How to Plant a Perennial Food Garden – Fruits & Veggies That Will Keep Coming Back Year After Year

By Diane February 5, 2019 08:31

How to Plant a Perennial Food Garden – Fruits & Veggies That Will Keep Coming Back Year After Year

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.

Related: How to Make Fruit Leather and Add It To Your Stockpiles

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.How to Plant a Perennial Food Garden – Fruits Veggies That Will Keep Coming Back Year After YearChoose 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

Other Plants

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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By Diane February 5, 2019 08:31
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  1. Hoosier Homesteader February 5, 13:24

    One thing I’d like to add to this post: keep a HEAVY mulch around the plants. It’ll reduce the weeding and watering requirements, and it’ll enrich the soil. A win win situation!

    Reply to this comment
    • red February 10, 06:19

      Always! Remember to use coffee grounds (free at Starbucks) in the fall to help keep the soil warm. It breaks down fast, with about 4% nitrogen.

      Reply to this comment
  2. TSgt B February 5, 14:43

    Kinda new to gardening; where can I find a map or other reference to gardening/growing zones?

    Reply to this comment
  3. Stillboating Ken February 5, 15:48

    Will you publish a map with the zones outlined and numbered for those of us not knowing the map you are referring to? I have seen maps that go up to 8 as the highest and being the colder zones.

    Reply to this comment
  4. MagicBill February 5, 15:55

    I have grown pineapples in Tennessee. I grow them in large containers. I do have to take them in after cold weather sets in. I start them when I cut the cap off a pineapple and keep watering them until they root. Then about 2 years later, they produce a baby pineapple. They ripen from the bottom up. When the entire fruit is golden in color (not green), cut it off. I made pineapple chicken and it was as sweet as candy!

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  5. gardener February 5, 16:02

    add to your list salsify. it reseeds itself, and therefore can be treated as a perennial. plus since it looks like grass, it may not be thought to be a vegetable, by the garden robbers. also scorzanera.

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  6. Kurmudgeon February 5, 16:13

    Personally, I’d pass on the Jerusalem artichokes. True, they do give you a ton of tubers and do well in poor soil, but oh, Lordy, the side effects. The nickname for these is “fartichokes” and believe me, it’s well deserved.

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  7. kdonat February 5, 18:30

    It is best to plant pineapple crowns in Dec and Jan for best fruit production.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Dupin February 5, 20:58

    Plant Hardiness Zone Map from USDA:

    Great list btw. I know there’s other plants as well, but this is a great list to start with.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Patty February 9, 17:06

    Thank you, this was very interesting

    Reply to this comment
  10. red February 10, 06:20

    Hide your garden! Wild plants of modern varieties are the best. Plant like Native Americans. We had over 20 types of plants in every field, some were perennials, others self-sowed. Neighbors had a two-acre lot, the house built about 1868. The great-grandmother planted tomatoes and never replanted, just thinned seedlings each year. The tomatoes still come up on their own. Same with old varieties of potato. I’ll have to try planting pineapple tops in the garden. Good eating! They look so much like yucca, people won’t notice.

    If you live new a Starbucks, they give away coffee grounds. Spread and rake them into the top few inches of garden for fast topsoil. In cooler weather, use as a mulch to help keep frost off the plants.

    A word on garlic: There are varieties of garlic for every zone but 3-1. There are Siberian, blazing hot types and a Creole garlic that does best in the tropics, like Cuban. Egyptian garlic cannot handle much cold (remember the people complaining to Moses, in the Bible?). California varietal is grown in the San Joaquin, which doesn’t freeze or frost. Garlic needs rich soil and moisture, but too much and it rots. If it doesn’t get enough cold, it will not vernalize, and you get a round, a large solid bulb. Best fertilizer for garlic is rotting leaves. Mind manure, because too much alkali (salt-calcium) will harm it. Decaying leaves create just the right amount of nitrogen for it, accelerating as the plant grows and needs it, unlike chems and manure, which produce a burst of fertilizer, then is gone.

    Greens, amaranth and lambsquarters will self-sow and give a nice crop of grain, as well. We also put in orach, which likes cold weather (hey, it snowed here New years Eve! 🙂 Collards are good and can self-sow. So will most brassicas if allowed to do so; they need cold to vernalize. Cabbage when in bud makes a tastier broccoli than broccoli. Mind turnips because there are varieties only for greens. White turnips are good fresh or cooked, without the bitterness of purple tops. Radishes are much the same, but most varieties will go to seed in the heat. The seed pods are good. There’s even a variety grown just for the seed pods, Rattail. Winter (storage or pickling) radishes like daikon and China Rose are daylight sensitive. They produce a storage bulb only as daylight decreases.

    Onions should be considered a self-sowing perennial. They can winter over in a breeze, but should be used fast. Allow the best to bloom. There are onions like Egyptian Walking Onions that will grow for decades in the same place. They, like garlic, will produce bulbils (small bulbs) on top of the seed stalk. Shallots, potato onions and a few more are great and little bothers them. If you have a problem with maggots in root crops, sprinkle USED tea leaves around each plant. Used, not fresh, because fresh are acidic. Leeks are also great and all plants in the lily fam are medicinal.

    If you can, plant aloes in the garden. Use the leaves for food and healing. (The sap shrinks wrinkles if used daily–Yep, I know 🙂 In this zone, 9, they thrive and can become weeds.

