Imagine growing vegetables that require just about the same amount of care as perennial flowers and shrubs—no annual tilling and planting. They thrive and produce abundant and nutritious crops throughout the season. Once established in the proper site and climate, perennial vegetables planted can be virtually indestructible despite neglect. Established perennials are often more resistant to pests, diseases, drought and weeds, too. Plant Once, Harvest Forever – The Perennial Vegetables
Perennial Vegetables Extend the Harvest
Perennial vegetables often have different seasons of availability from annuals, which provides more food throughout the year. While you are transplanting tiny annual seedlings into your vegetable garden or waiting out the mid-summer heat, many perennials are already growing strong or ready to harvest.
Perennial Vegetables Can Perform Multiple Garden Functions
Many perennial vegetables are also beautiful, ornamental plants that can enhance your landscape. Others can function as hedges, groundcovers or erosion control for slopes. Other perennial veggies provide fertilizer to themselves and their neighboring plants by fixing nitrogen in the soil. Some can provide habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators, while others can climb trellises and provide shade for other crops.
Perennial Vegetables Help Build Soil
Perennial crops are simply amazing for the soil. Because they don’t need to be tilled, perennials help foster a healthy and intact soil food web, including providing habitat for a huge number of animals, fungi and other important soil life.
When well mulched, perennials improve the soil’s structure, organic matter, porosity and water-holding capacity.
Perennial vegetable gardens build soil the way nature intended by allowing the plants to naturally add more and more organic matter to the soil through the slow and stead decomposition of their leaves and roots. As they mature, they also help build topsoil and sequester atmospheric carbon.
Here are some classic perennials to plant:
This kale is often grown ornamentally due to its gray-blue leaves and white flowers. The plant grows about three feet tall. It should be covered in spring and the shoots should be blanched when they’re around six inches long. They taste like hazelnut! The flowers and young leaves also are edible. Plant in well-drained soil in full sun.
Radicchio and Chicory
Ever chopped off a lettuce plant in summer, only to find it growing back the following spring? Some leafy greens are able to regrow from a root — an advantage for gardeners who’ll have robust greens growing quite early in spring. Raddichio and other chicory relatives are good bets, but as most of us grow several types of lettuce and mesclun greens mixes, you never know what might come back. Instead of pulling up your roots, cut the plant back at the soil surface, cover the bed with straw through the winter, and see what pops up in spring.
Garlic, onions and chives are all able to survive cold winters from their roots buried under the soil. Plant garlic and onion cloves, sets or seed in the fall, and they’ll push up green shoots in the spring; leave a few behind each year, and they’ll flower, seed themselves and divide their own bulbs to create the next year’s crop.
Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)
The latest culinary darling, sunchokes are tubers grown from a flowering, towering relative of the sunflower. They’ve got a nutty flavor and are delicious roasted or in soups. Plant a single sunchoke in the fall or early spring, and it’ll grow into a hearty plant with multiple tubers to dig up. Remember to always leave a few in the ground for next year — and give it plenty of space, because this plant is a hardy native that can invade your yard with its sunny, food-producing blooms.
Asparagus shoots are one of spring’s first delights, poking out of cool soils alongside other perennials like tulips and crocus. But they’re a long-term investment: The first year, you won’t harvest asparagus at all, and each year you must leave plenty of shoots behind, letting them flower and grow into the next year’s harvest.
Artichokes are the edible flower buds of a bushy plant in the thistle family. Best suited for moist, light soils and full sun, artichoke plants grow larger each year, eventually producing several plump buds a year. They don’t do well in dry soils, so mulch and compost well, and give the roots plenty of water. If you have cold winters (zones 6-7), cut the plant back in fall and cover it with a layer of straw.
The stems and young leaves of this perennial make a great celery substitute. The seeds and roots are also edible and the flowers attract beneficial insects. It thrives in sun or partial shade in average garden soil.
Also known as mintroot, this perennial sends out runners that form a dense, 12-inch-high ground cover. The white tubers are crisp and sweet, and add a great crunch to salads. The tubers can be harvested yearly, but leave a few in the ground each year to bring them back next spring. Grow in partial shade or full sun in well-drained soil.
The leaves of sorrel add a wonderful, lemony tang to salads and soups. They also make an amazing pesto sauce. You can harvest sorrel from early spring to late fall. Grow sorrel in average soil in sun or shade.
Rhubarbs are amazing for desserts like apple rhubarb muffins or rhubarb peach crisp. But the reddish stems also have a long history of use as a vegetable in soups in Asia. You’ll want rich soil and full sun to grow these stalks, but don’t eat the leaves or roots since they’re poisonous.
An onion relative, ramps grow wild in deciduous forests. You can plant them in your garden and enjoy both the leaves and edible bulbs. Grow in a shady area and keep the soil moist.