20 Perennial Crops You Can Plant Once and Enjoy Forever
Imagine a garden that once established, required no tilling or planting, but provided years and years of tasty and bountiful crops to harvest throughout the growing season.
Sound too good to be true? It is very possible, thanks to the wonders of perennial vegetables, which tend to be more nutritious, easier to grow, better for the environment, and less dependent on water and fertilizers than annual crops.
Strangely enough, with the exception of a few such plants like asparagus, rhubarb, and artichokes, most American gardeners are largely unaware of most of these plants.
In this guide we will explore some of the benefits and potential drawbacks of perennial crops and give you a guide to 10 popular and 10 lesser-known crops that may grow well in your area.
Benefits of Perennial Crops:
Once established in the proper site and climate, perennial vegetables are among the hardiest plants you can grow.
They thrive and produce abundant and nutritious crops throughout the season and are virtually indestructible despite neglect.
Established perennials are more resistant to pests, diseases, drought, and weeds than annual crops as well.
As a matter of fact, some perennials are so good at growing themselves that the main attention they need is frequent harvesting to prevent overgrowth.
Perennial crops typically have different seasons of availability than 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.
Some perennial vegetables are so beautiful and ornamental, they can enhance your landscape.
Others can function as ground cover, erosion control on slopes, or even hedges.
Certain perennial crops actually fertilize themselves and plants around them by fixing nitrogen into the soil, and many serve as habitats for insects and pollinators.
Rather than strip the soil of essential elements the way certain plants can, perennials are absolutely healthy for the soil around them.
By not requiring tilling, the soil can remain intact and foster a healthy habitat for animals, fungi, and important soil life.
Perennials also slowly build and improve the topsoil through slow and steady decomposition of leaves and roots as they grow.
Drawbacks of Perennial Crops:
Some perennials, like asparagus, are slow to establish and may take a few years before they begin to provide good yields.
Like many annuals, the greens of some perennials become bitter once they flower. Therefore, greens are only available for consumption early in the season.
Certain perennial veggies have strong flavors many Americans may not be used to.
Some perennials are so low-maintenance that left to their own devices, they can essentially become weeds and overtake your garden or escape into your neighborhood.
Perennials vegetables require careful and permanent placement in your garden and must be maintained separately from your annuals.
Some perennials present special pest and disease challenges because you won’t be able to minimize issues through crop rotation. Once some perennials catch a disease, they need to be replaced.
Incorporating Perennial Crops:
A good way to establish some perennial veggies into your garden is to expand your border a bit. Simply extend an existing garden bed by 3 to 4 feet and plant a border of perennials.
Another idea, if you already grow a perennial border or foundation shrubs, is to mix in some perennial crops like sea kale or sorrel. Many perennials have attractive leaves and flowers that can help enhance your landscaping.
You can also utilize currently unused areas of your yard, matching the conditions to the appropriate perennial. Some perennial veggies like wild leeks can grow in shady, wet, or cool conditions that wouldn’t typically allow the growth of food plants.
20 Perennial Crops Suited for North American Gardens:
While there are actually hundreds of perennial crops that can grow around the world, we’ve compiled a list of some common and lesser known plants that tend to do well in certain zones of North America. The following ten are fairly common:
1. raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and other berry bushes
4. kale (usually grown as an annual)
5. garlic (usually grown as an annual)
6. radicchio (usually grown as an annual)
8. globe artichokes
10. potatoes (usually grown as an annual)
Ten lesser-known, delicious perennial vegetables:
Following are ten lesser-known, delicious perennial vegetables and a guide to the particular zones of the U.S. where they will flourish:
1. Bunching or Egyptian Onions
Certain types of onions, like the fall-planted bunching and Egyptian onions, continue to produce new onions even after some are harvested. The Egyptian onion produces small bulbs at the top of its stalks in late summer. You can either use these tiny onions as is or replant them in the fall to grow even more Egyptian onions. Grow in zones 4-8.
Just about any gardener will tell you daylilies thrive on neglect. Case in point, they have naturalized across most of the U.S. Though primarily grown as ornamentals in North America, daylilies are a vegetable in Asia. The flower buds are used like green beans while the flowers themselves are often served in salads or battered and fried. Grow in zones 2-10
3. Good King Henry
A traditional European vegetable known for its tasty shoots, leaves, and flower buds, good king henry is a relative of spinach. It grows in full sun or partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. Harvest its tender shoots in spring. Grows hardy to zone 3.
Groundnut is native to eastern North America and grows as a 6-foot vine bearing protein-rich tubers that taste like nutty potatoes. Groundnut will grow well with the support of a shrub or Grow groundnut vines near a fence or shrub for support and in a moist site that receives full sun or partial shade. Harvest tubers in the fall. Grows hardy to zone 3.
5. Jerusalem Artichoke
Related to sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes are grown for their underground tubers. They can either be eaten raw or cooked as you would a potato. These plants are very assertive and may become invasive according to some gardeners. Grows hardy in zones 4-9.
6. Ostrich Fern
Ostrich ferns are often grown for their beauty, but most gardeners don’t realize that they can also be grown for their delicious, early spring fiddleheads. In fact, these heads are considered a delicacy in fine dining restaurants. These ferns grow well in cool shady spots and are hardy from zones 2-8.
7. Wild Leeks or Ramps
A relative of onions, ramps grow wild in hardwood forests east of the Mississippi, emerging every spring. Many consider ramps a local delicacy and forage them from the wild, but you can grow your own. They grow best in a shady border in moist loam or naturalize beneath trees. Both the leaves and bulbs are edible. Grows hardy to zone 4.
8. Scarlet Runner Beans
Typically grown as ornamentals, Scarlet runner beans are actually quite edible and nutritious. They can be eaten both as green beans, and later, in dried form. The flowers, young leaves, and tubers are also edible if cooked. Grows hardy to zone 4
9. Sea Kale
Beautiful as an ornamental, sea kale grows to about 3 feet-tall and has grayish blue leaves and white flowers. More than just pretty, however, the shoots, young leaves, and flowers of sea kale are also edible. Grows hardy to zone 4.
A perennial herb, sorrel has tart, lemon-flavored leaves often used in soups, stews, salads, and sauces. There are two main types grown, namely common sorrel and French sorrel. Akin to rhubarb, sorrel leaves contain small amounts of oxalic acid that is not considered harmful in small quantities. Best harvested in early spring, sorrel tends to get bitter as the weather gets warmer. It is considered a delicacy and is hard to find in stores due to its tendency to wilt shortly after harvest. Garden sorrel is hardy to zone 5 while French sorrel is hardy to zone 6.
For a guide of zones, visit the following link: http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/