By Ryan Dorn, SouthernSeeds.com

Imagine a garden that keeps on giving, year after year, with minimal effort from your side. A sustainable garden that not only provides delicious and fresh produce, but also takes care of our planet. Welcome to the world of perennial vegetables, the ultimate solution for those looking to add a sustainable and low-maintenance option to their gardens.

Perennial vegetables are the stars of the sustainable gardening world, breaking the cycle of traditional annual planting. With deep roots that improve soil structure and the ability to thrive year after year, these plants are the gift that keeps on giving. And, with a diverse range of options available, there's a perennial vegetable for every garden.

In this blog, we've curated a list of the top perennial vegetables that deserve a spot in your garden. From the popular asparagus to the unique Jerusalem artichoke, we've got you covered. So, whether you're a seasoned gardener or a green-thumbed beginner, join us as we explore the fantastic world of perennial vegetables and uncover the secrets to a bountiful and sustainable garden that will have your neighbors green with envy!

What are Perennial Vegetables?

Perennial vegetables are plants that live for more than two years, providing harvests season after season without the need to replant each year, unlike their annual and biennial counterparts. This quality makes them an ideal choice for gardeners aiming for sustainability and ease in their gardening practices.

The advantages of incorporating perennial vegetables into your garden are numerous. Their low maintenance nature, once established, means less work for the gardener compared to the constant replanting required by annual vegetables. They are also economical, as you only have to purchase the seeds or plants once and then reap the benefits for years to come. Furthermore, perennial vegetables are generally better for the soil, as their long-term presence helps to improve soil structure and health over time.

While there are some vegetables like rhubarb that can be grown as annuals, the number of vegetables that are actually grown as true perennials is rather slim. This blog post will focus solely on those true perennial growers that will consistently return year after year, providing bountiful harvests with minimal input from the gardener.

Top 10 Perennial Vegetables for a Sustainable Garden

Now that we've explored the wonderful world of perennial vegetables, let's dive into our curated list of perennial veggies that will not only bring sustainability to your garden, but also add a burst of flavors and nutrients to your plate. Each of these plants has its own unique characteristics and benefits, making them excellent choices for any gardener looking to embrace a more eco-friendly approach to growing their food. So, without further ado, let's explore these fantastic perennial vegetables!

1. Artichokes (Cynara cardunculus) 

Bunches of artichokes at a farmer's market

Artichokes are not only a delicious addition to your meal, but also an attractive one for your garden with their large, beautiful flowers. These perennials are known for their large, edible flower buds, which are harvested before they fully bloom. The tender base of the bracts and the heart of the flower head are consumed after being steamed or boiled.

When it comes to growing conditions, artichokes thrive in mild winters and cool summers, making them perfect for certain climates, but a bit trickier in others. They require well-drained soil and regular watering, but once established, they are relatively low maintenance. Be sure to give them plenty of space, as they can spread out quite a bit.

Harvesting artichokes is a simple process. You’ll want to pick the buds while they are still tight and before the flower starts to open. The central bud matures first and should be harvested first. After that, the smaller side buds will start to develop and can be harvested as needed. Enjoy these delectable veggies steamed, boiled, or even grilled for a tasty and sustainable addition to your diet.

2. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis)

Asparagus growing in a garden.

Who doesn't love the unique and delicious flavor of asparagus? These long, thin spears with feathery foliage aren't just tasty; they're also a gorgeous addition to any garden. The best part? Asparagus plants can thrive for 20 years or more. Imagine plant a vegetable that could put food on your table for a quarter of your life!

Asparagus isn't too picky about its growing conditions. It loves soaking up the sun, but can handle a bit of shade. Well-drained soil with a pH from 6.0 to 7.5 is ideal. While it can handle a drought, regular watering will yield a more plentiful harvest. A little mulch can help keep the soil moist and the weeds at bay. When your asparagus spears are standing tall at 6 to 8 inches, they're ready to be harvested. Grab your garden shears and get to it in the springtime, typically April through June, depending on where you are.

