What are Perennial Vegetables: 5 Great Examples

Perennial vegetables are those that come back year after year without replanting. Their long lifecycles make them well worth the initial effort and patience. Asparagus patches, for example, can last up to one hundred years.

The permanent nature of perennial vegetables allows me to enjoy harvests almost year-round, build up soil structure, and adds an aesthetic touch between seasons. In a world where vegetable gardens are primarily occupied by annual fruits and vegetables which must be re-planted every year, perennial vegetables are a whole different ball game.

Seasonal gardening practices are labor-intensive and require complicated planning. Especially when it comes to crop rotation over many years. Perennial vegetables, on the other hand, tend to be much more low maintenance and resistant to drought, pests, and disease.

If you’re new to the world of perennial vegetables or already know you want some perennials in your garden, keep reading. I’ll tell you all about my favorite perennial vegetables and why they’re so amazing to have in the garden.

What are Perennial Vegetables?

Perennial vegetables are vegetables that will continue to give harvests each year without needing to be replanted. While some plants die after going to seed, perennial plants have much longer life cycles. In some instances, perennial vegetables such as asparagus patches can last well over 30 years.

Perennial plants don’t need to be started from scratch every year, so they tend to be stronger and more resistant to drought, pests, and disease than annuals. They develop deeper root systems and become perfectly adapted to their location.

In addition to perennial vegetables, there are many fruit trees, berry shrubs, and herbs that also have perennial life cycles. These long-lived edibles are an essential component to building a garden ecosystem and increasing your food-self reliance.

Why would I grow perennial vegetables?

For a low-maintenance garden, grow as many perennial vegetables as you can. Imagine a garden that acts as a food forest and doesn’t need to be replanted every year. With a little maintenance, you can walk out at any time of year and harvest food. 

Perennial vegetables have so many benefits for the garden and the gardener, that I think I’m better off listing them. So here are all the reasons to incorporate perennial vegetables into your garden.

Benefits of perennial vegetables

  1. You don’t need to start the garden from scratch every year. Imagine all the time saved starting seeds, pricking them out, transplanting outside, and watering just to take it all out a few months later. Perennial plants still need maintenance but it is small compared to annuals.
  2. Although the first few years will be slow, once perennial plants get established they will give bountiful harvests. If given enough space, perennial plants can get quite large with time. If pruned and maintained correctly, big plants will shower you with produce.
  3. Perennial vegetables extend your harvesting times. They are often the first plants to give a yield since they have a headstart in the growing season.
  4. You don’t need to start the garden from scratch every year. Imagine all the time saved starting seeds, pricking them out, transplanting outside, and watering just to take it all out a few months later. Perennial plants still need maintenance but it is negligible compared to annuals.
  5. Although the first few years will be slow, once perennial plants get established they will give bountiful harvests. If given enough space, perennial plants can get quite large with time. If pruned and maintained correctly, big plants will shower you with produce.
  6. Perennial vegetables extend your harvesting times. They are often the first plants to give a yield since they have a headstart in the growing season.

Improve your soil structure

Grow perennial vegetables to build up the soil in the more degraded areas of your garden. Runner beans, for example, fix nitrogen into the soil with the help of beneficial microbes. However, the deep root systems of all perennial vegetables will greatly benefit soil aeration, structure, and life.

asparagus coming throught the ground
Asparagus was the first perennial vegetable i grew – so convenient to have fresh in your garden.

Growing perennial vegetables is a great idea for gardeners looking to invest at least a few years into their land. These low-maintenance will provide you with bountiful harvests and will actually benefit the rest of your garden.

Challenges to growing perennial vegetables

I recommend anyone who lives in a permanent place to incorporate perennial vegetables in the garden. Like I’ve shared above, there are plenty of practical and aesthetic reasons why perennial vegetables are great. There are a few drawbacks, however, to growing perennial vegetables.

The first annoyance you’ll encounter is that many perennials take a few years they’re ready to be harvested. Asparagus, globe artichokes, and rhubarb are the first examples that come to mind.

Permanent location

The second biggest consideration is that they need to be planted in a permanent location, and this has some challenging implications. Permanence means you can’t just move the plant when you want to redesign the garden or you get a new job across the country.

Planting in a permanent space also means you’ll need a perennial-friendly maintenance plan for fertilizing and disease prevention.

Since you can’t practice crop rotation, diseases can make their way to your perennial plant. Perennials are rarely subject to disease, but keeping perennial vegetables healthy and well-fed with plenty of compost will help protect them against pests and diseases.

Growing perennial vegetables can be hard but the benefits are much greater. These problems are avoided with good planning. Create a garden plan you’re happy with and note all the routine maintenance 

Common perennial vegetables

You’ve run into perennial vegetables in your lifetime, especially the more popular asparagus and artichokes. However, there are a bunch of perennial varieties that we grow as annuals or that we don’t even know about.

The most common perennial vegetables already growing in gardens include asparagus, artichokes, rhubarb, horseradish, and berry bushes. Kale, garlic, radicchio, and potatoes are all perennial vegetables grown as annuals.

Some of the less-common perennial vegetables have the most to offer include bunching onions, Jerusalem artichokes, wild leeks, and sorrel. actually

Keep reading below to learn a bit more about my favorite perennial vegetables.

