By: Teo Spengler
Chicory is a wildflower native to the Mediterranean region with sky-blue flowers. If you grow chicory in your backyard, you’ll find it an extremely low-maintenance plant, requiring only occasional chicory plant pruning. How often does chicory need to be pruned? For information on trimming chicory plants, including tips on when to prune chicory, read on.
People grow chicory as easy-care flowering plants. The lovely blue blossoms open during sunny days and close during cloudy times and at night. But that is not the only reason to grow chicory. The roots of chicory plants are used to make a coffee substitute, and some gardeners decide to plant chicory for this reason. One type of chicory (called ‘Witloof’ chicory) is used for Belgian or French endive, while small-rooted plants are used for salad greens.
All of these types of chicory grow happily without much gardener care, although trimming chicory plants can be a good idea. This plant is very rugged and adaptable, thriving in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 to 9. Chicory plants are the complete opposite of fussy. They thrive on neglect after they are established, like many other wildflowers. If you want to make care especially simple, plant them in deep soil in a location that gets direct sun.
Does chicory need to be pruned? It is not one of those plants that require pruning in order to thrive. However, you might be better off cutting back chicory during the growing season.
If you want your entire backyard filled to the brim with chicory, there is no need to think of trimming chicory plants. They will happily set seeds and the chicory patch will expand, year after year, until chicory occupies the entire area.
If this is not your plan for the garden, then cutting back chicory is important. This plant starts to produce flowers in spring, and those blossoms just keep coming until early autumn. Each flower produces abundant seeds that serve to self-sow year after year. You can limit the growth of your chicory patch by deadheading the flowers before the seeds are dispensed.
Trimming chicory plants to prevent reseeding is part of regular maintenance, and you’ll have to keep on top of this chicory plant pruning all summer long. So when to prune chicory? It’s determined on a flower-by-flower basis. As a blossom starts to fade, clip it off and dispose of it. You’ll have to continually keep up with the patch in order to prevent the plant from spreading everywhere.
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Radicchio, that expensive and somewhat bitter-tasting salad ingredient from Italy, is decidedly beautiful. It is also difficult to grow to perfection. All too often what was to become a tightly formed head develops in my garden into a loose bunch of astoundingly bitter leaves, even when I plant in fall, as is recommended.
Though I still experiment with new varieties of radicchio from time to time, I've found its relatives to be every bit as interesting in salads and much more reliable when it comes to producing an edible fall crop. Unlike other salad greens such as lettuce or spinach, they germinate readily in warm summer soil and mature their robust flavors to perfection in the cooler temperatures of autumn. And chicories are virtually a disease- and pest-free crop, at worst attracting only a few slugs and snails.
The radicchio relations I focus on here include the chicories that form green heads, in some varieties very large, in others diminutive, as well as the assorted Catalogna chicories, some of which are grown for their slender toothed leaves and others for their hollow flower shoots that vaguely resemble asparagus. As with all chicories, they prefer cool temperatures between 55° F and 75° F, but they are more tolerant of both heat and cold than radicchio, hence their wide adaptability. All of these chicories (as well as Belgian endive and the coffee substitute, Magdeburg chicory) are classified by botanists as Cichorium intybus . These plants are technically perennials, but when destined for the kitchen are usually treated as annuals or biennials.
Each of these "other" chicories has its own unique flavor, though always overlaid with at least a touch of the bitterness characteristic of the species. How pronounced that bitterness is depends both on the variety, the stage of growth and the weather at harvesttime. The leaves of young seedlings are not as bitter as those of mature plants, for example. Chicories picked in the cool weather of early spring or late fall are quite delicious, but warm temperatures can render any variety pretty much inedible. That dash of bitterness, if not too overpowering, is a welcome change from the rather sweet and bland flavors of common salad greens. By the way, chicories are extraordinarily high in vitamin A and also provide a fair share of vitamin C and calcium.
This chicory somewhat resembles a very tightly headed Cos lettuce, growing up to 14 inches tall and weighing as much as two pounds. It can be harvested as individual leaves or allowed to form a head, and with both techniques, it can be grown as a cut-and-come-again crop. When the head is allowed to mature, the tightly packed nugget of inner leaves is naturally blanched so it's slightly sweeter than the outer leaves--hence the name "sugar loaf." These silky golden inner leaves are a favorite in my California kitchen, though I generally mix them with milder lettuces when preparing winter salads. The leaves can also be braised briefly in broth to make a delicious vegetable dish.
