Learn tricks to growing artichokes in western Colorado

I plan to move to Grand Junction soon. I want to know if I will be able to grow artichokes there.

— Robert

Yes, artichokes do grow here, it just takes a few tricks to get them to work.

Since they take a long time to mature, you want to start with larger plants in bigger pots. This will give you enough of a head start to get a crop before any early frosts hit this fall.

Artichokes are wonderful, semi-perennial herbaceous plants in western Colorado. They can get pretty big, typically 3–4 feet tall.

Their divided, silvery gray foliage lends a striking color and textural contrast to the garden. And besides all that, you can get delicious fresh artichokes from them.

Since they’re naturally adapted to a mild, marine climate, around here 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 great drainage, plus the richness of that amended soil will really encourage good growth resulting 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, so they 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.

In the 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 semi-perennial 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 a lot 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, such as shredded leaves, straw or wood chips, over that.

Don’t just pile the mulch over the plant, it will keep the crown of the plant moist and it will often rot.

As the ground starts to thaw in the spring, rake off the mulch (spread it around the plant, which will appreciate it), remove the box or basket and wait to see if it comes back.

If it doesn’t, don’t despair. Grow them as annuals, they’re still worth it.

I want to put in a strawberry bed and wonder if I can plant different kinds of strawberries together. Also, could I plant asparagus with the strawberries?

— Nancy

You can mix different varieties of strawberries in the same patch but I’d steer away from planting asparagus there. I think you may run into watering problems down the line.

Strawberries want a regular supply of water while asparagus does better with a more infrequent soaking. We run into this same problem when people plant rhubarb in their strawberry patch. They go great together in a pie but they’re not that compatible in the garden.

I’d try to find a separate spot for each so you can tailor the watering to the needs of the plants.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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