How to Grow Perennial Vegetables

Three Parts:Identifying Perennial VegetablesPlanting Perennial VegetablesGrowing Biennial and Self-Sowing Vegetables

The term "perennial" refers to a plant that lives year after year, usually surviving the winter months to grow again. This is in contrast to "annual" plants that only live for one growing season and usually die back in the winter. Most familiar vegetables are annuals, meaning they need to be re-sown each year. However there are some vegetables that behave as perennials in most climates, meaning they don’t need to be re-sown from seed each year. Find more information on perennial vegetables after the jump.

Part 1
Identifying Perennial Vegetables

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    Grow Jerusalem artichokes. Jerusalem artichokes are a knobbly tuber that is usually prepared like a potato.
    • These can be very invasive so you may prefer to grow them in containers.
    • They do well in cooler climates and are best harvested after the first frost each year.[1]
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    Consider growing globe artichokes. Globe artichokes are grown for their edible flowers and make a striking visual addition to any garden. They are available in perennial or annual varieties:
    • You can harvest from annual plants int the first year, but a perennial will not produce edible crop the first year. However, once the perennial variety does start producing, it will regrow year after year in warmer climates (zone 7 or above).
    • Another advantage of the perennial variety is that it offers bigger crops than annuals when they do eventually flower. These types of artichokes favor a sunny spot and regular watering.[2]
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    Think about planting cardoons. Cardoons are a lovely silvery plant similar in appearance to the thistle or artichoke.
    • They grow easily from seed, favor a sunny spot, and grow to huge but attractive garden plants which provide an unusual vegetable dish over winter months.
    • You’ll need to blanch the stems before eating them. This is done by wrapping the plants into bundles, surrounding with straw and then piling up the earth around the plant.
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    Plant asparagus in areas with cold winters. Asparagus fares well as a perennial vegetable in areas that get a cold winter.
    • Although the beds take a few years to get established, once you have a thriving asparagus patch you can rely on a regular spring crop every year.
    • For more information on growing asparagus, see this article.
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    Grow horseradish in zones 3 to 9. Horseradish is a strong-flavored root that is only needed in small amounts to add a kick to food. If you are growing this root crop as a perennial, leave some of the root behind and it will regrow.
    • Horseradish will grow best in zones 3 to 9 in either sun or partial shade. Grown as a perennial be prepared for it to spread – so consider planting it in a deep container if you want to restrict it. For more information on growing horseradish, see this article.
    • The zones refer to the average annual minimum winter temperature in your area. North America is split into 11 zones, each one 10 °F (−12 °C) warmer or colder than the one adjacent to it. To find out which zone you live in, go to the National Gardening Association's website.[3]
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    Consider growing rhubarb in areas with rich soil. Strictly-speaking, rhubarb is an herb rather than a vegetable but it is commonly treated as a fruit in the kitchen. It loves a rich soil and does well in cooler climates.[4]
    • A rhubarb plant will often be productive over a decade but they will do best if divided every 4 years or so.
    • Rhubarb will benefit from a mulch of manure before winter sets in. For more information on growing rhubarb, see this article.
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    Think about planting sorrel. Sorrel is a lemony herb that works well in sauces for fish. In zones 5 or warmer it will grow as a perennial. Unusually for a perennial, you can crop soon after sowing – often after about 2 months, making it a very early spring vegetable and salad leaf.
    • Sorrel will grow back after being harvested but the leaves turn bitter after the flowers appear so try to pinch these off as they appear. It makes a very early spring vegetable and salad leaf.
    • For more information on growing sorrel, see this article.
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    Know which plants will behave as perennials in the right climate. Some plants can behave as perennials given the right climate. These include tomatoes, sweet potatoes and peppers. In cooler climates they will behave as annuals.
    • Some gardeners outside the tropics may have success getting these plants to behave as perennials by overwintering in heated greenhouses or conservatories.
    • However, this requires a lot of additional support and and an in-depth understanding of gardening which is beyond the scope of this article.

Part 2
Planting Perennial Vegetables

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    Add nutrients to the soil before planting. As perennials will occupy their space in the garden for longer than annual crops, it’s particularly important to adequately prepare the soil so they have lasting nutrition. To do this, dig some organic matter such as mushroom compost or well-rotted manure into the ground ahead of planting.
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    Apply fertilizer on a monthly basis throughout the growing season. It’s important to feed perennial crops with fertilizer to ensure the cropping continues year after year. A general all-purpose fertilizer should be applied at least monthly during the growing season.
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    Mulch larger perennials to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. Larger perennials - such as the globe artichoke - will also benefit from a mulch. Apply about 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10.2 cm) of an organic mulch (such as well-rotted manure) at the base of the vegetable plant to conserve soil moisture and suppress weeds. The mulch will also help to protect the roots.[5]
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    Understand that you may not be able to harvest any crops in the first year. Perennial vegetables generally take longer to reach cropping stage than annual varieties. In many cases, you won’t be able to harvest any crops in the first year, especially if you are growing from seed. [6]

Part 3
Growing Biennial and Self-Sowing Vegetables

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    Encourage the growth of vegetables which self-sow. There are some vegetables which aren't strictly perennial but can usually be counted on to self-sow. These are usually annual plants which produce seeds that fall to the ground and grow on their own, without any human intervention.
    • Some examples of self-sowing vegetables include everlasting spinach, parsley, carrots and cherry tomatoes.
    • To encourage self-sowing, avoid planting the parent vegetable in grow bags or narrow containers, as this leaves the seeds very little soil surface to fall onto.
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    Grow biennial vegetables which provide two years of crops. There are some useful vegetables that aren't perennial but live longer than annuals. Biennials tend to provide two growing seasons and this often means two crops.
    • Examples of biennial vegetables include chard, beetroot, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, chard, collards, endive, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, onions, parsley, parsnip, rutabaga, salsify and turnips.
    • Cold-hardy cutting celery can provide a crop in spring and fall. Don’t believe people who say you can cut celery right back and it will regrow from the stump – this doesn't work too well in practice.
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    Be wary of "volunteer" potatoes. Once grown, potatoes are often hard to get rid of because it’s so easy to overlook a few smaller tubers when harvesting a crop. These tubers will regrow the following season producing what’s known as ‘volunteer’ potatoes.
    • Generally this is frowned upon, because the tubers can carry diseases from one year to the next and the naturally-occurring spacing isn't optimal for a good crop. Therefore, it’s best to discourage potatoes from getting established as a repeat crop.
    • If your potatoes do return the following year without invitation, it’s best to earth them up (pile some more earth or manure around the base of the potato shoot) to prevent them being exposed to light. This will mean any potatoes you harvest won’t be green (green potatoes shouldn't be eaten).

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Categories: Growing Vegetables