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


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7. Lovage (Levisticum officinale). The young leaves and stems of this 6-foot-tall perennial are an excellent substitute for celery in springtime soups. The seeds and roots are also edible, and the umbel flowers attract beneficial insects. Lovage thrives in average garden soil, in sun or partial shade. Hardy to Zone 4.

 

8. Rhubarb (Rheum x cultorum). Although most people think of rhubarb for dessert, the reddish stems have a long history of use as a vegetable in soups in Asia. Caution: Don’t eat the leaves or roots, which are poisonous. Plant rhubarb roots in full sun and rich, well-drained soil. Harvest in spring. Hardy to Zone 1.

9. French Sorrel (Rumex acetosa). The lance-shaped leaves of sorrel add a wonderful, lemony tang to salads and soups, and they can be harvested from early spring to late fall. Look for sorrel transplants in the herbs section at your local nursery. Sorrel grows in sun or shade and average soil. Hardy to Zone 3.

10. Crosnes, or Chinese Artichoke (Stachys affinis). Also known as mintroot, this little-known mint relative sets out runners that form a dense, 12-inch-high ground cover. The small, white tubers are crisp and sweet, and add a great crunch to salads. Harvest the tubers annually for best plant growth (just leave a few for the following year). Grow crosnes in full sun or partial shade in well-drained soil. Hardy to Zone 5. (For more info, see Crunch a Bunch of Crosnes.)

Happy Returns From Perennial Gardens

Keeping your perennial plantings going isn’t much different from caring for annual crops. In fact, after they’ve been established, perennial vegetables practically care for themselves. “These plants have deeper root systems, so they need fewer outside resources — such as fertilizer and water — than annual crops usually need,” says Toensmeier.

Giving the plants a strong start is key. Before planting, dig compost and other necessary amendments deeply into the soil, as you would for perennial flowers. Give aggressive perennials, such as Jerusalem artichokes or self-seeding garlic chives, their own bed so they won’t overtake more modest growers. Be especially sure to stay on top of weeds the first year or two until your perennials have spread out above and below the ground. Mulch the beds with a generous layer of compost, wood chips or shredded leaves early on. “You also can experiment with an edible ground cover, such as violets or wild strawberries,” Toensmeier says.

With its increased diversity, your garden should have fewer insect and disease problems. For added insurance against pests, Weick interplants calendula and other flowering plants to attract beneficial insects (for more on attracting beneficials, see Enlist Beneficial Insects for Natural Pest Control). Otherwise, maintenance is simple. Feed perennials annually with compost or another organic fertilizer, replenish the mulch each spring, and remove any weeds that sneak in. Consider these measures a small investment, because “planting perennial edibles is planting for the future,” Weick says. “Over time, you’ll put in less work and harvest more food, while building diversity and stewarding the land for future generations.”

Permaculture Gardening: A Natural Way to Grow

Developed by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s, permaculture is “an ecological design system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor,” according to the Permaculture Institute in Santa Fe, N.M. The approach is modeled on the structure and relationships of natural ecosystems, and the principles can be applied to growing food, building homes and communities, and more. Learn more at thePermaculture Institute website and in our Permaculture blog, to which permaculture gardener and educator Bethann Weick regularly contributes.

Getting Started With Perennial Vegetables

PLANTS AND SEEDS 

Some perennial vegetables can be difficult to find at local garden centers. Check out these mail-order suppliers, and use our Seed and Plant Finder to locate additional sources.

Goodwin Creek Gardens: Williams, Ore. or Oikos Tree Crops: Kalamazoo, Mich. 

Read More: MotherEarthNews

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