Perennial Vegetables: How To Grow More Food With Less Work…

Perennial vegetables offer repeat harvests year after year, without the need for re-planting. Discover some of the most popular edible perennials & learn about their many exciting benefits for the veg garden.

A photo of asparagus, a popular perennial vegetable. Photo by Louis Hansel via unsplash.com.

I love perennial vegetables. In fact, I’m a bit obsessed with them. I didn’t even know what they were when I started veg gardening, but I now have a whole area of my allotment dedicated to growing them.

The beauty of perennial vegetables is that you only need to plant them once, then they’ll continue to harvest year after year. They tend to be quite pest resistent too.

What Is a Perennial Vegetable?

A perennial vegetable is defined as a plant that lives for more than two years and continues to produce edible parts season after season. This is in contrast to annual vegetables, which complete their life cycle within one single growing season.

Many perennial veg also have a deeper root system than annuals, which makes them better equipped to cope with changing weather conditions.

Why Grow Perennial Vegetables?

Even though much of my veg plot is constantly changing, one of the first things I did was plant a permanent perennial vegetable area – this included globe artichokes, rhubarb, Jerusalem artichokes, horseradish & sorrel.

The perennial vegetables I grow has expanded since then, but I’m a firm believer that perennial vegetables make a fantastic addition to a vegetable garden. You only have to plant them once & they’ll give you repeat crops, often for many years.

Here are 5 key benefits of growing perennial vegetables:

5 Benefits Of Perennial Vegetables

A globe artichoke flower, a more common perennial vegetable. Photo: Sarah Baker - minimalgardener.com.

Low Maintenance

One of the biggest advantages of perennial vegetables is their low maintenance. Because they have a much longer life span than annuals, you don’t need to replant them each year. And once established, perennial vegetabes generally require less attention too. This greatly reduces the need for repeat sowing every year.

Sustainability

Too much digging can damage soil structure & disturb important fungal networks. So the longer lifespan of perennial veg means less digging, which helps promote & sustain soil health. They also add biodiversity to a veg garden, as well as bring a whole new level of flavours & nutrients to your kitchen. And, according to this study, they may even hold a higher level of key nutrients than many widely grown vegetable crops.

Repeat Harvests

Most of us love an annual vegetable. But with their longer life span, perennials can offer us repeat harvests, often for many years, without the need for annual replanting. Many perennial vegetables, such as sorrel or perennial kale, are also really easy to propagate – in theory offering you harvests for a lifetime.

Adaptability

Perennial vegetables are often better equipped to adapt to environmental conditions than annuals. They also tend to be more pest resistant. True perennial roots and tubers are also frost hardy. This ability to put up with changing weather patterns, as well as resist pests and diseases can make them a reliable choice to grow in a range of climates.

Money Saving

Long term, a perennial vegetable will also save you money. You’ll only need to plant it out once & depending on the vegetable, it could last you many years. Once established, many perennials, such as rhubarb, sorrel or rosemary are also simple to divide & replant, providing you with new plants at absolutely no cost.

Popular Perennial Vegetables

Chives in flower. Image: Laura Ockel via unsplash.com.

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Many perennial vegetables, such as asparagus, or rhubarb, are commonplace and you won’t have much trouble finding them in supermarkets. Others, such as fresh horseradish or Jerusalem Artichokes aren’t always so readily available. Which is another great reason to grow them yourself.

Here are a few of the more common perennial vegetables.

  • Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis): Classic perennial veg with delicate edible spears.
  • Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus): A striking perennial known for its edible flower buds.
  • Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum): A hardy perennial used in pies, jams, and desserts.
  • Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus): Sunflower-like perennial, with edible tubers.
  • Sorrel (Rumex acetosa): A tangy, leafy perennial, used in soups, sauces & salads.

Types Of Perennial Vegetables

Just like annuals, perennial vegetables can be classified into categories, such as leafy greens or roots. Below you’ll find key perennial vegetable types, with a few examples in each. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I’ve tried to list a few of the more commonly grown perennial vegetables, as well as some of the ones I’ve successfully grown & actually like to eat.

Root Vegetables

A photo of the perennial vegetable Jerusalem Artichoke. Photo: Sarah Baker - minimalgardener.com.
  • Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana): A spicy perennial vegetable that produces a pungent root that’s most commonly made into a sauce or condiment. Easy to grow with little, or no maintenance required.
  • Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus): This sunflower relative produces edible tubers with a nutty, sweet flavour. Resilient and easy to grow, Jerusalem artichokes add versatility to your perennial garden. Although a root, it also produces beautiful yellow flowers.
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa): Known for its vibrant orange colour and earthy flavour, turmeric is a tropical perennial that thrives in warm climates. Its underground rhizomes are the source of the popular spice.

