Homegrown: Winterizing artichokes
A couple of years ago you gave advice on growing artichokes here in Grand Junction. My plants are great now; how do I winter them?
Artichokes are wonderful, semi-perennial herbaceous plants in western Colorado. They can get pretty big, typically 3 to 4 feet tall. Their divided, silvery gray foliage lends a striking color and textural contrast to the garden. And besides all of that, you can get delicious fresh artichokes from them.
Because they’re naturally adapted to a mild, marine climate, it’s best to plant them in a spot in the garden where they’ll get morning sun but some shade in the afternoon. The foliage can burn a bit at first where they get lots of sun, though they’ll usually adapt and recover but the plant will be smaller and the chokes can be smaller and tougher.
Do a good job amending the soil before planting by mixing in lots of decomposed organic matter. They like good drainage. Plus, the richness of that amended soil will really encourage good growth which results in tastier, more tender artichokes.
Water them regularly but don’t keep the soil wet all of the time; allow it to dry a bit before soaking again. Fertilize them regularly with a good garden fertilizer.
The plants take some time to grow and mature. They’ll usually start to send up flower stalks (the artichoke is the flower bud of the plant) in August or September. If your plant sends up stalks before that, it’s best to cut them off to give the plant more time to grow and mature which results in more chokes. Plus, the artichokes will be more tender and flavorful if they mature in the cooler weather of fall.
This fall, the foliage will die down. Cut it off near the ground and get the plant ready for winter.
I said before that they’re semiperennial here, and that’s true. Sometimes they’ll come through the winter and sometimes not. If you can get them through, they’ll be bigger and produce lots more chokes for you the following year.
Wait until the ground starts freezing in November to cover the plant. Put a stout box or basket upside down over the plant and then mound some coarse organic matter like shredded leaves, straw or wood chips over that. Don’t just pile the mulch over the plant, as it will keep the crown of the plant moist, often causing it to rot.
As the ground starts to thaw in the spring, rake off the mulch (spread it around the plant; your artichoke will appreciate it), remove the box or basket and wait to see if it comes back. If it doesn’t, I wouldn’t despair. Grow them as annuals. They’re still worth it.
Is butterfly bush ‘Royal Red’ (buddleia davidii) too tender for zone 4?
By the way, had great success with ‘Super Fantastic’ tomato plants that we purchased from you last spring. Keep up the good work.
Most references list buddleia davidii hardy to zone 5 which is a zone warmer than you. I’d expect that you would get them through the winter just fine if you just mulch them in a bit after the ground starts to freeze in October or November. Pile a 12-inch to 18-inch deep cone of coarse, fluffy organic material like chopped leaves, straw or cedar mulch over them.
The tops of the branches might die back over the winter, but that really wouldn’t be much of a loss, as I recommend you cut butterfly bush back to 6 inches to 12 inches early each spring anyway. Up your way, you’ll also get more consistent snow cover, which will further act to protect the plants.
Glad the tomatoes worked well for you. Personally, I still think Fantastic is the most dependable variety out there. I’ve played with lots of different varieties in my garden, but I always had one or two Fantastics there as insurance.