    Wild tepary beans are for sale at Native Seed Search. If you live anywhere in the desert, these should be your go-to people. Chiltepin peppers will self-sow (often with the help of hungry birds, cattle, horses, goats, deer ect.). Best bet, have honey mesquite in the garden for pods and nitrogen. Plant under them in summer for light shade and nitrogen. They’re an integral part of the food forest/hidden garden. There are types witch will grow in Alberta and others in Louisiana, but they need at least a little winter chill to produce viable pollen. Cilantro is best grown in cool weather. Mine went through a couple of hard freezes and was set back, but it growing again. Seed varieties (coriander) are considered ornamental and like warmer weather. Some types of olives can grow in zone 7. Ditto some types of figs. Both trees will produce fruit for centuries.

    If you can, buy strawberry seed, like Tresca. Tresca will produce fruit fast. It gets ‘way too hot here for most strawberries, but without a lighted refrigeration unit (as in Arizona commercial greenhouses) we can’t vernalize new plants, so strawberries are an annual.

    There are varieties of prickly pear cactus that grow in swamps (Cuba, the Cactus Curtain; in C. America and so on). Some varieties are domesticated and have few thorns. All produce good fruit. If planting yucca, make certain you get a potato variety. Otherwise, roots are too woody, but do make an excellent, healing soap (just crush and wash with them, sores, external parasites and so on will die). Banana yucca root can be used for soap, but the fruit is great. Datil, soaproot yucca, produces small fruit that can be cleaned and stuffed, then cooked. ALL yucca and agaves must be cooked or saponines will make you very sick, even kill. They also produce good, strong fibers for ropes, burlap, clothes, and twine.

    Plant wivian (midwife) tobacco (AKA wild ancestor of tobacco) as a medicinal. It likes some shade in the afternoon, but not a lot of moisture. If used for smoking or chew, mix with glauca tobacco, which is very low in nicotine (and an invasive perennial here). Tobacco will be a major trade item after SHFT. As the dnc seems determined to eradicate one of the best medicinal herbs, plant it, even if you do not use it. Of course, anything Native American is seen as vile to the jackass party. They do love Hitler, no? He called it the red devil’s weed and tried to outlaw it in Germany. The only thing better against bacterial infections is calèndula petals. Calèndula will, like tobacco, self-sow. During the War Between the States (erroneously called a civil war) doctors on both sides begged women to plant masses of it. Men taken from the battlefield would have petals packed in wounds until they could be operated on. Even in muddy, septic conditions, there was no infections. Resinous is the best type, bred for a high resin content, but any type is good.

    Wild cotton will self-sow. Cotton only needs about 100 days of heat with frost free nights to produce fibers. Pima is the best for mountain areas. Squares (immature seed pods) are used like okra, and the seeds, they have to be cooked!, if crushed fine and heated will produce oil for lamps or cooking, and the seeds fed to animals.

    If you can, plant chia (hispanica is the commercial variety) for the leaves, oil, and seeds. Chia is a very rich, powerful seed, and in the old days, slaves of the Spanish lived on a few spoonfuls a day for weeks. Hikers like it because it’s good and light, and it energized the body. It must be protected from animals. Though an annual, a patch will continue to produce for your children’s grandchildren with little maintenance. Like cotton seed, it can be crushed to produce oil, but it’s very high in energy.

    The front yard is a hidden garden. Neighbors complimented us on how nice the flowers were all summer. Three types of cactus, amaranth, chia, beans, ground cherries, an agave, sweet potatoes, some Parker tomatoes, chilis, cana lilies, peanuts, and more. All all-American (native) garden. Yeah, it all looks so darn cute but tastes so good. Right now, chickpeas, purple potatoes, cilantro, carrots, radishes, and other cold-weather things. Safflower loves the cold and produces an excellent oil seed. This summer, wild sunflowers will be there, as well as other things. Cute, yeah, but good eating, and it’s free.

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    • AZdesertrat February 11, 23:26

      Lot’s of good info Red. Sounds like you are in southern Arizona like me. I’m 20 miles southeast of Tucson. Been planning a trip to Native Seed Search for a new garden.

      Reply to this comment
      • red February 12, 05:30

        South Pinal county, in the valley. Native Seeds had a good on-line store. I’d like to see the farm, tho, just to visit. There was a sweet li’l old lady on the border near Douglas who got tired of being raided by border jumpers. She put in a real nice nopale patch by the fence. You know how nice the blooms are, and the fruit, and nopalitos go with about anything. A few months after that, late one night, some-buddy’s screams woke up dogs for miles around. He kind of messed up the patch, but she repaired it. She said she was adding pencil cholla to the front fence. You know how nice they look out there, the red fruit and all. 🙂 I’m trying to find Creole garlic, Ajo rojo variety, but keep being sent some triped crap that dies off in our gentle 112 degree summers. We have a lot of caliche in the soil. Some layers are 6″ thick. I’ve been going with hugel kulture, digging trenches and filling them with logs, leaves, and so on. this got started late last April, when the new fig decided to sulk on me. Starbucks has been giving me tones of coffee grounds. That as a winter mulch keeps most of the frost off the plants, so I had chilis and tomatoes till ‘way late in the year. Donno about it come summer. But, it’s warming the soil nicely and the kohlbabi look good, as does everything else planted right now. Except for that crappy striped garlic, of course, when never showed! Walk in beauty.

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  11. AZdesertrat February 11, 23:28

    Lot’s of good info Red. Sounds like you are in southern Arizona like me. I’m 20 miles southeast of Tucson. Been planning a trip to Native Seed Search for a new garden.

    Reply to this comment
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