
As soon as the ground starts to warm in the spring, remove the mulch and any other coverings. After sheltering your artichokes over the winter, you don’t want to suffocate them once they start to grow!
Whether you want all the artichokes you can eat or you’d just like to try them as an ornamental plant, it’s very easy to grow them, even in Ohio. The next time you’re at the garden center mulling over a packet of artichoke seeds, don’t hesitate to give it a shot!
Artichokes, 3 Ways, U.S. News & World Report
USDA Ohio Plant Hardiness Map, USDA
All About Growing Artichokes, Mother Earth News
Thanks for the article. I am growing artichokes for the first time this year. I have started them inside but wondering when they can be transplanted out? Do I need to wait until after the last frost in May? (I’m in Ohio)
Hey Heidi, sorry for the late reply! Artichokes can resist a frost, and they need a bit of chill in order to flower–but they can’t handle a hard freeze. Most recommend transplanting them outside 20 to 30 days after the last frost, so here in Ohio, you’d be looking at mid to late April.