Perennial plants either live through the winter and produce again the next year, or they can die each winter and grow again from the roots, or sometimes seeds, when the weather is favorable. In many cases the climate where you live is a limiting factor. For example: tomatoes can be perennial plants in Florida, but in most climates, gardeners put them squarely in the annual category. Fruit and nut trees and bushes are obvious examples of perennial food plants, but there are many more that you may not have thought of as perennials.
If you own your home or plan to live there for several years, it is worth investigating perennial food gardening. Initially, it involves the same amount of work as an annual garden, however, in later years, the plants need less attention and produce more than your standard garden. We’ll talk about possibilities in each category, but first, let’s discuss how to plant and establish a perennial garden.
Choose a Permanent Spot for Your Perennial Garden
Because your plants will survive in the same spot year after year, you should carefully consider where you will plant each one. Some perennial plants, such as mint or horseradish, can become invasive and take over the garden from nearby plants. I usually put these plants into containers or bury a root barrier around them. Even a root barrier will not discourage some of these plants.
Growing up, I lived near a house where blackberry bushes were originally planted at the back of the lot. The house stood empty for several years and the thorny bushes took over the entire lot. We gathered all the berries we wanted from the edge of the lot; there was no way to access the interior without getting scratched up from the thorns. Choose your spot carefully and keep the plant within boundaries.
Preparing the Garden
Once you have decided where you will plant, prepare the bed well. Give it a good dose of compost or fertilizer and turn the soil to loosen it. You need to give the plants a good start so that you will have a good root system and healthy plant for the future.
Aggressive perennials, such as Jerusalem artichokes, mint, or self-seeding herbs need their own bed or containers. Dig compost and other needed amendments into the soil and keep the area well weeded for the first year or two while the plants become established. Give the beds a generous layer of mulch or compost to increase fertility in the future and discourage weeds.
Caring for Perennial Gardens
Taking care of a perennial garden is no different than caring for annuals. However, once established, the plants need little care. Their deeper root systems give them an advantage; but they still need water during drought conditions. Give them fresh fertilizer, compost, and mulch each spring.
What to Plant – Fruit and Nut Trees and Berry Bushes
Fruit and nut trees and berry bushes take longer to produce, so I would recommend planting them first. However, there is much to consider before planting trees and bushes. Remember, they will become permanent fixtures in your yard or garden, so planning their location is important. Consider their growth patterns, how much room they need, and whether they will cast too much shade on other parts of the garden. Too many trees may block all sun to the lot, preventing you from planting other crops.
A Perennial Herb Garden
My second recommendation would be to plant a perennial herb garden. There are many herbs that are perennials, especially in temperate and tropical climates. In colder areas, herbs can be brought indoors over the winter.Choose herbs that you use regularly. My cooking greatly improved once I began to grow my own herbs. It is important to research the varieties carefully and taste the herb before planting. For example, there are many varieties of tarragon, but true French tarragon is grown from a root and very rarely found as a potted plant at the nursery. Do your research and plant the real thing. Of course, your choice depends on your location and preferences, but here are some suitable herbs for a perennial garden:
- Bronze Fennel, zones 5-10
- Chives, zones 3-9
- Comfrey, zones 3-9
- Echinacea, zones 3-9
- Edible Hibiscus, zones 8-11 as a perennial
- French Tarragon, zones 4 and up
- Garlic, zones 7-9
- Horseradish, zones 4-7
- Lavender, zones 5-9
- Lemon Balm, zones 4-9
- Lovage, zones 4-8
- Mint, Zones 3-10
- Oregano, zones 5-10, depending on variety
- Rosemary, zones 8-11 as a perennial
- Sage, zones 6-8
- Sorrel, zones 5-10
- Thyme, zones 5-9
- Watercress, zones 5 and up
Related: How I Grow My Herbs Indoors
Vining fruits such as grapes, hardy kiwi, maypops or wild passion flowers are perennials that produce year after year. Most take at least 3 years to begin fruiting and need special support. I grow grapes along an internal fence line, but a pergola or arbor also works well. Remember grape leaves are also edible. Pick the young tender leaves in the spring, older leaves are bitter.
A Vegetable Perennial Garden
There are surprisingly many vegetables that are perennials. Some are annuals in colder climates, while others require cold weather to produce fruit. Choose vegetables and varieties that are suitable for your climate and soil types. These vegetables are perennial in the zones listed.
- Artichokes, zones 6-9
- Asparagus, zones 3-8
- Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, zones 3-10
- Jerusalem Artichoke, zones 4-9
- Kale (Usually grown as an annual, but can be grown as a perennial in zones 8-10.)
- New Zealand Spinach, Perpetual Spinach, some other spinaches, zones depend on variety
- Radicchio (Usually grown as an annual, but will grow as a perennial in zones 4 to 8)
- Rhubarb, perennial in zones 3-8
- Scarlet Runner Beans, zones 9 to 11
Alpine Strawberries are smaller than other strawberries, but they will produce year after year once established.
Prickly Pear Cactus are usually grown in the desert climates, but some varieties can be grown from zone 3 and up. The prickly pear fruit and the pads are good sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances. Think twice before planting these cactus, they do have spines.
Pineapples grow as perennials in zones 9b and up. I have repeatedly heard that they only grow in Hawaii, but I offer the picture above as proof that they grow well in Florida. I plant all of my pineapple tops in my front job under a large oak tree. They seem to love the soil there and grow well. This year we harvested 30 full size pineapples from the plants grown from previous meals.
The pineapples produce a fruit every 2 years and some plants produce twins. The plant then takes a year off while I plant the top of the eaten fruit and produces again in the second year without any work on my part. Right now the front yard is half filled with pineapple plants. It will be full next year and I won’t have to mow anymore.
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