Fruit and Vegetables

Artichoke - Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus

Artichoke - Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus

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The artichoke

The artichoke, cynara cardunculus var. scolymus, is a perennial rhizomatous herbaceous plant; this plant produces has an autumnal and winter development, therefore as soon as the summer temperatures become mild and humid from the underground rhizome sprout the first shoots, which will produce large greyish, finely engraved, arched leaves, inserted on a thick erect, ribbed stem and fibrous, herbaceous, of the same color as the foliage; during the winter months at the apex of the stems large flower heads are prepared, enclosed in thick bracts, which will bloom in late winter. Some varieties of artichoke are re-flowering, so they prepare some repeating blooms; what is consumed of the artichoke are the flower heads, before the flower begins to develop to bloom. After flowering, when spring warmth arrives, the plant begins to dry out, and during the summer all the aerial part will be completely dry; only at the end of summer, with the arrival of the rains, will the artichokes begin to sprout again.
The artichoke is an easy vegetable to grow, especially if our soil and climate allow it. Good to eat and beautiful to look at, thanks to its magnificent purple flowers, it certainly must not be lacking in a vegetable garden.

Characteristics and history of the artichoke

The artichoke (Cynaria scolymus) is a herbaceous plant belonging to the Asteraceae family. It can reach a height of 1.5 m and develops mainly in width, given that it is equipped with a rhizomatous root system and several stems. The leaves, up to 150 cm long, differ greatly. The basal ones are finely engraved, while those along the stems are full lanceolate. The color ranges from glossy green to tomentose green tending to gray-glaucous (depending also on the variety).
The flower heads (of which we eat when they are still closed) include different flowers in a glass. The bristles, which are blue-violet in color, are very elegant.
Probably the cultivation of the artichoke was already widespread in southern Italy during the Roman Empire. The species was also known by the Greeks: it was collected and used for culinary and medicinal purposes.
The crop spread throughout our peninsula during the Renaissance and from Tuscany, thanks to Caterina de 'Medici, it also arrived in France and from there to the rest of Europe and the world. Currently, our country is one of the major producers (the places of election are Sicily, Sardinia and Puglia), although cultivation has also spread to Spain, California and Peru.

Grow artichokes

As said before these plants are perennial, so in the garden we will have to use an area for artichokes that we will dedicate only to it for some years. Artichokes also propagate by seed, but buds or basal shoots are more easily taken from the rhizomes; the portions of rhizome with sprouts are called ovules, and are taken at the end of summer; the basal suckers are called carducci, and are taken constantly during the development of the plant, to avoid that they subtract nutritive elements from the main plant that we are growing. Whether it is a crop from ovules or carducci, the new artichokes are prepared between late winter and late spring; during the first winter we will not have an interesting production, but we will begin to collect artichokes starting from the second or third year of the plant. The artichokes are prepared in a sunny area of ​​the garden, a single plant can grow up to 120-150 cm in diameter, so it is good to remember to place the rhizomes quite apart from each other, in a good rich soil, loose and well drained.
The "natural" cultivation takes place leaving the plants dry during the period of vegetative rest, from May until September, and sporadically watering them during the winter, but only if rainfall is scarce. Forced crops, on the other hand, occur in abundant watering of the plants already in summer, making sure that they begin to sprout already in July-August: in this way we will have the first artichokes in September or October.

Climate and artichoke exposure

The artichoke is a typical crop of the areas with warm and dry climate. It is therefore very well found throughout the Mediterranean basin. In our peninsula in particular it is a culture of choice of the Center-South, of the Islands and of the coastal areas in general. It is very sensitive to frost and water stagnation. The latter are the main cause of the advent of root rot and of an upturn in vegetative growth at the expense of flower production and therefore of harvest.
In the Center-South it can easily be cultivated in the open field. In the North, (especially in the hinterland), the use of greenhouses is almost essential. In fact, the minimum temperature it can withstand is around -5 / -10 ° C, but it is already starting to suffer damage.
To obtain good results a good exposure is essential. Plants must receive as much light as possible. The ideal location is therefore to the south or at most to the south-west.

Artichoke ground

In this respect it cannot be said that it is demanding. It adapts well to different types of substrate. However, the best results are obtained in deep soils, with good percentages of silicon or clay. At the same time it is good that the organic substance is abundant and the texture is medium, therefore neither too heavy, but not even light.
If we live in the Center-North it is essential to take particular care of the drainage: the humidity of autumn and winter can become a very serious problem for the root system.

