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Grow Once, Harvest Forever: 12 Perennial Vegetables for Sustainable Gardens

Are you tired of replanting your vegetable garden every year? What if I told you there’s a way to enjoy fresh, homegrown produce year after year with minimal effort? Welcome to the world of perennial vegetables! These hardy plants are the gift that keeps on giving, providing bountiful harvests season after season. In this article, we’ll explore 12 fantastic perennial vegetables that’ll transform your garden into a sustainable food source. Grow once, harvest forever! Ready to dig in?

1. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

perennial vegetable asparagus

Let’s kick things off with a true garden superstar: asparagus. This elegant veggie isn’t just a culinary delight; it’s also a long-term investment in your garden. Once established, an asparagus bed can be produced for up to 20 years! Can you imagine the satisfaction of harvesting your own tender spears each spring for two decades?

Planting asparagus requires a bit of patience, though. You’ll need to wait about three years before your first substantial harvest. But trust me, it’s worth the wait. During those first few years, the plants are developing deep root systems that’ll sustain them for years to come.

To get started, choose a sunny spot with well-draining soil. Asparagus crowns should be planted in trenches about 12 inches deep and 18 inches apart. As they grow, gradually fill in the trenches with soil. Once established, you’ll be rewarded with a crop that signals the arrival of spring like no other.

Pro tip: Mulch your asparagus bed heavily to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Your future self will thank you for this time-saving measure!

2. Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

perennial vegetable rhubarb

Next up is rhubarb, the unsung hero of the perennial vegetable world. This tart, celery-like plant is technically a vegetable, but it’s most often used in sweet dishes. Remember those delicious strawberry-rhubarb pies your grandmother used to make? With your own rhubarb patch, you could be the one carrying on that tradition!

Rhubarb is a hardy plant that can thrive for up to 10 years or more with proper care. It’s also a beautiful addition to your garden, with its large, textured leaves and vibrant red stalks. But here’s a word of caution: while the stalks are edible and delicious, the leaves are toxic. Always discard the leaves when harvesting.

To plant rhubarb, choose a spot that gets full sun to partial shade. These plants appreciate rich, well-draining soil, so don’t skimp on the compost. Plant the crowns about 3 feet apart to give them room to spread. In the first year, resist the temptation to harvest – let the plant establish itself. From the second year onward, you’ll have a steady supply of stalks for pies, jams, and even savory dishes.

Recommended reading: How to Grow Rhubarb: A Step-by-Step Guide

3. Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

perennial vegetable jerusalem artichoke

Don’t let the name fool you – Jerusalem artichokes, also known as sunchokes, are neither from Jerusalem nor related to artichokes. These native North American plants are actually part of the sunflower family. Surprised? I was too when I first learned about them!

Jerusalem artichokes are prized for their nutty, sweet tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked. They’re incredibly easy to grow – some might say too easy. Once established, they can spread quite vigorously, so it’s best to give them their own dedicated space.

To plant Jerusalem artichokes, simply bury the tubers about 4 inches deep in well-draining soil. They’re not fussy about soil quality and can tolerate partial shade, making them a great option for less-than-ideal garden spots. Come fall, you’ll be digging up a treasure trove of knobby tubers that are packed with nutrients and flavor.

Word of caution: Jerusalem artichokes contain inulin, a type of fiber that some people find hard to digest. Start with small portions to see how your body reacts.

4. Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)

perennial vegetable globe artichoke

Now, let’s talk about the true artichoke – the globe artichoke. This Mediterranean native isn’t just a vegetable; it’s a garden showstopper. With its large, silvery-green leaves and striking purple flower heads, the globe artichoke is as ornamental as it is delicious.

In warmer climates (zones 7-11), globe artichokes can be reliable perennials, producing for up to 5 years. In colder areas, they’re often grown as annuals, but with proper winter protection, you might coax them into coming back year after year.

To grow globe artichokes, choose a sunny spot with rich, well-draining soil. These plants are heavy feeders, so don’t be shy with the compost. Space them about 4 feet apart – they get big! In their first year, you might get a small harvest, but the real bounty comes in subsequent years.

The edible part of the artichoke is actually the flower bud. Harvest them when they’re tight and firm before the scales start to open. And if you let a few buds bloom, you’ll be treated to spectacular purple thistle flowers that bees absolutely adore!

5. Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

perennial vegetable cardoon

If you’re a fan of globe artichokes, let me introduce you to their lesser-known cousin: the cardoon. This architectural plant is a statement piece in any garden, with its dramatic, silver-gray foliage that can reach up to 5 feet tall. But cardoons aren’t just pretty faces – they’re also a delicious and unique vegetable.

Unlike artichokes, where we eat the flower bud, with cardoons, it’s all about the stalks. They have a flavor similar to artichokes but with a hint of bitterness that adds depth to dishes. In Mediterranean cuisine, cardoon stalks are often braised, fried, or used in gratins.

Growing cardoons is similar to growing artichokes. They prefer full sun and rich, well-draining soil. Plant them about 3 feet apart to give them room to spread. In colder climates, you’ll need to provide winter protection to ensure they come back year after year.

Here’s a fun fact: cardoons need to be blanched before harvesting. About a month before you want to harvest, wrap the stalks in paper or cardboard to exclude light. This process makes the stalks more tender and less bitter. It’s like giving your cardoons a spa treatment before they hit your plate!

6. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

perennial vegetable horseradish

Ready to add some heat to your perennial garden? Enter horseradish, the fiery root that’s sure to clear your sinuses and wake up your taste buds! This hardy perennial is incredibly easy to grow – some might say too easy. Once established, horseradish can spread aggressively, so it’s best to contain it in a dedicated bed or large pot.

Horseradish thrives in full sun to partial shade and prefers rich, well-draining soil. To plant, simply bury root cuttings at a 45-degree angle, about 6 inches deep. Within a few months, you’ll see leafy growth emerging.

The magic of horseradish lies in its roots. When harvesting, dig up the entire plant and select the largest roots. Replant a few small roots to keep your horseradish patch going. The heat in horseradish is released when the roots are cut or grated, so prepare it just before you plan to use it.

Did you know that horseradish leaves are edible too? They have a peppery flavor similar to arugula and can add a zesty kick to salads. Talk about getting more bang for your buck!

7. Egyptian Walking Onion (Allium x proliferum)

perennial vegetable egyptian walking onion

Now, let’s talk about one of the quirkiest members of the onion family – the Egyptian Walking Onion. Also known as tree onions or top-setting onions, these fascinating plants have earned their name from their unique growing habit. Instead of flowers, they produce small bulblets at the top of their stalks. As these bulblets grow heavier, they bend the stalk to the ground, where the bulblets take root, giving the appearance of the plant “walking” across your garden.

Egyptian Walking Onions are incredibly hardy and can survive in zones 3-9. They prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Plant the bulbs or bulblets about 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart in well-draining soil.

The best part? Every part of this plant is edible. The underground bulbs can be used like regular onions, the hollow stems like green onions, and the top bulblets can be pickled or used in cooking. Plus, you can harvest bulblets to expand your patch or share with friends.

These onions are not just practical; they’re also conversation starters. Imagine showing your guests how your onions “walk” across the garden. It’s like having a living science experiment right in your backyard!

8. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

perennial vegetable watercress

Let’s dive into something a little different – watercress. This aquatic perennial might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a vegetable garden, but it’s a nutritional powerhouse that’s surprisingly easy to grow.

Watercress, with its peppery leaves, is packed with vitamins and minerals. It’s been cultivated for thousands of years and was a staple in ancient Greek and Roman diets. Now, you can grow this gourmet green right in your own backyard!

Unlike our other perennials, watercress thrives in wet conditions. If you have a water feature or a boggy area in your garden, you’re in luck! You can also grow watercress in containers filled with water, making it a great option for small spaces or even indoor gardening.

To get started, simply place watercress seedlings or cuttings in about 3 inches of water. Make sure the crown of the plant is above water level. Change the water regularly to keep it fresh, and within a few weeks, you’ll have a lush crop of watercress ready for harvesting.

Here’s a fun fact: watercress is one of the oldest known leaf vegetables consumed by humans. How’s that for adding a bit of history to your salad bowl?

Recommended reading: How to Grow Watercress: A Step-by-Step Guide

9. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

perennial vegetable sorrel

Next on our list of perennial vegetables is sorrel, a tangy perennial herb that’s often overlooked in modern gardens. But trust me, once you’ve tasted its bright, lemony leaves, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it!

