Edible perennial gardening is a way to grow delicious crops while saving time, money, and effort. Plant any of these 70+ perennial vegetables, fruit, or herbs once, and harvest from them for years. Also includes a video tour of perennial edibles at the end.
Most of us grow edible crops from seeds or plants that we start in the growing year, harvest, then have to regrow all over again. That’s because many of our common vegetables die when we pick them or eventually perish by the time that cold weather arrives. There’s an easier way to grow crops, though. An approach that that’s much less work, more reliable, and introduces you to a world of new and incredible edibles. Plant perennial crops once, and harvest from them for years.
Benefits of perennial crops
For anyone who has found themselves short of time, or who’d like to avoid backbreaking work, perennial crops and ornamentals are your answer. They faithfully regrow in spring and are often some of the first-flowering and producing plants in the garden. I know that I can count on garlic chives coming up in late winter, along with other members of the perennial onion family.
While I will always grow annual crops from seed, I also recognize the value in perennials. In fact, about half of my allotment garden is filled with them – everything from thornless blackberries to nine-star broccoli, oca, and welsh onions.
Perennial crops are low-maintenance
Not only are perennial crops long-lived, but many are winter-hardy, long-lived, and pest-resistant. Because they live in the soil long-term, they also can have more extensive root systems, making them drought resistant. Think about the last dry spell your garden had – you were out watering the leafy green peas, lettuces, and spinach rather than the old apple tree. A smart gardener can understand the benefits of low-input and low-maintenance crops. Also, since perennials live in the soil for years, they help stop soil erosion and keep carbon locked in the ground. That proves that smart can also be eco-friendly.
Types of perennial crops
In my mind, there are four types of perennial crops, and you can use all of them to create your edible perennial garden. The edibles in these groups will give you yields year after year, usually without you having to do anything other than mulch and prune them. You’ll find perennial food crops that fall into:
- Perennial vegetables
- Roots, bulbs, and tubers
- Perennial fruit and berries
- Perennial herbs
Annual and Biennial Crops
Many of our common garden vegetables are annuals or biennials, and though their life-cycles are different, you only get a good crop in the first year. Even if some of them do survive both harvesting and winter, they shoot straight into flower come spring. After that, their roots become woody and their leaves bitter as they direct all their energy into seed production. After seeding, they die, leaving the seeds to carry on the next generation. Carrots, beets, and chard are all biennials.
Others, like pumpkins, grow all year, produce fruit, and then wither and die as soon as the temperature drops. Again, their seeds are what the plant relies on to regrow the next year. Some crops can give you several harvests if you’re smart about the way you go about it, but eventually, they too will seed and die in that same year. Lettuce, for example, will run to seed within weeks or months even if you only harvest a few leaves at a time.
Edible perennial gardening
Perennial crops are different in that they are long-lived. To be a perennial crop, a plant must be able to survive the winter and to produce a sizable crop the next year, and the year after. Perennial crops also survive from year to year, either as evergreens or as herbaceous perennials. Short-lived perennials can live from three to five years before needing to be replaced and include perennial kale and nine-star broccoli.
Long-lived perennials can live five to twenty years, and sometimes a lot longer. Asparagus lives twenty or more years, and rhubarb can live half a century in the right spot. I’ve heard tell of rhubarb being the only thing that survives of long-abandoned villages.
Harvesting Perennial Crops
Each perennial crop is different, and depending on which one you have, you harvest the flower heads, leaves, berries, fruit, or tubers. With leafy plants, hold yourself back and only take a maximum of thirty percent of the growth, before allowing it to regrow. This general rule helps perennials to survive to see another harvest.
With tubers, make sure to save some for replanting and the same goes for plants that grow from bulbs. Avoid harvesting the bulbs, or all of them, to allow the plants to survive. Conservative harvesting will keep your perennial crops alive as much as growing the right ones for your climate.
The hardiness of Perennial Vegetables
Perennial vegetables are long-lived crops with edible stems, leaves, flower buds, seeds, roots, or tubers. Some are very well known to us, yet many others are obscure or only grown in certain regions around the world. Perennial crops will be different based on your climate since some won’t survive sub-zero winters. For example, scarlet runner beans grow as an annual crop in places that have cold winters. In its home of central America and even warmer temperate climates, it can grow as a perennial.