For prime fall harvest, sow the sugarloaf chicories about 80 to 90 days before your first expected fall frost -- late July to early August in my USDA Hardiness Zone 9 garden. In the North, this can mean planting in June, so you may have to shade the seedlings to keep them from bolting in the heat (or wait until after the summer solstice).
These plants are hardy, surviving temperatures of 20° F or a little below, so in mild climates, you can harvest into the winter. Where winter is more severe, harvest until the first hard frost, then cut plants back to a half-inch and mulch deeply to keep the crowns from freezing. Early the following spring, remove the mulch the plants will promptly resprout. Harvest the leaves when they're four to six inches tall. You can sow crops for overwintering up to 40 days before the first fall frost--plants that are at least three inches across by the first hard frost will survive. Or, harvest the heads in the late fall and store them in the refrigerator or root cellar, where they will keep nicely for a month or more.
To develop to full size and succulence, sugarloaf chicories need good soil and enough space. Prepare the bed with compost and a balanced fertilizer (as for lettuce) and sow seeds several inches apart in rows some 18 inches apart, later thinning the seedlings to stand a foot apart in the row.
Sugarloaf chicories are offered under several different names, including 'Sugarloaf', 'Snowflake' and 'Crystal Hat'. I've found little difference among them, though Crystal Hat and Snowflake are said to be a little hardier than the others.
Another type of green chicory, Grumolo grows into a pretty dark green rosette up to six inches tall and eight inches wide. For optimum flavor, it's grown in fall so the plants will stay fairly small. The young leaves of this chicory add a delicious and sharp bite to salads and are sometimes included in the popular mesclun salad mixes.
This is a fast grower and also hardier than the sugarloaf types. It's easily taken temperatures of 18° F here in my garden. Sow a month or so before the first expected fall frost. This will allow harvests in late fall (and into early winter where winter temperatures aren't severe). Start harvesting again in spring as new leaves form on the overwintered plants, which should be mulched in the colder zones. Prepare the soil as for sugarloaf chicory, but sow the seeds only an inch apart in rows spaced at six to eight inches. Harvest the young plants when they reach two or three inches, or snip a few leaves at a time from each plant, allowing the plant to continue to produce tender new leaves.
This group of chicories can be somewhat confusing, but the adventurous gardener--and cook--will find them interesting and useful, nevertheless. The sorts of Catalogna chicories called Italian dandelion (or sometimes Cicoria Catalogna) produce, not too surprisingly, weedy-looking plants with narrow, deep green, toothed leaves punctuated by a white midrib. 'Catalogna Frastagliata' is a commonly available variety. The plants can grow into 18-inch-tall bunches, but the leaves are tastiest when young, used in salads or as cooked greens seasoned with garlic and olive oil. This is a fast-growing and fairly hardy crop, and can be grown just like Grumolo chicory in spring or fall.
The other sort of chicory usually included in the Catalogna group is the asparagus chicory or Puntarella. When young, this plant looks just like the Italian dandelion type, but eventually sends up from its center an inch-thick shoot that does, to some extent, resemble an asparagus stalk. (The Italian dandelion chicories also produce edible shoots, but they tend to be thinner and quite leafy.) The variety sold (or described) as asparagus chicory produces relatively straight, smooth stalks Puntarella makes fantastic thick, twisted shoots.
Growing Asparagus Chicory
Sow this type of chicory six to eight inches apart in rows two feet apart. It requires a fairly long growing season to produce its shoots. I've found it works well to plant it in midsummer for a fall harvest. Or, seed in early fall, allowing the plants to become established before the first hard frosts, then heavily mulching them for protection from winter's cold.
