Planting perennial vegetables is one of the very best ways to expand your garden and grow your homesteading skills.
Beginners often learn how to garden by planting annuals like cucumbers and tomatoes. These traditional garden vegetables are easy to grow and great for those looking to get started gardening.
But when you’re ready to invest in a long term garden that comes back year after year with minimal input from you, growing perennial vegetables is the way to go!
Benefits of Growing Perennials
Perennial vegetables are essential to permaculture gardening—the practice of replicating natural systems in the garden to grow food sustainably.
Since I’ve moved a lot in the last 10 years I haven’t included as many perennials as I would like in my garden. However, even adding one or two perennials to your garden is well worth the upfront cost and effort.
The main idea of permaculture gardening is to create a more stable ecosystem for growing food. Perennial vegetables make that possible in a variety of ways:
- Perennials are low-maintenance plants. Year after year, perennials return to your garden without asking for much. You won’t have to start seeds or transplant them in the spring. Once established, perennial vegetables can take care of themselves for the most part—although a bit of compost from time to time is certainly appreciated!
- Perennials are often native plants. Since these easy-going plants have evolved alongside animals and insects in the same areas, they are less prone to pests. Native plants are also more resilient to drought and other abnormal weather conditions.
- Perennials have deep roots. Unlike annuals with shorter roots, perennials have deep, extensive root systems that can pull water and nutrients up from deeper within the earth and prevent soil erosion.
- Perennial vegetables can help to build healthy soil. Since perennials return each year, you won’t need to disturb the soil with tilling and digging. This improves soil structure and allows organisms like worms, fungi, and good bacteria to live and multiply in your garden.
If you’d like to grow your own food but don’t have a lot of time to spend in the garden, I highly recommend planting perennial vegetables in a permaculture food forest.
Not only do perennials cut down on the time and energy it takes to grow a garden, but you’ll be doing a great deal of good for the earth as well!
11 Best Perennial Vegetables and Fruit to Start Growing Now
Whether a plant is considered an annual or perennial can change depending on your location and climate. But more often than not, the fruits and vegetables I’ve listed here will return with the warmer days of spring.
Perennials are long-lived but often take their time to become established. And asparagus is no exception.
Once planted in the garden, asparagus typically requires three seasons before reaching maturity. However, a single bed of asparagus can reliably produce nutritious, green spears for 20 to 30 years—all with minimal effort on your part.
To help the soil around your asparagus warm up, place plants in an area of the garden that receives mostly sun in the early spring. Asparagus plants also prefer well-draining soil to protect the roots from disease and rot.
Strawberries are an easy-to-grow family favorite. My kids enjoy filling bowls of fresh-picked berries every summer. And I definitely don’t mind the help!
Strawberry plants will thrive if given a sunny spot with ample room in the garden to expand. You can grow strawberries from seeds. But to speed up the time it takes for plants to become established, starting with crowns is best.
Strawberry plants thrive in slightly acidic soil. You’ll be rewarded with healthier plants and a more abundant harvest by adding a bit of compost to the soil each season.
Rhubarb is another popular perennial vegetable to grow in the garden, especially in more mild climates. The rosy red stalks are often baked into pies and cobblers, as their flavor tends to be quite tart.
It’s important to note that rhubarb leaves are poisonous and shouldn’t be consumed. Once the stalks are ready for harvesting, cut the leaves off and dispose of them.
Rhubarb doesn’t tolerate heat well and prefers loose, well-draining soil. In warmer climates, it’s best to plant it in an area of the garden that receives afternoon shade.
Growing chives is such a rewarding experience. They add just the right amount of onion-flavor to creamy potato dishes. And their purple flowerheads can brighten up any corner of the garden, too.
This perennial herb enjoys spring and fall temperatures and typically goes dormant during the warmer summer months. Chives appreciate a spot in the garden that receives full sun.
Although cold-hardy, chives are delicate. Mulching around your plants will help to protect the bulbs growing just below the soil’s surface.
Garlic is essential to have growing in your homestead garden. It is easy-to-grow and has both culinary and medicinal uses.
Plant garlic cloves in the fall. Their roots will grow before the ground freezes and your plants will start showing signs of life in the early spring.
Choose a sunny spot in the garden for your garlic plants. Give them a boost by adding compost or organic material to the soil several times throughout the spring.
There are many different sorrel varieties, but the most common is French sorrel (Rumex scutatus). Sorrel is a leafy green similar to spinach. It has a tangy, citrusy flavor.
Besides making sure they receive about an inch of water each week and their growing space remains relatively weed-free, sorrel doesn’t need too much care.
When your plants have reached four to six inches tall, you can harvest the leaves much like spinach or kale.
Horseradish has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes for centuries.
Although all parts of the plant are edible, the spicy root is most often used in sauce recipes. It is also a common ingredient in fire cider, recommended by herbalists for fighting off colds and boosting the immune system.
Horseradish prefers cooler temperatures. A shade or partly sunny spot is best for horseradish plants. Harvest the roots once the leaves have died back due to frost.
Also known as red chicory, radicchio is a fun perennial vegetable to grow in the garden. It is a red, cabbage-like vegetable that grows sweeter in cooler temperatures.
Radicchio can be eaten raw or cooked. They are delicious sliced up and added to salads and soups.
In cooler climates, radicchio can benefit from full sun, while plants grown in warmer temperatures would do better with afternoon shade.
Lovage is an easy-to-grow perennial with both culinary and medicinal uses. It can grow up to six feet tall with leaves similar to parsley.
Lovage has a celery-like taste and aroma. It is an excellent herb to add to chicken or fish dishes, soups, and potato recipes.
Research has also shown that lovage contains anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties particularly helpful in treating urinary tract infections. You can use all parts of the plant to make teas and tinctures.
Because of its height, you’ll want to be sure to plant lovage in a space that won’t block sunlight from other plants.
Kale is a biennial, taking two seasons to complete its life cycle. This short-lived perennial is grown for its nutritious green leaves that lend robust flavor to salads, soups, and many other dishes.
Kale is a hardy plant that withstands cold temperatures well. Areas with long, cool growing seasons are excellent for growing kale.
Plant kale in the early spring and late summer for a fall harvest. Full to partial-sun, well-draining soil, and ample room to grow is the best recipe for success when it comes to growing kale.
Another excellent perennial option for growing food is to plant a variety of berries. I love growing berry bushes to attract beneficial wildlife to the garden, too.
Here are a few to consider adding to your garden:
Most berry bushes will enjoy full sun with plenty of space to sprawl out. Add mulch around your plants’ base to hold in moisture, especially as they first become established in their new home.
If you’re not in a permanent homestead, I’d hold off on perennials (unless you plan to be there for at least 5 years).
But if you have purchased property or have a rental you love, perennials are one of the first things I would recommend planting. They take some time to establish, but once they get going they can produce food for years with very little work from you.
Perennial gardens are also a great way to practice no-till gardening skills.
Begin to incorporate perennials into your garden plans, and you’ll quickly experience the many benefits for yourself!
Which perennial vegetables are you looking forward to planting this growing season?