Tuberous Vegetables

  • Oca (Oxalis tuberosa): Hailing from the Andes, oca is a lesser-known tuberous perennial vegetable with a tangy, lemony flavor. Its tubers come in a range of colors, adding visual interest to your garden and plate.
  • Chinese Artichoke (Stachys affinis): Also known as crosne, this tuberous perennial has a crunchy texture and a slightly nutty taste. It’s a unique addition to the perennial vegetable garden.

Leafy Greens

Good King Henry plant, a leafy green perennial vegetable. Photo copyright: Sarah Baker - minimalgardener.com.
  • Sorrel (Rumex acetosa): An easy to grow leafy green, sorrel adds a zesty kick to salads, soups, and sauces. Its perennial nature makes it a reliable addition to the garden, providing fresh leaves throughout the growing season. Easy to divide by root division, producing you new plants.
  • Lovage (Levisticum officinale): With a flavour reminiscent of celery, lovage is a perennial herb that also boasts edible leaves. It can be used in salads or as a seasoning in various dishes.
  • Taunton Deane’ Kale: A perennial kale from the west country, which can grow up to 2m tall. Plants commonly produce for 5-8 years & once it’s established, leaves can be harvested all year round. Easy to propogate from stem cuttings, which means you can just keep growing it.
  • Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus): An unfussy plant, Good King Henry is often used as a spinach substitute. Steam it’s tender stalks & you’ll get something a bit like asparagus. Easy to divide by root division, pests & diseases also tend to leave it alone.
  • Sea Kale (Crambe maritima): A salt tolerant plant, common to coastlines, sea kale ideally prefers a slightly alkaline soil. Young tender leaves can be used in a similar way to kale & the unbloomed buds can be steamed like broccoli. Can be propogated via cuttings.

Alliums

  • Babington Leeks (Allium Ampeloprasum var Babingtonii): A popular perennial leek, Babingtons are a low maintenance veg & easy to grow. They’re thinner than the more traditional leek, but once the plant is established, you can harvest the leeks every year. Simply cut at ground level & the plant will regrow over the winter & into spring. As the plant matures it also creates mini bulbs, or ‘bulbils’, which you can use to form new plants.
  • Egyptian Walking Onions (Allium × proliferum): Also called tree onions, Egyptian Walking Onions sprout tender shoots & stems, which are edible & taste a bit like shallots. As well as regrowing each year, the mother plant also forms small onion sets at the top of the stems, which eventually cause the stem to bend over as if it’s ‘walking’. These small bulbils then replant themselves.
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): More commonly used as a herb than a vegetable, chives are a useful perennial in any garden. The mild onion taste of the leaves is delicious in salads, soups & stews, plus the plants are easy to divide once established. Chives also make an excellent companion plant for fruit trees, helping to deter pests, plus the beautiful purple flowers are popular with pollinators.
  • Wild Garlic (Allium ursinum): Also called ramsons, you’ll often clumps of wild garlic carpeting shady woodland floors. Don’t let their wild heritage put you off though. This perennial plant is easy to grow in a shady spot & will produce delicious garlicky leaves each spring, which you can steam or whiz into a pesto. Easy to propagate by dividing bulbs of an established clump.

Stem Vegetables

Stems of young rhubarb, a popular perennial vegetable. Photo: Sarah Baker - minimalgardener.com.
  • Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis): Asparagus is perhaps one of the most well-known perennial vegetables, celebrated for its delicious tender shoots. Once established, an asparagus bed can yield a harvest for many years.
  • Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum): Known for its vibrant, tart stalks, rhubarb is a hardy perennial that can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Its colourful stems add visual appeal to the garden. If you divide it every few years, rhubarb should last you a liftetime.

Flowering Vegetables

  • Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus): The globe artichoke is a stunning perennial with edible flower buds. Beyond its culinary use, it can also serve as an ornamental focal point in the garden.
  • Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.): Known for their vibrant, trumpet-shaped flowers, daylilies also produce edible buds and blooms. They come in a variety of colours and can add both looks and flavour to your garden.
  • Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus): A close relative of the globe artichoke, with striking thistle like flowers, the cardoon was a favourite with Victorian gardeners. It’s quite a dramatic plant & rather than the flower, it’s the stems that are edible – blanch them & they’ll taste a bit like celery.

Conclusion

An often overlooked & underutilised crop, perennial vegetables offer you lots of benefits in the vegetable garden. I’m always on the look out for new ones to grow – both from an edible & ornamental perspective.

From the tartness of rhubarb to the tender shoots of asparagus, perennial veg can bring a whole range of fresh flavours & textures to your food, plus many bring added visual appeal. The yellow flowers of Jerusalem Artichokes can look stunning at the back of a border & a flowering cardoon or globe artichoke is quite a sight to behold. I love it when my globe artichokes start to pop up & slowly spread their leaves into a canopy.

And perhaps most importantly, perennial vegetables offer repeat harvests for less work, saving you time & money, whilst also bringing biodiversity to your veg plot.

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