In earliest spring, these chicories come quickly to life, sending forth leaves that are soon followed by the curious stalks. Cutting back the first shoot to appear encourages the plant to bear a cluster of 10 or more new stalks all at once. Harvest these hollow shoots with a knife, taking the tender top six inches or so of each one. These tips may be sliced raw into salads, contributing both an unusual texture and flavor, or steamed until barely tender. The harvest lasts up to six weeks, but eventually the new shoots that form are too small and tough. In summer, asparagus chicory's pretty (and edible) blue flowers, typical of all the chicories, brighten the garden.
Janet H. Sanchez grows many vegetables and ornamental plants in her Santa Rosa, California garden.
Drought-tolerant suitable for xeriscaping
USDA Zone 4a: to -34.4 °C (-30 °F)
USDA Zone 4b: to -31.6 °C (-25 °F)
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 °C (30 °F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 °C (35 °F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 °C (40 °F)
Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone
May be a noxious weed or invasive
From seed direct sow outdoors in fall
From seed winter sow in vented containers, coldframe or unheated greenhouse
From seed stratify if sowing indoors
Allow pods to dry on plant break open to collect seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Menifee, California(2 reports)
San Bernardino, California
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Lake Toxaway, North Carolina
Blacksburg, Virginia(2 reports)
On Aug 13, 2016, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:
On rare occasions, I've seen plants with white flowers, and others with pinkish flowers.
On Aug 12, 2016, Eravette from New Tripoli, PA wrote:
Here in eastern Pennsylvania, it grows everywhere. I'd say it is moderately invasive, but as others have said, it is pretty - if you get up in the morning. By noon or 1 p.m it closes up just like a morning glory, and opens new blossoms randomly along the stem. They don't make a good cut flower because they do bloom randomly all along the stem. The foliage is nothing special either, but the periwinkle blue flower heads are lovely. I would not put it in my garden, and I happily mow down the ones on my lawn, but I still have them wherever I can't reach the grass, along the road, etc. The nice thing about them is they are really tough, and if you do grow them, they're like echinacea, black-eyed susan, etc. needing no care at all. Like Topsy - they "just growed" there.
On Jul 31, 2014, kayshenoy from Lexington, KY wrote:
We have an empty plot in front of our house and it is filled with chicory. The field of blue flowers is so pretty. I want to try to grow it in my garden.
On Aug 8, 2010, CaptMicha from Brookeville, MD (Zone 7a) wrote:
Chicory has naturalized it's self here in Maryland, like it has in other parts of the United States. It hails from Eurasia but is a common sight alongside roads, ditches, and abandoned areas here. It also pops up in lawns, as it has down along my drive. It never spreads aggressively or really out-competes anything. I never find it in any flower beds.
Not a morning person, I don't get to see the flowers very often but when I happen to be awake during the morning, when this plant is blooming, I am impressed by it's startling blue flowers. The flowers soon fade by noon time unless the day is very overcast.
Foliage can be used as a vegetable or in salad and the root can be roasted and ground to be used as a coffee substitute or additive. In the frontier days, man. read more y people used chicory in place of coffee.
On Jul 28, 2009, liondandy from chilliwack, british columbia,
The blue flower, chicory, or italian dandelion, grows profusely on roadsides in chilliwack, b.c., and a little more than an hour ago I chatted with brian minter about it. i had had to drive 60 miles away to get the seed, since minter gardens didn't have it. and why should they, since it grows a riot in this town. i want to propagate it adjacent my white trailer in white shaded, concrete square pots alongside scabiosa for a mauve effect alongside a bird bath that will show off an amethyst quartzite formation embedded in tumbled river rock. don't get any delusions. i am NOT a gardener.
On Sep 10, 2008, Joan from Belfield, ND (Zone 4a) wrote:
The Cichorium intybus flowers are predominately blue or lavender, but occasionally there will be some white flowers.
On Sep 9, 2008, Kathleen from Panama, NY (Zone 5a) wrote:
I have always known the blue chicory, but this year found some white growing in the ditch down by the field that we planted millet in. very pretty in white as well as the blue.
On Jul 16, 2008, Trixtar from Muncie, IN wrote:
Good thing that I like Chicory, because it grows naturally all over my yard. I have never sown this plant, but anywhere that I do not run the lawn mower or weed-eater, I have more than enough of them. At first I thought they were some form of Lactuca and had considered chopping them down. I am glad that I didn't now, because the blue flowers really add some color to the landscape. It's lanky stems and Lactuca like foliage are not the most attractive sight, but the flowers make up for that. Seems to grow best in untilled high clay content soil around naturally occuring Lactucas, Mullein, and Sassafras.