Asparagus is a springtime superstar, bursting onto the scene when most other veggies are still waking up from winter. It's packed with vitamins A, C, E, and K, plus fiber and antioxidants. With potentially decades of harvests, asparagus is a no-brainer for those looking to add some sustainability to their gardens.

3. Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus)

Cardoon thistle plant with beautiful bloom

Cardoon might not be as well-known as its close relative, the artichoke, but it's an equally fascinating plant. With its striking silvery-green leaves and striking purple flowers, the cardoon is a true garden beauty. It's the stalks of the cardoon that are eaten, providing a unique and delicious flavor to your meals.

Growing cardoon is a bit of an adventure. It needs a sunny spot in the garden with well-drained soil. While it can tolerate dry conditions, it will thrive with regular watering. One thing to note is that cardoon can get quite large, so make sure to give it plenty of room to spread out.

When it comes to harvesting, you'll want to blanch the stalks first to reduce bitterness. This is done by tying the stalks together and wrapping them with paper or plastic for a few weeks before harvesting. Once they're ready, simply cut the stalks at the base, and you're good to go. Enjoy them steamed or boiled for a tasty and sustainable addition to your meals.

4. Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Blue petals of the chicory plant.

Chicory, a member of the dandelion family, is a robust perennial leafy vegetable known for its bright blue flowers and diverse culinary uses. The leaves, buds, and roots of Chicory have all been utilized in various dishes around the world, with its roots being famous for making a coffee substitute.

In terms of growing conditions, Chicory is not fussy and can thrive in various soils, although it prefers well-drained, alkaline soils. Full sun to partial shade is ideal for its growth. It's a hardy plant that can handle some neglect, making it a suitable choice for those who may not have a green thumb.

The leaves and buds can be harvested throughout the growing season and are delicious when added to salads or sautéed. The roots are typically harvested in the fall. Once dried, they can be roasted and ground to make a coffee substitute, popular in New Orleans' famous chicory coffee. With its unique flavor profile and versatility in the kitchen, Chicory is a top contender for those wanting to add variety to their perennial vegetable garden.

5. Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus)

Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus) plant

This classic perennial vegetable, also known as Lincolnshire Spinach, has been a staple in gardens for centuries. It boasts arrow-shaped leaves and small, inconspicuous flowers. Good King Henry is a relative of quinoa and can be used similarly to spinach in a variety of dishes.

Good King Henry is quite adaptable and can thrive in a range of conditions, though it prefers full sun to partial shade and well-drained, fertile soil. This plant is low-maintenance and even tolerates poor soil, making it an ideal choice for beginner gardeners.

Harvest the leaves and young shoots in spring and early summer when they are at their most tender. They can be used in salads, soups, or sautéed like spinach. The seeds of Good King Henry can also be harvested and used as a grain substitute. With its versatility in the kitchen and ease of cultivation, Good King Henry is a valuable addition to any perennial vegetable garden.

6. Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

Fresh and grated horseradish with leaves on a wooden background.

This pungent root vegetable is more than just a spicy condiment for your roast beef sandwich! Horseradish is a hardy perennial that adds a bold flavor to sauces, soups, and dressings. Its large, broad leaves and white, tapered roots are characteristic features of this plant.

Horseradish prefers full sunlight to partial shade and can tolerate a range of soil types, though it thrives best in well-draining, fertile soils. It's quite adaptable and hardy, making it a low-maintenance option for gardeners.

When harvesting horseradish, wait until the plant is at least one year old. The roots can be dug up in the fall or early spring. Be cautious, as the pungent odor released during harvesting can be quite strong! Grate or process the roots to make your own homemade horseradish sauce. With its robust flavor and versatility in the kitchen, horseradish is a must-have for any culinary garden.

7. Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

Jerusalem artichoke on a wooden table.