The below chart lists many perennial edibles that you can grow in the average temperate garden, along with growing tips and their USDA hardiness zones. I can also recommend these books as guides to growing a perennial vegetable garden.
- Perennial Vegetables: From Artichoke to Zuiki Taro, a Gardener’s Guide to Over 100 Delicious, Easy-to-grow Edibles – by Eric Toensmeier
- How to Grow Perennial Vegetables: Low-maintenance, Low-impact Vegetable Gardening – by Martin Crawford
|Perennial vegetable||USDA Hardiness zones||Growing tips|
|3-8||Asparagus spears are immature shoots that you pick in spring before they have a chance to grow into tall stems and feathery leaves. Grown from two-year-old ‘crowns,’ you should only harvest asparagus after its third year in the ground. After your plants become established, they can keep producing for twenty or more years.|
|Babington’s leek (Wild leek)
Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii
|5-9||This wild perennial leek grows in sandy soil all over the British isles but tolerates most soil types and pHs. It spreads through its bulb and bulblets and, when harvested, looks very much like a standard leek, though the flavor is a little more garlicky. The plant can grow up to six feet tall and needs full sun but is resilient to high winds and exposed locations. The entire plant is edible, including its top-set of bulbils.
|7b-10||Growing ten feet, this relative of the globe artichoke has large silvery-green scalloped leaves and small, prickly thistles that sit at the tops of its tall stalks. Thought the flower buds are edible, it’s the thoroughly steamed stems that you eat. They taste of a combination of chard stem, celery, and artichoke. Grow from seed in spring.
|3-9||A vining plant with heart-shaped green leaves, tiny sprays of flowers, and can grow seven or more feet. Eat the leaves and young shoots, steaming or sautéing them and using like chard or spinach. This plant is the only one left in its genus but comes as a Swedish cultivar and two wild types from Armenia and Georgia. Attractive shade-tolerant plant.
|Giant butterbur (Fuki)
|4-9||The large green kidney-shaped basal leaves are traditionally used in Japan as wraps for food to be cooked over an open fire. The stems and very bitter buds are also edible, with the latter cooked in tempura and served as an early spring delicacy. This plant can be invasive so is best kept constrained if possible. It prefers clay to loam soil, full to partial shade in a sheltered location, and isn’t fussy on soil pH.|
|6-9||The hearts of these plump flower buds of this giant thistle are a delicacy that you’ll be happy to have in your garden. Once established, an artichoke plant can flourish for up to eight years, and you can readily propagate them from a parent plant. In mild climates, they won’t die back in winter and can produce heads year-round.|
|Good King Henry
|3-9||Low-maintenance spinach substitute related to the wild ‘Fat Hen’ Chenopodium album. It grows up to two feet tall and 15” wide and has green goosefoot-looking leaves. If the leaves aren’t prepared in the correct way, they can be very bitter. Avoid eating the leaves raw, and instead soak them in saltwater for an hour before steaming, sautéing, or boiling. You can also eat the young shoots and flower buds in spring and summer.|
|7-10||Although Japanese ginger is related to common culinary ginger, the roots are not edible. Instead, you harvest the young shoots and flower buds of this plant and use them in the same way as ginger. It also grows well in temperate climates, making a gingery homegrown flavor more achievable for those who don’t live in the sub-tropics. The flavor is actually a mild ginger and onion mix with the buds tasting more like ginger. Use Japanese ginger as you would green onions in noodles, salads, and other savory dishes. Prefers fertile soil and grows well in containers that can be brought under cover in winter.|
|Nine star broccoli
Brassica oleracea botrytis asparagoides
|3-10||This unusual brassica was discovered growing in a patch of ordinary broccoli in the early 1900s. Each year it can grow five to nine smallish heads of yellow-green broccoli. As long as you cut them off before they flower, the plant lives on to produce another harvest. This short-lived perennial can live for around five years and you grow it in the same way as other members of the cabbage and brassica family.|
Brassica oleracea var ramosa
|6-9||Very similar to annual kale but with smaller leaves, which some people prefer in flavor. Grows as a clump about four feet tall and wide and includes the cultivars ‘Daubenton,’ ‘Dorbenton’s,’ ‘Taunton,’ and ‘Ewiger kohl’. Short-lived perennial that will keep producing year-round for about five to six years. It rarely flowers, so to continue growing them, you propagate new plants from cuttings. The outer stems can settle on the ground and form roots. Prefers full sun and a soil pH of six or above, but is tolerant of partial shade and seaside conditions.|
