So, what are perennials, and why all the fuss about them?
To put it simply, they allow you to grow more crops with less work. Growing perennial vegetables in your garden is great for you if you aim for sustainable gardening.
Some of the most popular veggies are grown as annuals, but adding a few perennials wouldn’t hurt. On the contrary, you’d be surprised to see how little effort they require compared to annuals.
And yet, there are added advantages of growing both annuals and perennials. Namely:
- Soil betterment and benefits to the ecosystem
- Added pest and disease control
- Improved companion planting and increased crop productivity
And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of growing perennial vegetables.
Now how about a list of perennial crops? Here’s our best of the best selection you can use to start planting today.
What Garden Vegetables Come Back Every Year?
If by any chance you come asking are tomatoes perennial, we’ll have to disappoint you. They’re annuals that get killed by frost. As are garden vegetables seen in most vegetable beds such as peppers, cucumbers, and beans.
Don’t get us wrong, annuals are great. But they do need to be replanted every year since they won’t be able to survive the first hard frost. As their name suggests, they’ll last you for a single growing season and that’s about it.
Not perennials, though.
These low-maintenance plants are different as they:
- Survive harsh conditions. Perennials have strong survival mechanisms, for example, they develop stems, bulbs, and crowns. These get them through periods of dormancy during cold and dry seasons.
- Last longer. Perennial vegetables will keep coming back year after year. All you need to do is plant them once and they’ll last you for several seasons. These plants yield crops for several years without any help from outside.
Although they’re great money and time-savers, chances are many perennial vegetables never crossed your mind. The truth is, there aren’t many true perennial crops out there.
Greens like rhubarb and mustard greens are some of the most well-known perennials.
Some onion relatives are also well-known perennial plant representative species. These include radicchio, sorrel, rhubarb, and chives.
For more info on perennial vegetables, Watch this video by Eric Toensmeier, the perennials guru.
Now, let’s dive right into our list of the best perennial veggies.
Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis) is one of the most well-liked perennials. If you want an easy-to-grow plant, grow it from one-year-old dormant plants, or crowns.
If you want to enjoy this perennial vegetable for years, you’ll need to exercise some patience:
- With asparagus grown from seed, wait at least two years to harvest.
- With those grown from crowns, two years will suffice.
Once the waiting period is over, your asparagus will keep growing up to 10-15 years if well taken care of.
To make the most of this early spring perennial, here are a few tips:
- Asparagus is tolerant of sandy soils. Yet its natural habitat is rich loam so it will do way better there.
- Plant it in well-drained soil with strong moisture-holding potential. Find it a site with full sun exposure.
- Harvest your three-year-old asparagus for 2-3 weeks only. From there on, harvest for six to eight weeks. After that amount of time has passed, let the asparagus fern out. The ferns will revive the roots which will trigger a rich harvest next spring.
- Plant your asparagus in the north end of the garden. After the harvest, the plants will grow tall and can serve as partial shade for your other veggies.
2. Sea Kale
Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is a frost-resistant and drought tolerant perennial in favor of wild coastal habitat.
The plant has lush wavy leaves and grows scented flowers in the summer. It can grow as large as five feet tall, but this won’t happen if you harvest it regularly.
This Brassica family member resembles the regular kale, as it grows tasty and nourishing foliage. The shoots are edible too and you can prepare them much the same as asparagus.
To grow your own sea kale follow the steps below:
- Place the plant in rich, sandy soil and allow plenty of space for it to spread out. Dig a deep hole so it accommodates the long taproots.
- Grow it in full sun or partial shade in fertile, well-drained soil.
- Treat the plants with a mulch of compost or well-rotted manure.
- Harvest your plants when they grow 4 to 5 inches long.
- Once your sea kale is established, spread it by using root cuttings.
3. Jerusalem Artichoke
Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus) can grow in almost any garden condition.
Part of the sunflower family, it grows yellow flower buds and tubers that look like potatoes.
As carbohydrates in Jerusalem artichokes break down into fructose instead of glucose, they’re great for people with diabetes.
They grow tall, so it’s best to find them a site where they won’t shade the rest of your crops.
You can get your tubers in a garden supply store and plant them in any type of soil in March and April.
Here’s how to grow Jerusalem artichokes in your garden:
- Prep your soil well and plant your tubers 4 to 6 inches deep and 12 inches apart.
- The plant tends to grow tall and can be rocked by the wind in midsummer. To find your way around staking, prune the stems to around 4 feet high.
- Harvest the plants in the fall as this is when the tubers reach their full size.
- Prune the foliage to 3 inches tall when it starts to turn yellow in fall. Use the prunings to cover the plants and keep the soil warm when the frost hits.
Radicchio (Cichorium intybus var. foliosum Endive), also known as red chicory or red endive is often mistaken for red cabbage. The two veggies do look similar. Yet, radicchio has thinner leaves and tighter, more elongated heads.
Although slightly astringent, it’s a common salad ingredient, especially in Italian cuisine. Radicchio becomes less bitter if cooked.
This perennial is also great because it’s frost tolerant and can be harvested twice a year.
Here are the best tips to make radicchio grow well in your garden:
- Grow it in well-drained soil in full sun.
- Sow the seeds in spring or fall, or better still, both. Bear in mind the advisable plant spacing is 12 inches and that it’s best to cover the seeds with ¼ inch of fine soil.
- Protect radicchio from weeds by cultivating often or mulching.
- Once you’ve harvested your mid-summer plants, cut off all leaves above the crown.
- Leave the roots in the ground after the fall harvest to get the next year’s crop.
5. King Henry
Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus henricus) is far from being a famous perennial. Yet, it boasts some good edible leaves that can be eaten in salads or prepared like spinach.
It’s an easy-to-grow perennial vegetable with arrow-shaped leaves that can grow up to 2 feet tall. It resembles spinach in taste, although it develops a bitter note long into the season.
This perennial shouldn’t be neglected for more reasons than one. It is fully hardy and not fussy about either position or soil.
Here’s how to care for it:
- Choose a sunny or dappled shade location for it. Sow it in fertile soil within the timeframe of late spring and late summer.
- Planting seeds can get out of hand since they’re super tiny. Nothing you can’t fix by thinning seedlings afterwards.
- Provide shelter for the plant to get bountiful yields even throughout the winter.
- Water generously during dry summer spells.
Start Your Long-Term Perennial Farming Project Today
So, what will it be? The same old process of planting in the spring, weeding through the summer and harvesting in the fall?
OR will you give the perennials above a chance and have plants to look forward to in the next growing season? And the next and the next?
A perennial garden can be a great addition to an annual one. One that will give you a long-term sense of accomplishment and a huge practical pay-off.
More yields with less work and resources? That’s what perennial vegetables are all about.
Now, before you get down to work, find more garden tips like this on the Gardening Channel blog.
Photo from Needpix