Want to enjoy home-grown food year after year without having to start your garden from scratch each spring? Then, it's time to discover the perennial food garden. All of the following herbs, vegetables, fruits, and legumes can be planted once and enjoyed for many seasons to come.
What Is a Perennial?
A perennial is a plant that comes back year after year. This differentiates it from annuals, which must be planted each year, and biennials, which only live for two years. Just plant your garden or orchard once, and your plantings should last for several years, maybe even several decades.
While all plants listed below are perennials, they may not grow perennially in all locations. In your local climate, plants that come back year after year may not be able to survive over a more extreme winter or summer. Research and check for compatibility with your region before you buy anything by referring to the USDA hardiness zones listed on the seed or plant's label.
- Basil (Not all basil is perennial. Try African Blue or East Indian for a perennial variety.)
- Lavender (It often takes several seasons to establish.)
- Lemon Balm
- Onions (Try potato onions, shallots, Egyptian onions, Japanese bunching onions, Welsh onions, and Chinese leeks.)
- Rosemary (It can be difficult to grow in some zones.)
- Artichoke (Try Jerusalem, also known as Sunchokes.)
- Asparagus (Keep the bed weed-free, and they'll produce for 20 years or more. You can take your first harvest in the third growing season.)
- Broccoli (Not all varieties are perennial. Try varieties Nine Star or Purple Cape.)
- Spinach (Not all varieties are perennial. Try varieties Ceylon, Sissoo, or New Zealand.)
- Sweet Potato
- Tree cabbages/tree collards
- Goji berries
- Lemons (Must be brought indoors in the winter in colder climates.)
- Oranges (Must be brought indoors in the winter in colder climates.)
- Strawberries (Replant every three years to maintain vigor and cut down on disease.)
Pros and Cons of Growing Perennials
There are pros and cons to growing perennials and it helps to know them both. Incorporating more perennial foods into your garden is a smart way to save time and money. Another benefit to growing perennials is that you will eliminate the need to prepare the planting area or spend money on seeds or seedlings at the start of each growing season. Once your plants are established, they'll be less susceptible to drought or other unfavorable growing conditions.
But, there are drawbacks to perennials, too. Perennials are not always maintenance-free. Perennials require regular fertilizing to thrive. Many perennial edibles also require a fair amount of pest control. You also won't get the same instant gratification that you may be used to with annual foods. Most perennials don't produce food for the first three to five years.
It bears mentioning that some perennials can spread to the point of becoming invasive. Blackberries, mint, chives, and horseradish are just a few examples of plants that you'll need to keep an eye on. You may want to plant these known spreaders in containers so that you can keep their growth in check.
Tips for Growing Perennials In Your Garden
Take time to chat with a local garden expert before you plant your perennial food garden. If you don't know anyone with a green thumb that you can talk to, try a Master Gardener program, your local county extension office, or tap someone at a nearby garden center. Gardeners usually enjoy sharing their knowledge with others, so don't hesitate to reach out. Here are three important questions you can ask them:
- What types of perennials work best in your climate?
- What precautions do you need to take when planting perennials?
- What sorts of pests and problems can you expect throughout the growing season?