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 a Perennial Is
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.
The key here is that you won't have to reseed or replant these plants each year to enjoy a harvest of food. 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. Check for compatibility with your region before you buy anything.
- Basil (Not all basil is perennial. Try African Blue or East Indian for a perennial variety)
- Lavender (Often takes several seasons to establish)
- Lemon Balm
- Onions (Potato onions, Shallots, Egyptian onions, Japanese bunching onions, Welsh onions, and Chinese leeks)
- Rosemary (Can be difficult to grow in some zones)
- Artichoke (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 perennial varieties Nine Star or Purple Cape)
- Spinach (Not all varieties are perennial. Try perennial varieties Ceylon, Sissoo or New Zeland)
- Sweet Potato
- Tree cabbages/Tree Collards
- Water Cress
- 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)
Tips for Growing Perennials In Your Garden
Incorporating more perennial foods into your garden is a smart way to save time and money. You won't have to prepare the planting area or spend money on seeds or seedlings at the start of each growing season, and once your plans are established, they'll be less susceptible to drought or other unfavorable growing conditions.
That's not to say that perennials are maintenance free because they aren't, not by a long shot. To thrive perennials require regular fertilizing, and 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.
And 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.
Take time to chat with a local garden expert before you plant your perennial food garden so you can find out what works best in your climate, what precautions you need to take, and what sorts of pests and problems you can expect throughout the growing season. 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.
Tip: If you are going to have both perennials and annuals in your garden, consider keeping them in separate areas, so it'll be easier to plant your annuals and clean up at the end of the growing season.