Top Of The Crops - Artichoke

Growing Artichokes in a Polytunnel

When we use the word artichokes, we are usually referring to either globe artichokes or Jerusalem artichokes. In this guide, we are talking about growing globe artichokes – a perennial vegetable that can be a good choice for a polytunnel garden. 

Key Information

Globe artichokes, Cynara cardunculus – scolymus group, are grown for their large, edible flower buds. As perennials, they can provide yields not just one year from one sowing, but over a number of years. Other members of this species are known as cardoons, and are grown for their leaves rather than their buds. 

Not only prized for their edible yields, globe artichokes are also attractive, ornamental plants, that can add some stature and drama to a vegetable plot or to another part of a garden.

 If the buds are not all harvested, the purple, thistle-like flowers are a pollinator-friendly addition to your space. Bees and other pollinating insects love them. 


The Preferred Conditions for Artichokes

In order to grow globe artichokes successfully, you first need to know what conditions they need. To thrive, these artichokes need:

  • Full sun.

  • A sheltered location with as much warmth over summer as possible. 

  • Plenty of space – clumps can grow 90cm across over time. 

  • Reasonably fertile, free-draining soil.

Remember that globe artichokes come from the Mediterranean region. Polytunnel growing can make growing this plant easier because in a polytunnel, we can more closely mimic the climate of that region, even when the summer weather here leaves a lot to be desired. 

What you will need to grow Artichokes

To grow artichokes you will need:

  • Artichoke seeds, plug plants, container grown plants or divisions of an existing mature globe artichoke plant. 

  • A suitable growing location, whether this is inside a polytunnel or somewhere else sunny, warm and sheltered. 

  • Seed trays/ pots/ soil blocks and potting mix if growing from seed. 

  • Facility to water your crop (especially if growing undercover).

  • Organic matter for mulching and feeding. 

  • Spade for planting out. 

  • Secateurs/ shears for harvesting and cutting back. 

How to Grow Artichokes

You can grow artichokes from seed, from young plug plants or small divisions in the spring, or from larger plants you can purchase in containers. 

Preparing the Ground

Before you choose your artichoke seeds or plants, of course, you will need to decide which one to grow. There are many named varieties, some of which we will list later in this guide. Note that some will require more space than others, and these can vary greatly in their characteristics. 

Make sure you have a growing location suitable to provide their basic growing needs, where there is enough space for them to grow. Make sure that the area has been enriched with a top dressing of homemade compost or other organic material, and is free from weeds. 

Sowing Seeds 

Sow artichoke seeds indoors in late winter or early spring, or direct dow in spring once the soil has warmed where you live. Sowing indoors is generally the better option here in the UK because direct sown seeds are vulnerable to pests and may struggle to germinate when temperatures are too low. 

If you sow globe artichokes inside, your plants are also more likely to become properly established and make it through the following winter unscathed. 

Indoors, sow individual seeds into small pots or other containers, or soil blocks, around 1cm deep. If you choose to direct sow, place a couple of seeds at stations approximately 25-30cm apart, then thin these out to leave just the strongest seedling where necessary. 


If you have grown globe artichokes from seed, the young plants can be moved to their final growing positions after the last frost date in your area, once they are around 30cm tall and have at least 5 true leaves. 

These, small plug plants, and larger container grown plants you have purchased should all be given plenty of space – as a general rule, they should be around 90cm apart to give them space to grow. 

If you have purchased small plug plants or very young potted plants, these are best kept in the container in which they came until they have around 5 leaves and a sturdy root system. 

Larger plants can be planted out at any time, but are also best planted out in the spring or early summer when the weather is not too warm and dry. When planted out in spring these plants should establish most successfully. 

Care Tips for Artichokes

Globe artichokes don't need much of your time and attention once established. But until they become established they will need a little TLC, and of course, there are always the basic things to do to meet their fundamental needs. 


Make sure you water artichokes well until they become established, especially during their first growing season. Before they develop strong and healthy root systems, they will not be as drought tolerant as they are once established. 

Even once established, however, globe artichokes will need some water, and watering is especially important during the period when the flower buds start to form. If you do not water enough, flower buds will be smaller, and fewer in number.


