One of the joys of gardening is growing a bountiful crop of fruits and vegetables to bring to the table for sharing with family and friends. Growing a bountiful garden can be hard work, though, as most of the popular garden vegetables need to be replanted from seed each year.
Enter the perennial. These plants are long-lived and provide lots of food with less effort. When you create a more diverse garden that incorporates edible perennials, you can enjoy a delicious harvest with much less work. Adding edible perennials to your garden allows you to raise a more diverse crop and extend your growing season for a successful kitchen garden. Here are the basics you should know to get started.
What is a Perennial, Anyway?
There are two major types of plants for your garden: annuals and perennials. Annuals are plants that complete their life cycle in just one growing season, so you have to replant their seeds or purchase a small transplant from a local nursery to start over each spring. Most common garden vegetables are annuals, including tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce.
A perennial plant, on the other hand, is one that lives for many years. These plants go dormant during the winter and often die back to the ground, but their roots stay snug and alive in the soil over the winter. When spring arrives again, these plants put on new, green growth and continue to thrive. Though most gardeners are familiar with flowering perennials like daisies and daylilies, there are also edible perennials available to add to your garden.
Why Choose Edible Perennials?
For starters, planting perennials is a great long-term investment. Though initially more expensive than annual plants, a perennial comes back year after year, making it a great choice for a lush garden. Some perennial herbs can even grow so large that they need to be dug up and divided in a few years, which gives you twice as many plants to either expand your garden or give away to friends.
Perennials are also a great choice for adding some crops that don’t require as much labor in the early spring. Because these plants will pop back up out of the ground without any prompting, they’re easier to care for — especially if you don’t like damp spring days in the garden. You’ll still need to add fertilizer and pull weeds, but these chores can wait until it warms up, and they’re generally easier to accomplish than amending the soil to establish a new planting.
Best Edible Perennials for Your Garden
Adding Perennials to Your Garden Design
When choosing perennials for your edible garden, the most important thing to remember is that these plants need to be kept in the same location for many years in order to get established and be as productive as possible. Choose something you love to eat, because it will be around for a while!
You’ll also need to find a spot for your plant where it can grow undisturbed. Almost all edibles require six to eight hours of sunlight per day, and most will appreciate having room to grow without too much competition from other plants or a nearby lawn. Try an unused corner or border row on the edge of your garden plot where you will remember that your perennials are hiding, even when they’re sleeping underground in winter and early spring. Some plants, like rhubarb and herbs, will do well mixed in with a perennial flower border as well — just make sure you plant them in a spot where they’ll be easy to reach at harvest time.
Edible Perennials for Containers
If you don’t have a bona fide garden plot of your own, you can still make the most of a small space by choosing perennials that thrive in containers. To help your edibles grow, choose a container with good drainage, and make sure it’s large enough to accommodate your plant’s root system, which you can check by looking at the recommendation for spacing on the tag. You’ll also want to use rich potting soil and fertilize regularly. Container plants dry out faster than plants in the ground, so regular watering is a must. They’ll also still need plenty of sun, but you can always move your planters around during the day to chase that patch of sunlight if you need to.
For best results, these plants work well in containers:
- Herbs: Almost all perennial herbs will perform perfectly in containers, as long as you give them the right type of soil and the sunlight they require. Most herbs are somewhat drought tolerant, too, which makes them perfect for beginners or busy gardeners who may not have time for daily watering. Mint will even tolerate some shade.
- Rhubarb: You’ll need a very large container to make this work, since rhubarb requires a good deal of compost to grow well. Still, this is a disease-free, low-maintenance plant, so it’s worth giving it a try — especially if you plan to grow strawberries. Strawberry-rhubarb pie, anyone?
- Strawberries: Just about all strawberry varieties do well in containers, thanks to their compact growing habit. They’re especially pretty in hanging baskets when they start to send out trailing runners later in the season.
- Top Hat Blueberries: This dwarf blueberry packs all the flavor from full-size plants into a tiny specimen that grows just 18-inches high. Blueberries have specific soil requirements, but growing one or two in a pot makes it much easier to control your soil acidity for optimal results.
Whether you’d like to sprinkle fresh herbs over your meals or bake pies with home-grown fruit, there’s sure to be an edible plant that will work well in your garden and come back year after year. Give one or two a try this spring, and you’ll enjoy tasty treats from your garden for years to come.