Perennial vegetables are often low maintenance and offer a way to extend your harvest from year to year. While the variety may be limited, making room for these 13 vegetables will pay off in the long run.
Edible landscaping is a great way to grow your food while maintaining a beautiful space. There are a wide variety of plants you may wish to grow on your plot of land, and you will likely make choices by finding a balance of what looks beautiful and what brings the kind of fresh produce you want for preserving at harvest time.
Including perennial vegetables in your edible landscape is a wise move because it will bring returns for your labor each and every year that your landscape is maintained. So how does one go about incorporating them, and what do you need to know about the process?
Types of Perennials
Biennial plants take two years to complete their lifecycle from start to seed. There are several biennia herbs, which are often grown as annuals, including dill, parsley, summer savory, bay laurel (depending on your zone), and some of the sage varieties. Your best bet for winter survivability with biennials is to harvest what you can and mulch the plant.
Tender perennials are plants that will survive to see another year, but not in garden zones 7 and below. These are plants like lemon verbena, and some of the lavender varieties, that do well overwintering in warm climates, but not in zones that get freezing conditions.
Herbaceous perennials are plants that come back from the same root stock year after year. They lose their leaves once frost hits. You’ll find they are the backbone of your garden and will give it the most interest during the winter months when the annual vegetable garden is long gone.
Most perennials are easy to care for and require little upkeep once they are established. Learn for about the care and maintenance of perennials from Penn State Extension.
The Benefits of Perennial Vegetables
There are many reasons to add perennial vegetables to your edible landscaping plans. One great reason is their ability to build healthy soil because they need not be tilled. Some perennial vegetables are shade tolerant, which is seldom true with annual plants so that you can slide these perennials into out of the way spots in your garden.
Some perennials even have the ability to fertilize themselves and neighboring plants by causing nitrogen to be fixed in the soil. Biological nitrogen fixation is an essential component of organic gardening/farming, forest gardening, and other agro-eco practices. Find out more in the article Nitrogen Fixing Plants and Microbes at Permaculture.
Perennial vegetables tend to be low maintenance plants and have the ability to resist pests and severe weather. Even if you only have a few of these vegetables in your landscape, you will be glad you chose them.
Find Out Which Vegetables are Perennial
Several vegetables are considered perennial. Perennial means that the plant dies back to the ground each fall and grows again in the spring. Therefore, these plants will be those that you don’t need to purchase every year, saving yourself money and time.
Some of the most popular perennial vegetables are asparagus and rhubarb. Artichoke, wild leeks and certain onions are also perennial vegetables that add flavor to any table. Kale, with its beautiful deep green hue, is often grown as an annual but is actually a perennial vegetable.
List of perennial vegetables:
Follow the links to find growing conditions for each perennial vegetable variety.
- Rhubarb – is a cool season perennial that is relatively resistant to pests. It grows from fleshy rhizomes producing large, thick succulent petioles (stalks) that are used as food.
- Asparagus – begin harvesting in the 3rd growing year.
- Horseradish – solve the problem of horseradish-gone-wild and grow it in pots!
- Egyptian Walking Onions – You can eat all parts of it including the main bulb, the stems (when they’re new and tender).
- Kale – a perennial, often grown as an annual in most parts of the USA.
- Artichoke – Plants can be started from seed, root cuttings or divisions early in the spring. They’ll continue to produce chokes for five to 10 years, beginning in their second year, until production declines and the plant needs replacing.
- Lovage – has a strong flavor, not unlike celery, but stronger than that. It’s great in salads with other greens. You can use it in soups and stews as well as in place of celery in recipes.
- Jerusalem Artichoke – (Sunchoke) Sunchokes are edible raw or cooked, including the skins. They are difficult to peel and turn grey quite quickly, so a good scrubbing is a better option. Eaten raw, sunchokes are similar in texture to a water chestnut or jicama.
- Dahlia Bulbs – are a close cousin of Jerusalem artichoke and sunflowers. Dahlia tubers were eaten by the indigenous peoples of Mexico long before the arrival of Europeans. Read up on the specifics at Cultivariable.com
- French Sorrel – Used in mixed salads, sauces, soups, cheese dishes and pork, and fish dishes. Because of the high acidity levels found in sorrel, cooking with it may discolor some metallic pots.
- Leeks – Leeks are a cool-season biennial that often overwinters to provide a second harvest the following year.
- Dandelion – leaves are best in the spring before the plant flowers. The roots make a decent coffee replacement and have medicinal properties.
- Lily bulbs – Eating lilies in Asia is quite common; species such as Lilium brownii, L. pumilum and L.dauricum often are eaten.
Decide What Vegetables You Will Use
Unless you are planning on giving away your fresh produce, choose vegetables that you love and will use when they are fully grown. It makes no sense to grow a large section of asparagus if you can’t stand the taste of it. And no matter how beautiful rhubarb may look when growing, there is no point incorporating it if you will not use it later.
Bottom line – choose perennial vegetables that you enjoy consuming.
So, it’s helpful to have a plan for how you will use the perennial vegetables you plan to grow, and also have a plan for how you will preserve it after harvest. If you end up producing 40 pounds of asparagus, will you be able to eat all of it while it is still fresh, or will you be canning, pickling and dehydrating it?
Disadvantages of Perennial Vegetables
- It can take years to establish a perennial vegetable plot. For a healthy root system, asparagus should grow for 3 years before you harvest any of the shoots.
- Many perennial leafy greens are strong flavored, especially once they bloom. Plan on harvesting them in the spring while they are young.
- Some perennials like horseradish and Jerusalem artichoke can become garden pests if not harvested every year.
- Weeds may have a chance to invade a perennial garden bed since the ground is not turned each year.
Decide How to Incorporate Perennial Vegetables into Your Landscape
Now that you have decided on your choice of perennial vegetables, you will want to make decisions on where you will place them, and how much you will grow.
It may depend on whether you are incorporating them into an already designed landscape, or if you are starting the entire landscape from scratch.
- Make a drawing on a sheet of paper, and design your plan for where you want each plant to be.
- Take into consideration which benefits you are looking for. For example, if you wish for another plant to utilize your perennial vegetable’s fertilizing capabilities, then plant them close together.
- If this is your first year growing a particular variety, start small and work your way up to a larger patch.
- Think beyond the vegetable garden and look for out of the way places that can take extra plants. If you have a corner that is difficult to get to and you need a low maintenance plant there, then one of your perennial vegetables may fare better than another choice.
- Source your plants and seeds for a local nursery or other reliable company.
Perennial vegetables are a great way to bring beauty to your edible landscape. When you include them, you are giving your garden an extra chance at success. Pick your favorites, make some plans, and you will thank yourself for it both now and in the future, year after year.
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