How would you like to enter your vegetable garden in the early spring and find trusty, reliable vegetables showing signs of life as they emerge from a cold and barren ground? These are vegetables that you can count on to feed you and your family each year.
This is the beauty of perennial vegetables.
Once established, they will reward you for years, some being there to feed you for at least a quarter century.
In this post, I will be discussing the top 5 perennial vegetables for your garden. In the age of climate change and environmental uncertainty, perennial vegetables remain a constant reliable food source, paying out in spades after a single planting.
A perennial vegetable is one that has a lifespan of more than two years. Unlike a biennial, which completes its lifespan in two years, or an annual which produces seed and completes its lifespan in the first year, a perennial vegetable remains alive by way of its strong root system. The parts of the plant below the surface of the soil can withstand freezing temperatures, while the parts above may or may not survive. However, the unaffected root system causes the plant to send up fresh shoots in the spring, thereby reigniting the plant.
In this post I have included 5 of my favourite perennial vegetables. Some you probably heard of, while others may be new or unfamiliar. As you read through this list, consider adding a few to your garden. If you’re uncertain of the best location to plant them, I offer a few suggestions for those that enjoy travelling.
Here are the 5 Best Perennial Vegetables for your Garden
- Jerusalem Artichokes
- Salad Burnet
- Crosnes/Chinese Artichoke
Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) produce tasty underground tubers, resembling a cross between a water chestnut and an artichoke heart. A member of the Sunflower family (Asteraceae), Jerusalem Artichokes, also known as Sunchokes, are hardy to zone 2 and will survive even the harshest winters.
Not only do they taste good and provide a healthy and satisfying food source, Jerusalem artichokes produce yellow daisy-like flowers growing atop tall stems, some reaching as high as 10 feet.
Jerusalem artichokes make a wonderful alternative to potatoes and have a multitude of health benefits, including ranking low on the glycemic index, helping with digestion, lowering blood cholesterol and more. However, they do contain inulin. Inulin is considered a prebiotic and helps to protect your digestive system from harmful bacteria. However, too much inulin in your system, too quickly, and it may cause bloating and gas. It is recommended to start eating a small quantity of tubers (1 or 2) and slowly increase consumption as your body adapts to them.
Growing well in any soil (in my case rocky), they prefer to grow in full sun and will adapt to various soil conditions. Plant them where they have room to spread, as any tuber left over in the soil will produce a new plant.
In my garden, they grow in a designated perennial bed and I allow them to travel within. Any escaping stems get cut back with the lawnmower. As a result, they have never caused us any trouble.
Plant tubers around the last spring frost at a depth of 4 to 6 inches and at least 1 foot apart. Jerusalem artichokes are ready for harvest after the first fall frost, as colder temperatures make them taste sweeter. Store in a cool, dry place, such as the refrigerator or cold storage.
Tubers may be roasted, boiled and pureed into soup, baked, fried or eaten raw. Fermenting them makes them easier to digest. They’re absolutely delicious!
Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor), is a hardy perennial native of Europe and Asia. Once established in the garden, it will continuously produce leaves throughout the year, often mid-winter. Salad burnet may be used as a vegetable or an herb.
Salad burnet has very unique leaves. Hardy to zone 5, the plant produces a multitude of long stems flanked by round, toothed leaflets running along the length, often up to 12 leaflets per side.
If you taste salad burnet, the flavour resembles a cross between a cucumber and a watermelon, in leaf form. It’s really quite fascinating. At first taste, the tender leafy greens have a mild bitterness, which changes to cucumber and leaves a pleasant aftertaste. I find as the leaves age and the long days of summer progress, that flavour develops into a cucumber-watermelon cross, with a bitter aftertaste. However, when adding leaves to a salad, the bitterness becomes masked by the dressing.
In order to maintain a continuous supply of tender leaves and prevent them from becoming tough, it is best to regularly cut back your salad burnet plants to 6 inches above the ground.
Either sow seed in seed trays, 6 to 8 weeks before the final frost date of spring, or sow directly in a full sun location 2 to 4 weeks before the last spring frost. Space your seedlings 12 inches apart. As the plant develops, it will grow into a lovely mounded clump, up to 2 feet high and just as wide.
Once established, remove any seed heads that develop or they will freely drop seeds and self-sow. Regular flower removal also prevents the leaves from becoming tough and bitter.
Snip stems and add to salads, or strip the tiny round leaves off the stems and add as a garnish to soup, to cold drinks, mix into cream cheese, infuse in vinegars, blend into butters and more.