Jerusalem Artichoke, also known as sunchoke, is a perennial vegetable that's actually a species of sunflower. They are renowned for their nutty, sweet flavor and knobby appearance. Despite their name, they are not related to artichokes and hail from North America, not Jerusalem.

Growing Jerusalem Artichokes is a breeze. They prefer full sun and are quite adaptable, thriving in various soil types. The tubers will multiply and can take over a garden bed if not managed, so it's advised to plant them in a contained area or large pots.

Harvest the tubers from late fall to early spring. You can roast, boil, or sauté them, or even eat them raw in salads. Jerusalem Artichokes are not only delicious, but also packed with nutrients like iron, potassium, and a beneficial prebiotic fiber called inulin. With their unique flavor and health benefits, Jerusalem Artichokes are a fantastic addition to any garden looking for a low-maintenance, versatile vegetable.

8. Lovage (Levisticum officinale)

Female gardener harvesting lovage leaves

Have you ever thought about growing your own celery? Well, lovage is a fantastic and sustainable alternative that not only has a similar taste to celery, but also brings a rich history and numerous health benefits. This hardy perennial plant can grow up to 6 feet tall and has deep green leaves, umbels of yellow flowers, and thick, hollow stems. Its leaves can be used in salads, soups, and more, providing a strong celery-like flavor.

Lovage is quite easy to care for, as it's a low-maintenance plant that grows best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers rich, moist, well-drained soil, but can tolerate less ideal conditions. One thing to note is that lovage can grow quite tall, so be sure to give it ample space in your garden. Regular watering and occasional feeding will keep it thriving.

Harvesting lovage is a simple matter of cutting the young leaves and stems as needed. They can be used fresh or dried for later use. The seeds and roots are also edible and have been traditionally used in herbal medicine. Lovage has been known to help with digestive issues, respiratory problems, and more. So, not only are you adding a versatile culinary herb to your garden, but you're also gaining a valuable medicinal plant.

9. New Zealand Spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides)

New Zealand Spinach plants

When the summer heat becomes too much for traditional spinach, New Zealand spinach steps up to the plate. This heat-tolerant perennial vegetable, not actually a true spinach, boasts thick, succulent leaves and a trailing growth habit. It's an excellent alternative to common spinach because it thrives in warm temperatures, making it perfect for those hot summer months when other greens might struggle.

Caring for New Zealand spinach is a breeze. It prefers full sun, but can handle some shade and is quite adaptable to various soil types. Though it tolerates drought conditions, consistent watering will encourage more tender, lush growth. Once established, it's quite a low-maintenance plant, perfect for the sustainable garden.

When it comes to harvesting, simply snip off the tender young leaves and stems as needed. They can be used in the same way as traditional spinach – tossed in salads, sautéed, or added to a myriad of dishes. In addition to its culinary versatility and heat tolerance, New Zealand spinach also brings some aesthetic appeal to the garden with its unique, sprawling growth habit. It's a fantastic choice for those looking to add a reliable, low-maintenance green to their sustainable garden.

10. Perennial Onions (Allium spp.)

Field of Welsh Onions

(Photo: Welsh Onions)

Perennial onions are a fantastic addition to any garden, providing a continuous supply of flavorful bulbs that can be used in various culinary dishes. This group includes Welsh onions (Allium fistulosum), Egyptian onions (Allium Ă— proliferum), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), and perennial leeks (Allium spp.).

Welsh onions are known for their mild flavor, resembling a combination of onion and chive. They are hardy and easy to grow, thriving in full sun to partial shade and well-draining soil. The green tops can be harvested year-round, while the bulbs can be harvested as needed.

Egyptian onions, also known as walking onions, are fascinating plants that produce bulbs at the top of their stalks. These top-set bulbs can be planted or used in cooking, providing a versatile and easy-to-grow onion option.

Chives are commonly used as herbs, but are actually part of the Allium family, which includes garlic, onions, and leeks. They have a mild onion flavor and can be used as a garnish or ingredient in a variety of dishes.