Sorrel is a hardy plant that can thrive in zones 3-9. It prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade, making it a versatile addition to your garden. Plant sorrel seeds directly in the garden in early spring, or start them indoors for an earlier harvest.

The beauty of sorrel lies in its versatility. Young leaves can be added raw to salads for a zesty kick, while mature leaves are perfect for soups, sauces, and pestos. In France, sorrel soup is a classic spring dish that celebrates the return of fresh, green flavors after a long winter.

One thing to note: sorrel contains oxalic acid, which gives it its distinctive tang. While this is generally safe in moderation, people prone to kidney stones might want to limit their intake. But for most of us, sorrel is a delightful way to add a pop of flavor to our meals.

10. Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

perennial vegetable chicory

Let’s talk about chicory, a versatile perennial that’s been cultivated for centuries. You might be familiar with chicory root as a coffee substitute, but this plant has so much more to offer!

Chicory is a hardy plant that can grow in a wide range of conditions, making it perfect for beginner gardeners. It prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Sow seeds directly in the garden in spring or fall, and thin seedlings to about 12 inches apart.

The real magic of chicory lies in its diversity. The leaves can be harvested young for salads, adding a pleasantly bitter note that pairs beautifully with sweeter greens. As the plant matures, you can blanch the leaves (like we did with cardoon) to reduce bitterness and create a delicacy known as Belgian endive.

But wait, there’s more! The roots can be harvested in fall, roasted, and ground to make a caffeine-free coffee substitute. And if you let chicory flower, you’ll be treated to beautiful blue blossoms that attract pollinators to your garden.

Did you know that chicory has been used medicinally for centuries? It’s believed to aid digestion and support liver health. How’s that for a multi-talented plant?

11. Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)

perennial vegetable good king henry

Now, let’s introduce you to a vegetable with a royal name: Good King Henry. Also known as poor man’s asparagus, this perennial green has been cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages. Despite its regal title, Good King Henry is a humble and hardy plant that deserves a spot in any perennial vegetable garden.

Good King Henry is related to spinach and quinoa, and like its cousins, it’s packed with nutrients. The young shoots can be cooked like asparagus, the leaves used like spinach, and even the flowers are edible. Talk about a versatile veggie!

To grow Good King Henry, choose a spot with full sun to partial shade. It’s not fussy about soil but prefers it to be rich and well-draining. Sow seeds directly in the garden in spring or fall, or start them indoors for earlier transplanting.

One of the best things about Good King Henry is its early spring harvest. When other plants are just waking up, this royal green is already providing tender shoots for your table. And once established, it’ll keep producing for years with minimal care.

Here’s a quirky fact: Nobody knows for sure why it’s called Good King Henry. Some say it’s named after a helpful gnome in German folklore, while others claim it’s a nod to King Henry IV of France, who wanted to ensure every peasant had a “chicken in the pot.” Regardless of its name’s origin, this plant is certainly fit for a king’s table!

12. American Groundnut (Apios americana)

perennial vegetable american groundnut

Last but certainly not least, let’s explore the American Groundnut. This native North American plant was a staple food for many indigenous tribes and early settlers. It’s a climbing vine that produces edible tubers with a nutty, potato-like flavor.

The American Groundnut is a nitrogen-fixing legume, which means it can improve soil fertility. It grows best in full sun to partial shade and prefers moist, well-draining soil. Plant tubers about 4 inches deep and provide a trellis or support for the vines to climb.

What makes the American Groundnut truly special is its protein content. The tubers contain about three times more protein than potatoes, making them a valuable food source. They can be prepared in many of the same ways as potatoes – boiled, mashed, roasted, or added to soups and stews.

Growing American Groundnuts is like having a treasure hunt in your garden. The tubers grow on underground stolons, and you can harvest them in the fall after the plant dies back. Leave some tubers in the ground to ensure a crop for the next year.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Despite its name, the American Groundnut is not related to peanuts. It’s actually more closely related to beans and peas. Nature sure likes to keep us guessing, doesn’t it?