Crosnes (Stachys affinis), also known as Chinese Artichokes are another delicious, edible tuber, much like Jerusalem Artichokes. Unlike the Jerusalem artichoke, Chinese artichokes are members of the mint family (Lamiaceae). Hardy to zone 5, tasty tubers only grow to about 2 inches long and have a ridged appearance resembling grubs. Don’t let their appearance deter you, as their flavour is described as delicate and nutty.
Crosnes are much easier on the stomach than Jerusalem artichokes and are very high in potassium, along with many other medicinal benefits. Tubers may be eaten raw in salads, or boiled, roasted, added to soups, stir-fried and more.
Crosnes prefer to grow in a full sun location, with well draining soil. Plant your tubers in spring or early fall, 3 inches deep vertically. Space your tubers at least 12 inches apart to encourage growth of larger tubers. Once plants reach 1 foot in height, cut back the stems to 6 inches above the soil line, in order to redirect energy into producing larger tubers.
Tubers need at least one season to become established. Avoid harvesting any tubers in the first year, to allow the plant to establish and expand under the soil.
When I think of rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum), I envision summer and delicious strawberry rhubarb pies and mouthwatering strawberry rhubarb jam. I’ve always thought of rhubarb as a fruit, because it is often cooked down with fruit, but rhubarb is officially a vegetable.
A hardy perennial, rhubarb takes at least 3 years to become established in the garden. Once fully established, rhubarb will produce countless reddish-green, thick stalks. Although, rhubarb may be grown from seed, it takes added years to get it established. Therefore, it is best to plant crowns when establishing it in your garden. Once established (at least 8 years in and when the plant slows down stalk production), rhubarb may be split at the crown. Divide the crown with a sharp garden knife, leaving at least one “eye” or bud per section. Don’t be afraid cut the crowns, as the plant is strong enough to withstand the split and will actually thrive and produce more stems once replanted and established.
Rhubarb prefers to grow in a full sun location, with well draining soil. Be sure to select an open location, as your rhubarb plant will grow wide and tall and needs room to expand. Rhubarb leaves are quite large and ornamental, making a lovely feature in a perennial garden.
Space crowns 3 feet apart in all directions. Plant crowns with the buds above the soil surface. Feed your plants yearly by topping with an inch or two of compost and cover with a layer of organic mulch for the winter.
To harvest, it is better to pull stalks than to cut them. Grasp the stalk at the base and firmly pull, gently tugging from left to right until the stalk “pops” from the base. If you harvest your stems by cutting with a knife, it can open the plant up to disease exposure, moisture buildup and pest attack. Pulling keeps the crown sealed and healthy.
Begin harvesting rhubarb stalks in the third year after planting.
If you haven’t grown or tasted lovage before, I highly recommend adding it to your garden! It is definitely one of my “must have” favourites!
Hardy to zone 4, lovage (Levisticum officinale) makes a wonderful culinary alternative to celery and parsley. it isn’t grown for its stems, as is celery, but it is valued for its aromatic and flavourful leaves.
Lovage is one of the first vegetables to emerge from the ground in the early spring and it is at this time that both the leaves and stems are tender and tasty. Harvest regularly by cutting the stems just above the base. By harvesting you delay seed production, which causes the plant to lose it’s sweet flavour and become bitter. I highly recommend harvesting most of the plant in the spring, then chopping and dehydrating to use for soups and stews throughout the year. It adds an unparalleled flavour that cannot be replicated with celery. It is also incredibly easy to grow and once established requires little attention, making it the vegetable that keeps on giving.
Plant lovage in full sun to partial shade, in well-draining soil. Leave enough room for the plant to expand, as it will grow to a height of 6 feet and a width of 3 feet by its 3rd year. Once established, it is very difficult to move due to its extensive and thick root system. Lovage may be split by root division, but it takes a while for acclimation to its new location. Be sure to give it plenty of water and patience, because it will recover and establish with time.
Lovage may be grown from seed. Sow seeds indoors 8 to 10 weeks before the final frost date. Lovage is hardy and may be sown outdoors at least a month before the final frost date.
This list of 5 perennial vegetables will provide you with a great headstart to establishing your own perennial vegetable garden. I rely on my perennial vegetables each year as added crops to feed my family. They are easy to manage and require little effort once established. Plant once and reap countless harvests for years!
Stay tuned for future posts where I will share 10 more perennial vegetables for your garden.
Which perennial vegetables will you add to your garden?