What's So Special About Perennial Vegetables For Your Garden?

Categories: Green

3. Pioneer a Plant Community. If you’re already growing perennial vegetables and want to take garden diversification to the next level, consider permaculture gardening. Like nature’s ecosystems, this approach promotes greater partnerships between plants, soil, insects and wildlife. In permaculture designs, edible vegetables, herbs, fruiting shrubs and vines grow as an understory to taller fruit and nut trees. The technique is sometimes called “layering.”

Weick suggests a five-year plan for gardeners who want to begin layering their landscape with edibles. “In the first year, plant fruit trees as the outposts. That same year and over the next several years, use the sheet mulch technique to prepare planting areas beneath the trees for the understory plants,” she says. Sheet mulch a 2- to 3-foot-radius area around each fruit tree the first year and gradually increase the mulched area as the trees grow. After the first year, you can begin planting the mulched area with perennial vegetables, fruiting shrubs and vines. (For more on this method, see “Permaculture Gardening: A Natural Way to Grow” further along in this article.)

10 Best Perennials

Based on expert recommendations, the following are widely adapted perennial vegetables selected for their flavor, productivity and versatility. Be sure and see photos of many of the perennial vegetables described below in the Image Gallery.

1. Ramps, or Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum). This onion relative grows wild in deciduous forests east of the Mississippi, emerging in spring. Leaves and bulbs are both edible. Grow in a shady border in moist loam, or naturalize beneath trees. Hardy to Zone 4.

2. Groundnut (Apios Americana). Native to eastern North America, this nitrogen-fixing, 6-foot vine bears high-protein tubers that taste like nutty-flavored potatoes. Grow the vines as Native Americans did: near a shrub (as support) in a moist site that receives full sun or partial shade. Harvest in fall. Hardy to Zone 3.

3. Asparagus (Asparagus officinalis). This familiar plant is long-lived and productive, bearing delicious green or purple shoots in spring. Asparagus thrives in full sun and moist, well-drained soil. For best production, plant male hybrids. Hardy to Zone 3.

4. Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus). A traditional European vegetable known for its tasty shoots, leaves and flower buds, this spinach relative grows in full sun or partial shade and moist, well-drained soil. Plant seeds in compost-enriched soil, and harvest the tender shoots in spring. Hardy to Zone 3.

5. Sea Kale (Crambe maritime). Sometimes grown as an ornamental, this coastal native bears gray-blue leaves and white flowers on 3-foot-tall plants. Cover the plants in spring and harvest the blanched, hazelnut-flavored shoots when they are about 6 inches tall. The young leaves and flowers are edible, too. Plant nicked seeds in moist, well-drained soil in full sun. Hardy to Zone 4.

6. Jerusalem Artichoke, or Sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus). Grown by Native Americans, sunchokes bear sunflowerlike blooms on 6- to 12-foot stems. The crisp, sweet tuber can be eaten raw and used like potatoes. An added bonus: Sunchokes attract beneficial insects. Plant tubers in full sun and well-drained soil. Harvest in fall and winter. Hardy to Zone 2.

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