On Jun 3, 2008, donicaben from Ogdensburg, NY wrote:
Too funny! Here I go and buy a mix of herb seeds and get all excited about "chicory". this stuff grew WILD in the ditch in front of my house growing up!
The stuff used to poke me in the legs as I mowed it. and now I've intentionally planted it in my herb garden. Funny how everything comes full circle.
On Aug 31, 2007, Edviinss from Liepaja,
I found in nature Cichorium intybus with white flowers, much better than with blue flowers, really ornamental plant, long flowering period July to September.
On Aug 30, 2007, Chesler from Woburn, MA wrote:
I'm told the wild examples I see along roadways and sidewalks are escapees from gardens. I haven't had good luck getting it to start from seed, but it comes where it wants to. A neighbor says it is a weed, because he didn't plant it I figure it's a gift. He cuts it down and it comes back anyway.
My favorite flower - it comes out on my birthday and blooms every morning all summer not overly showy, from a tough, unsightly stem.
My grandmother, a Hungarian, used to mix ground chicory root with coffee, making it taste stronger. I've done that, but I don't feel like collecting and eating something that grows in car exhaust. Apparently the leaves can be eaten in a salad, too.
On Jan 29, 2005, melody from Benton, KY (Zone 7a) wrote:
A cheerful little weed that grows along the roadways and in vacant lots. It seems to prefer the hard packed ground for some reason.
Flowers fade by noon, but they are so intense that they are worth keeping them around, despite their short lives.
I happen to like chicory flavored coffee. I didn't get a taste of it till my adult life and was introduced to it by a Cajun friend. I immediately became totally addicted.
On Nov 9, 2004, IslandJim from Keizer, OR (Zone 8b) wrote:
This plant does not grow in my current neighborhood but it grows wild in every other place I've ever live in this country. It's not invasive in the strict meaning of the definition, but it is naturalized. And, to my thinking, a welcome citizen it is. The ice blue of the flowers--which die everyday at midday--is unmatched in the plant kingdom for clarity. It is an absolutely beautiful flower.
On Mar 6, 2004, wnstarr from Puyallup, WA (Zone 5a) wrote:
One of the best blue flowers around. It grows as a weed here along side of the road and in vacant lots. Love the clear blue flowers and the wirey stems. Only admire it in the wild, can become a pest in the garden.
On Jan 12, 2004, suncatcheracres from Old Town, FL wrote:
I have never grown this plant, but I was raised on the Gulf of Mexico, and my Mother was from South Louisiana, and every morning she made coffee with chicory, just as her parents had, in a drip coffee pot, and it was a vile liquid that was almost thick enough to stand a spoon up in.
Consequently, I have never liked coffee, which I guess is a good thing, and I have become a hot tea drinker instead. I think this herb not only has a bad taste, but a very unpleasant and lingering aftertaste. I guess, like Scotch, it is an acquired taste.
On Jan 11, 2004, deloit from Omaha, NE wrote:
I was not aware of this plant until I saw it growing wild on the edge of our local park. I like the blue color and have collected some seeds with hopes to try to start a plant or two. Any suggestions? BobM
HARVESTING/STORING: Use leaves fresh in salads or cook like spinach. Chicory does not dry or freeze well. Collect the roots in fall, and dry and grind them for a coffee substitute.
OTHER COMMON NAMES: Blue-sailors,succory,witloof,Belgian endive.
Turnip roots are at their edible ideal when between 2 and 4 inches in diameter, or they can be eaten when small, like radishes. Harvest them at this size, or leave them in the ground until you're ready to use them, unless the ground is prone to freezing. Once harvested, turnips keep several months if kept in a cool, dark area.
Kathy Adams is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer who traveled the world handling numerous duties for music artists. She writes travel and budgeting tips and destination guides for USA Today, Travelocity and ForRent, among others. She enjoys exploring foreign locales and hiking off the beaten path stateside, snapping pics of wildlife and nature instead of selfies.