Type of plant Perennial herbaceous
Height Up to 150 cm
Maintenance Average
Water needs Medium high
Growth Normal
Multiplication Picking rhizomes / seeding
Resistance to cold Up to -5 ° C / -10 ° C
Exposure Full sun / South-South-West
Ground Rich, acidic or clayey, well drained
Spacing between rows 100-120 cm depending on the vigor
Spacing in the row 75-100 cm depending on the vigor

Irrigation of the artichoke

The irrigations must be abundant especially at the time of planting, in summer and autumn, to favor the engraftment. Later, with the onset of winter, it will be good to keep the area slightly humid, but absolutely avoid a very wet soil.
In general, in the Center-South, from the plant to the autumn, it is irrigated at least twice a week, to descend once during the winter and the beginning of spring.
In the North, it is generally sufficient initially to distribute water once a week. In winter, on the other hand, we tend to suspend irrigation altogether to avoid the risk of rotting.

Fertilization of the artichoke

The artichoke requires very rich in macroelements and organic substance soils. In particular it requires large amounts of phosphorus and potassium.
The soil must be prepared at the beginning of summer or autumn (depending on when the plant will occur). The processing must be very deep (at least 40 cm). At the same time, a large amount of mature organic soil conditioner must be incorporated.

Propagation and planting

The propagation of the artichoke can be done either by sowing or by taking the so-called "carducci" (suckers) at the base of the plants.
This last method is absolutely the most used because it allows in a short time to have adult plants able to produce. It is very important, at the time of collection, in summer or autumn, to make sure that each individual card is equipped with a rhizome section and some gems. We take only from plants at least 2-4 years old, which are very healthy and vigorous, in the number of at most three for each. We use well sharpened knives and, if possible, disinfected, then cover again carefully with a good layer of soil.
Planting will take place in autumn or spring. The method involves digging holes about 30 cm in diameter and 20 in depth. In each we will have to insert two handfuls of mature manure mixed with a little soil. We then insert three suckers, making sure that the eyes are at ground level. If they were too buried, in fact, they would struggle to emit the leaves and stems. They could also incur more easily in rot.
When the rooting is evident we will have to make the thinning, leaving only one, possibly the most vigorous.
Varieties with moderate growth should be spaced, among the rows, of about 1 meter. On the other hand, the distance will be about 75 cm. The very vigorous ones, on the other hand, need at least 120 cm between the rows and 100 in the row.
Sowing takes place in a cold greenhouse between February and March (in the South also in autumn). We use special alveolar trays or rather large jars. For each one insert two or three seeds covering them with about 1 cm of soil. We water abundantly until germination, which occurs on average in 10 days, with temperatures between 15 and 20 ° C. Then the thinning will be carried out leaving only one plant per container. It can be planted in the fall or spring. The harvest will not arrive for two or three years.

Crop care

When autumn comes, it is very important to cover the foot of the plants with a thick mulch. The best material in this case is compost or well-seasoned manure. In addition to repairing the foot from cold damage and maintaining good, but not excessive humidity, it still provides a generous amount of micro and macro elements, which are essential for obtaining good harvests.

Approaches and partnerships

The artichoke can easily be kept up to 6-8 years, even if the maximum profit is obtained with plants of about 4 years. It is a crop that is generally made between the rows of fruit trees, to optimize production. The first few years, however, it is possible to grow lettuce, peas, beans or even leeks and radishes in the spaces left free.


The artichoke harvest is scalar. The heads are gathered as they are ready, that is they have reached the right size, but they are still tightly closed. For early varieties it begins in October. Late ones can be collected, even depending on the climate, even up to June.


The artichoke is a frequent victim of snails and slugs. It can also be attacked by rodents and aphids. The latter are the main vectors of some virosis and it is therefore important to protect our plants preventively, using specific products or spreading natural enemies, such as ladybugs, scissors or chrysopids.
Among the cryptogams there are oidium and sclerotinia.

Conservation and food uses

The fresh product should be consumed as soon as possible so that it retains all its flavor. However, they can be stored by picking up the heart and placing it in oil or vinegar. After a quick cooking in boiling water they can also be frozen.

Artichoke: Variety

The artichokes are classified according to the harvest period (early or late), depending on the presence or absence of thorns. Color is also an important parameter. In Italy the most known and widespread varieties are the Violetto di Chioggia, the Romanesco, the Spinoso di Liguria, the thorny green of Palermo, the Bianco Tarantino and the Carciofo di Empoli.
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Planting of purchased seedlings April May
Carducci planting February to April / September-October
Sowing in a cold greenhouse February-March / October-November
Plant sowing May
Carducci collection February to April / September-October
Vegetable collection February-June (Center-North) / October-May (South and Islands)