Primarily, globe artichokes should get the nutrients they need from the soil as long as this is reasonably fertile, and from the organic mulch you apply around your plants. 

You should apply a mulch of homemade compost, well-rotted manure or other organic matter around your plants upon planting, and replenish this every spring. 

It can also be a good idea to feed your globe artichokes in the spring with a potassium rich organic fertilizer, as this can improve flower bud yields. 

Removing Flowers

Though those impatient to taste their own homegrown artichokes may be disappointed by this, it is best to remove any flower stalks that begin to form in the first year after planting. 

Though of course this means that you will not be able to harvest that first year, it will usually lead to better harvests over subsequent years, since it gives the plants a chance to focus on strong root establishment so they are healthier plants. 

You can begin harvesting the buds from the second summer after sowing/ planting. 


Once the harvesting period comes to an end, you can cut all the old flower stalks down to the base. You can then prune off all the old foliage at the base in the late autumn. 


This foliage should not be taken away but rather laid over the crown of the plant in order to protect it from frost. It is also a good idea to add a layer of compost, straw, dried leaves or leaf mould over this for additional insulation. 

Plants are more vulnerable in their first winter after planting, and become hardier once they are fully established. But even fully established plants will need protection, especially in colder regions and when not growing in a polytunnel. 


There are several different ways to propagate globe artichokes. 

  • From seed. Note however, that named varieties will not come true. 

  • By division of a mature globe artichoke clump in spring. Mature clumps should be divided every 4-5 years so you have vigorous new replacements for ageing plants. 

  • By separating offsets/ suckers from the parent plant. These are small shoots that can emerge from roots around the edges of an established clump. 


Globe artichokes, from their second summer, can be harvested from June or July onwards. The buds are generally harvested when they reach around golf ball size and are still closed tightly. 

Use secateurs or a small pair of garden shears to remove the buds with just a short section of stem. Cut the stem just above a leaf joint. 

Once you have harvested the main flower bud on each plant, they should produce further secondary, slightly smaller buds, which can also be harvested as the summer progresses. 

Healthy plants should each produce around 10-12 buds each season, and will typically continue at peak production for around 4-6 years. 

The small, tightly closed buds that you harvest can be roasted, grilled or sautéed as they are or in a range of artichoke recipes. Larger buds can be steamed and then eaten one scale at a time before you finish with the nutty and succulent artichoke heart. 

Varieties of Artichokes

Some globe artichoke varieties recommended for the UK include:

  • 'Gros Vert de Lâon' (AGM)

  • 'Romanesco'

  • 'Tavor'

  • 'Vert Globe/ Green Globe'

  • Violetto di Chioggia (AGM)

Common Problems for Artichokes

Once established, globe artichokes are not usually troubled much by many pests or diseases as long as they are provided with a suitable growing location and the right care. 

However, they can have an issue or two while young. In particular, problems can arise when plants are not given enough water during their first year, or when young plants are not protected from slugs and snails during early growth. 

Even mature plants can have serious issues and can rot where waterlogged conditions prevail. So always ensure excess water can drain away freely. 

Aphids can also sometimes become an issue. Boost biodiversity and attract beneficial predatory insects to keep their numbers down. Companion planting with trap crops for aphids and attractant plants for ladybirds etc. can be beneficial.

Top Tips for Growing Artichokes in a Polytunnel

A polytunnel will help you create the Mediterranean and relatively dry conditions these plants need to thrive, even during a very wet British summer. But remember that you will need to have plenty of space to incorporate them into a polytunnel garden. 

You will likely need to place these closer to the centre of a polytunnel as they are tall and broad plants. You will also need to consider carefully how you can combine them with other plants to create diverse and productive polycultures. 

Often, you can combine these other other perennial plants. They can sometimes be a good choice for the sunny fringes of a fruit tree guild, for example, if you have the space. Let some of your globe artichokes flower and this will benefit any plants that require pollination nearby, by drawing in bees and other pollinating insects. 




Abraham, L., (2023) Spanish Artichoke Dip. Delish. [online] Available at: 

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