Top 5 perennial vegetables

Asparagus

Asparagus is the ultimate perennial vegetable to me. If you love asparagus, but don’t love to pay for it at the supermarket. Asparagus is a low-maintenance plant that will definitely reward your effort. Any gardener who knows they’ll live in their current home longer than a few years should look into growing an asparagus patch.

Asparagus will need a designated area and will take a few years to get established. Once it gets going, though, you’ll have a productive patch for decades.

If you’re not sure how to go about planting asparagus, make sure to check out our article on growing asparagus cuttings. Spoiler – starting the plant from cuttings will give you a huge head start on harvesting.

Globe Artichoke

Like asparagus, artichokes are gourmet vegetables that can be easily grown in the garden but take some time to get established. If you’re living in a permanent space and like artichokes, they’re a must for your garden.

two globe artichokes
Globe artichokes are a great perennial vegetable

Artichokes are as versatile in the garden as they are in the kitchen, serving as both an edible and an ornamental plant.  Look for varieties with purple tones to stand out in the garden or something that’s particularly cold-hardy if your winters freeze.

Globe artichokes will only be ready to harvest late into the growing season, they can provide shade for smaller annuals. This makes it worth the space that they take up while the artichoke heads mature.

Rhubarb

If you have enough space in the garden and are looking for a plant that will add color to the scenery, consider growing rhubarb. This perennial vegetable is the infamous ingredient behind rhubarb pie. The tart stalks can be used to make a variety of sauces, jellies, and syrups.

rhubarb growing in soil
Rhubarb is a must for many gardeners – and cooks!

It’ll need a year or two before you can begin harvesting the colorful stems, but that shouldn’t be a problem with a plant this beautiful. Just make sure that when you do get to harvest it, you don’t eat the leaves. Rhubarb leaves are poisonous you should only eat the stalks.

Runner Beans

If you’re lucky enough to live above USDA agricultural zone 4, you can grow runner beans year long. Perennial runner beans form glorious plants which I can continually harvest. Drape the vines over a fence or trellis for a truly gorgeous effect.

In addition to their abundant bean pods, sweet-smelling flowers, and impressive growth runner beans also fix nitrogen into the soil. This legume has a beneficial relationship with a specific bacteria that allows nitrogen in the air to be fixed into the soil.

Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes) are a delicious low-maintenance perennial vegetable. You probably won’t find this delicious root crop in many supermarkets, but it’s amazing to grow in your garden.

Jerusalem artichokes aren’t artichokes at all and actually belong to the sunflower family. They taste a lot like artichokes but I grow them for their tubers. I cook the roots with other vegetables or pickle them. Be careful you don’t overindulge. Nothing serious, just make sure to cook them and don’t eat a full plate.

Incorporating Perennials into your Garden

Once you’ve planted a perennial vegetable, they are there to stay. So make sure to take a moment before incorporation perennial vegetables into their permanent locations. Consider how the plant will interact with the rest of your garden and the implications on maintenance, shade, and future planning.

I find the easiest way to incorporate perennials into your garden is to create a designated perennial area in a place I don’t get to so often.  Perennials are low-maintenance plants once they get established and need infrequent care and watering. This makes them the perfect sort of plant to put at the end of the garden. Save the areas closest to the house for the more needy edibles. 

Garden beds

If you’re looking to integrate perennials into active garden beds, try creating an edge on either side of perennials or place them right in the middle. Between seasons, you’ll re-plant that area around them.

The important thing is that you are confident in the place you’ve picked. If you’re not 100% sure where you want to place your perennial vegetable, then pot them up in big containers. Planting in containers will allow you to easily move plants around until you find the best spot for you and the plant. Asparagus is a big exception to this since it doesn’t like to be transplanted.

Another approach is to go the food forest route and implement an almost entirely perennial garden plan. Perennial gardens don’t have the tidy aesthetic that most home gardeners are looking for. But if your aim is a mostly self-sustained ecosystem that gives you tons of food, perennial gardens can’t be beaten.

Maintaining perennial vegetables

Instead of starting your garden from scratch every year, you must do routine maintenance on your perennial vegetables. Maintenance needs will vary dramatically depending on what perennial vegetable you’re growing, so you’ll want to learn more about the specific plant.

For most perennials, you’ll need to apply a thick layer of compost and mulch in early spring and prune back growth in late fall. Outside of that, water in times of extreme drought and clear out weeds between plants. These simple routine tasks will be a breeze for those accustomed to the work of an annual garden.

Conclusion 

After a few seasons in the garden, many gardeners search to expand their experience beyond cultivating annual vegetables. Although annual vegetables are amazing and make up most of our diets, perennial vegetables serve an important role in our diets and gardens.

As food, they are incredibly high in nutrients but are often not readily available at the supermarket (i.e. jerusalem artichokes) or expensive (i.e. asparagus and globe artichokes).

In the garden, perennial vegetables indicate an experienced grower that is invested in the long-term success of their garden. Perennial vegetables extend viable harvesting periods, build up the soil, and add nutritious food to the permanent landscape of your garden.

Now that you know all about perennial vegetables, the real question is when will you start planting?