Perennial leeks are a popular vegetable known for their mild, sweet flavor. They require a bit more care than other perennial onions, needing well-draining soil and consistent watering. The white stalks and light green leaves can be harvested and used in various dishes, from soups to sautéed vegetables.

All of these perennial onions are low maintenance, economical, and beneficial for the soil, making them excellent choices for a sustainable garden. They offer a range of flavors and uses in the kitchen, from garnishes to main ingredients, truly enriching your culinary experiences.

11. Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum)

Rhubarb growing in the garden.

Rhubarb is an intriguing perennial vegetable that adds a tart and tangy flavor to various dishes. With its large, green leaves and vibrant red stalks, rhubarb brings both visual appeal and culinary versatility to the garden.

Rhubarb prefers cooler climates, but can be grown in warmer regions if provided with some shade. It thrives in well-drained, fertile soils with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Rhubarb requires regular watering and should be fertilized in spring for optimum growth. Once established, rhubarb plants can last up to 10 to 15 years, making them a practical choice for a sustainable garden.

Harvesting rhubarb is simple. When the stalks are at least 10 inches long, you can twist or cut them at the base. Always remove the leaves as they are toxic and should not be consumed. The stalks can then be used in a variety of dishes, from pies and jams to sauces and even savory meals. Rhubarb's tangy flavor, low maintenance, and long lifespan make it a top choice for those looking to add a unique and sustainable perennial vegetable to their garden.

12. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

Closeup of fresh sorrel growing in the garden.

Sorrel is a leafy green perennial vegetable that adds a zesty, lemony tang to salads, soups, and other dishes. Its bright green leaves are arrow-shaped and can add a vibrant touch to your garden.

Sorrel prefers a sunny location, but can tolerate some shade. It thrives in well-drained, fertile soils with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Sorrel requires regular watering and should be fertilized in spring for optimum growth. It can be quite resilient once established, making it a great option for sustainable gardens.

Harvesting sorrel is simple. You can pick the young, tender leaves as needed, and they'll continue to grow back throughout the season. Sorrel's tangy flavor, low maintenance, and versatile culinary uses make it a valuable addition to any garden. The fact that it comes back year after year, providing a continuous supply of fresh greens, is just the icing on the cake!

13. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)

Watercress growing at the water's edge.

This aquatic or semi-aquatic perennial is not just for fancy tea sandwiches! Watercress adds a peppery punch to salads, soups, and sandwiches. Its small, round leaves and hollow stems are characteristic of this plant, making it easily identifiable.

Watercress thrives in wet, boggy conditions with partial to full sunlight. It prefers a slightly acidic to neutral pH level of 6.5 to 7.5. When growing watercress, keep in mind that it needs consistently moist or wet soil, making it a perfect candidate for water gardens or bog gardens.

Harvest watercress by snipping the stems just above the water level. The plant will continue to produce new shoots for future harvests. With its unique flavor profile, watercress is not just a gourmet ingredient; it's also packed with nutrients. Incorporating this versatile vegetable into your garden will provide you with a continuous supply of a nutritious and delicious leafy green year after year.

Wrapping Things Up!

In conclusion, incorporating perennial vegetables into your garden is an effective step toward building a sustainable and eco-friendly garden space. These plants not only provide delicious and nutritious harvests year after year, but they also play a crucial role in enhancing soil health, conserving water, and reducing the overall environmental impact of gardening. With a wide range of options available, from the robust asparagus to the heat-tolerant New Zealand spinach, and the unique cardoon, there's a perennial vegetable suitable for every garden. So, why not take a step towards a more sustainable future and explore the world of perennial vegetables? Your garden, your wallet, and the planet will thank you. And remember... if you need any help along the way with your gardening journey, we are always here to help. Just shoot us a message!

 

Southern Seed Exchange logo

Leave a comment

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.