Summary Chart: Tips for Growing Perennial Vegetables in Your Garden

Now, let’s summarize some key information about these perennial vegetables in a handy table. This table provides a quick reference guide for gardeners interested in growing these perennial vegetables. It summarizes key information about each plant’s growing requirements and harvesting details, making it easier to plan and manage a diverse perennial vegetable garden.

VegetableSun RequirementSoil PreferenceHardiness ZonesTime to HarvestEdible Parts
AsparagusFull sunWell-draining3-83 yearsSpears
RhubarbFull sun to partial shadeRich, well-draining3-82 yearsStalks
Jerusalem ArtichokeFull sun to partial shadeWell-draining3-81 yearTubers
Globe ArtichokeFull sunRich, well-draining7-111-2 yearsFlower buds
CardoonFull sunRich, well-draining7-101 yearStalks
HorseradishFull sun to partial shadeRich, well-draining3-91 yearRoots, Leaves
Egyptian Walking OnionFull sunWell-draining3-91 yearBulbs, Stems, Top-sets
WatercressFull sun to partial shadeWet conditions3-112-3 weeksLeaves, Stems
SorrelFull sun to partial shadeWell-draining3-92-3 monthsLeaves
ChicoryFull sun to partial shadeWell-draining3-93-4 monthsLeaves, Roots
Good King HenryFull sun to partial shadeRich, well-draining3-92-3 monthsShoots, Leaves, Flowers
American GroundnutFull sun to partial shadeMoist, well-draining3-91-2 yearsTubers

Remember, while these are general guidelines, local climate conditions and specific varieties may affect growing times and hardiness. It’s always a good idea to consult with local gardening experts or extension services for advice tailored to your specific region.

Frequently Asked Questions About Perennial Vegetables

What are perennial vegetables?

Perennial vegetables are plants that live for more than two years and produce edible crops year after year without needing to be replanted annually. Unlike annual vegetables that complete their life cycle in one growing season, perennial vegetables have a longer lifespan and provide sustainable harvests over time.

What vegetables grow back every year?

Several vegetables are classified as perennials, meaning they regrow each year without needing to be replanted. Some common perennial vegetables include:
Asparagus: Once established, asparagus crowns can produce spears for many years.
Rhubarb: Rhubarb plants can produce edible stalks for several years after establishment.
Artichoke: Globe artichokes are perennial plants that produce edible flower buds.
Jerusalem Artichoke: Also known as sunchoke, it produces tubers that can be harvested annually.
Sorrel: A leafy green perennial vegetable with a tangy flavor.
Horseradish: Known for its pungent root, horseradish is a perennial that regrows each year.
Chives: These herbaceous perennials produce edible leaves and flowers.
Lovage: A perennial herb with celery-like flavor, used in culinary dishes.
Sea Kale: Produces edible shoots similar to asparagus.
Perennial Kale: Certain varieties of kale, such as tree kale, can regrow year after year.
Good King Henry: A perennial vegetable similar to spinach.
These vegetables are valued in sustainable gardening for their ability to provide consistent harvests with minimal replanting effort.

Final Thoughts about Growing Perennial Vegetables for a Continuous Harvest

In conclusion, cultivating perennial vegetables offers a sustainable and rewarding way to enjoy fresh produce year after year with minimal effort. By planting once and allowing these resilient crops to thrive, you not only reduce the need for annual replanting but also create a more sustainable garden ecosystem.

Whether it’s the reliable spears of asparagus, the hearty stalks of rhubarb, or the flavorful leaves of perennial kale, incorporating these 12 perennial vegetables into your garden promises a continuous bounty that enriches both your plate and your gardening experience. Embrace the joy of plant once, then, harvest forever, and enjoy the benefits of a perennially productive garden season after season.

About Henry Morgan

Henry Morgan is an agronomist horticulture founder of The Garden Style Company and The Garden Style Website. He previously worked for Mondelēz International as an Agronomist Engineer specializing in agricultural products management in highly populated areas. In 2000, Henry started working with farmer-producers in agricultural businesses selling wholesale fresh produce and retail plants in Van Buren, Arkansas. Nowadays, Henry lives in California, where he offers expert consulting services for organic vegetable gardening. As a science writer working with his wife, Julia, Henry shares his passion for gardening and farming, trying to reach and teach as many folks as possible.

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