Garden Detective: Will pruning produce bigger artichokes?

Published: Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am

I have heard that pruning back artichokes produces bigger artichoke heads, if you will. Is this true?

— Scott Gardiner, Sacramento

Artichokes are a perennial plant and grow very well in the Sacramento Valley, according to UC master gardener Maureen Hefti. It is the artichoke’s immature flower bud that is eaten. For best flavor, harvest when the desired size is reached, but before the bud begins to open.

Intrepid readers willing to experiment may grow artichokes as annuals in foothill areas prone to cool-season frost. Given the right microclimate, these unusual plants will produce edible buds. If the location is too cold, edible buds will not form, but the silvery, swordlike artichoke foliage offers a unique visual reward.

Artichokes come from the thistle family and have thorny spines. Use care in garden spaces shared with inquisitive children and energetic pets.

The center bud atop the highest stem is the largest artichoke produced each season. Allow this one to remain until harvest for an especially big artichoke treat. After removing all artichokes from the plant, cut flowering stalks to about 1 inch from soil. If the season is long enough, a second harvest may be enjoyed. Removing old stalks also hastens growth of new buds. (That may be the pruning you refer to.)

“This master gardener did not find any literature regarding pruning producing bigger artichoke buds, but this doesn’t mean the bold gardener should avoid experimentation,” Hefti added.

It is a common practice in horticulture to reduce the quantity of buds on a plant to encourage more-vigorous growth of remaining buds, she noted.

Perhaps you could try reducing buds on one artichoke plant, then allow a second artichoke plant to produce buds naturally, she suggested. It’s worth seeing if the pruning results in bigger buds.

It is also worthwhile growing the unusual and beautiful artichoke plant in the home garden. Even without the edible buds, the silver foliage makes for a handsome focal point. And when allowed to open, the purple thistle flowers attract many beneficial insects. Fully opened artichokes also make attractive dried flowers.

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