Allium cepa var. aggregatum
|5-8||The potato onion, also known as the multiplier onion, grows similarly to shallots in that each onion planted will form a cluster of yellow onions. The onions grow 2-4” in diameter and have a stronger flavor than shallots or sweet onions. These are a long-day variety, meaning that most cultivars won’t produce if you live south of 37N or north of 37S latitudes. Grow in conditions similar to other onions, with full sun and rich soil. After harvesting them, remember to save some of the onions to replant either immediately (mild winters) or the next year.|
|3-7||Perennial onion that grows tender garlicky leaves from tiny bulbs in early spring. Use as you would green onions, or even as stir-fry greens or pesto. In some places, North American ramps grow profusely in the wild, but in others, they’ve been foraged to near oblivion. They take a long time to get established, so if you dig the bulbs up, you can lose your supply. It’s better to only harvest the garlicky leaves and never too many from any one plant. Grow in neutral pH soil in woodland type conditions – partial to full shade, and moist, fertile soil. It’s best to grow it from bare-root bulbs or transplants since seeds can take a year to germinate and plants then up to ten years to reach maturity.|
|3-8||While used as a fruit, rhubarb is technically a vegetable. In spring, you’ll pay a small fortune for its tender, red stems, but grow it yourself, and you’ll have more than you can eat. Rhubarb thrives in neglect and can often found growing at the back of gardens and allotments across the northern hemisphere. You can pull the stems from spring until early summer, and once established, plants will produce for years. Grow from crowns or seeds (takes much longer) and divide every five years to promote productivity.|
Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima
|4-8||This wild ancestor of all of our cultivated beets and chard can be found growing wild along the shore in parts of Britain and Europe. It’s clump-forming and has leathery green leaves. It has adapted to live in salty conditions but will also happily grow in the average vegetable garden. Eat the young leaves in spring, as the older leaves can be tough. Sea beet has a lifespan of anywhere from two to eleven years, and one study showed that plants from seed collected in Brittany, France, had the longest lifespan of all types. Use the leaves as you would chard or perpetual spinach, and it’s said to taste very similar to the latter.|
|4-8||Herbaceous perennial with thick curly cabbage-like leaves that die back in autumn. It’s the young spring shoots of the plant that are most prized, and they’re often ‘forced’ with a pot in a way similar to rhubarb. The blanched shoots, young leaves, and flowerheads are the most popular part to eat. Space plants two feet apart, and the low-lying frilled leaved plants will fill the gaps in between. Sea kale grows well in poor soil in exposed areas and is tolerant of both drought and seaside conditions. It can grow for up to ten years but is productive only after about its third year.|
|Scarlet runner beans
|7-11||Many of us grow scarlet runner beans without ever realizing that they are a short-lived perennial in sub-tropical and mild climates. These heavy-producing beans have red, pink, or white flowers depending on cultivar, and are evergreen in places that don’t see frost. In gardening zones seven and above, they can regrow vines in spring for up to six years. You can eat both beans and flowers.|
|Sorrel||3-9||There are three species of sorrel grown for culinary use, including French sorrel (Rumex scutatus), red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus), and garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa). Though they each look a little different, the flavor is similar. A pleasant oxalic acid kick that makes the leaves fresh and citrusy. Very easy to grow from seed or propagate by dividing an existing clump. Use the leaves raw or cooked and in salads, sauces, soups, and egg dishes. Grow in full sun to partial shade and prefers well-drained moist soil.|
|Taunton Deane kale
Brassica oleracea var Acephala
|6-9||Perennial kale that grows to about six feet tall with a thick woody stem and purple-green leaves. Harvest the leaves year-round and use it as you would ordinary kale or cabbage. It is said to have good flavor and is considered ‘very hardy’ in Britain, from where it hails. Prefers full sun, fertile soil, and conditions similar to other brassicas.|
|4-8||Though related to salad rocket (arugula), Turkish rocket has a cabbage-like flavor and grows more similar to broccoli raab. The leaves, stems, flowers, and flower buds are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked and used as a broccoli or kale replacement. An easy to grow plant that spreads so is considered invasive in some places. Drought tolerant and can live over ten years as a perennial. Prefers full sun but tolerant of partial shade and different soil types.|
Allium × proliferum
|3-10||Walking onions, also called tree onions or topset onions, form clusters of tiny bulbs at the tops of tall stalks. You can eat these bulbils, the greens, as well as the main bulb. Although eating the main bulb means that plant won’t grow back the next year. Use the greens like chives, and the bulbils can be opened and used like garlic cloves for a mild oniony flavor. Grow from seed or the small bulbils, which readily sprout even while still in the air. Prefers full sun and moist, fertile soil. There are several cultivars of walking onions, including the Egyptian walking onion.|
|2-10||Semi-aquatic plant with peppery leaves and seeds that you can dry and use like mustard. Very easy to grow in containers that sit in a basin of water to keep the potting mix moist, but traditionally grown in shallow, free-flowing, clean water. Though it roots into soil and compost, the hollow stems of watercress allow it to float in water. Prefers partial sun and marsh-like conditions, though dislikes stagnant water.|
|6-9||Welsh onions are like giant chives, can be used as spring onions, and grow to 18” tall. You can grow them from seed, or bulbs, and over time they form clumps that erupt in long green leaves and pollinator-attracting white allium flowers. Both the leaves and small bulbs are edible and can have a strong oniony flavor. Grow from seed or from divided bulbs and make sure to leave at least half of your bulbs unharvested so that they can clump up the next year. Prefers full sun and moist, fertile soil. Also called ‘Bunching’ or ‘Siberian Everlasting’ onions.|
|3-8||Perennial wild onion very similar to ramps, but native to Europe and Asia. Both the garlicky leaves and bulbs are edible and use as you would green onions, or even as stir-fry greens or pesto. Grow from seed or bulb transplants in neutral pH soil in open woodland conditions – partial to full sun, and moist, fertile soil. The seeds germinate and grow much quicker than ramps so are worthwhile if you’d like to start a patch.|
|5-9||Usually grown as an annual, with seeds sown every few weeks for a constant supply, wild rocket can die down over the winter but return to grow new leaves the following spring. It has serrated green leaves that are very peppery and if you let it flower and go to seed you can eat the flowers, seed pods, and easily save seed for future harvests. Very easy to grow and quick to mature. Sow in fertile soil situated in full sun from spring to autumn. Grows well in containers.|
Roots, bulbs, and tubers
There are so many edible perennial roots, bulbs, and tubers available that they deserve their own section. The types below have flavorful and sometimes energy-packed subterranean parts, and many can persist in the ground from year to year. If you have sub-zero winters, make sure to lift your tubers and replant them the next year to ensure they survive.
|Perennial vegetable||USDA Hardiness zones||Growing tips|
|Chinese artichoke (Crosnes)
|5-9||Harvest the peculiar white tubers of this plant in early autumn and serve raw or lightly stir-fried. Each plant only produces about 6 ounces (170 g) of tubers, and they are small at only about one to two inches long. Still, they’re a delicacy and worth your effort if you have space to give them. They have a water chestnut texture and a nutty flavor. In mild regions, you can leave some of the tubers in the ground to regrow the next year. Prefers well-drained soil in full sun and does not like frost. Only plant when the soil warms up in spring.|
|3-9||Chicory is grown for its bitter leaves that can be eaten raw or cooked and for its deep taproot, that can be baked and ground into a coffee substitute. Growing chicory as a perennial can be challenging as plants grown from the same packet of seeds can all have different growth traits and can be annual, biennial, and perennial. Some cultivars such as Variegata di Castelfranco and Italiko Rosso may have more tendency to perennialize. Sow from seed in mid-summer in full sun and fertile soil. Thin to a foot apart (30 cm) and harvest the leaves after the first frost. If any plants survive the winter, leave them to grow on to see if they’ll perennialize.|
Dahlia x pinnata syn. Dahlia variabilis
|8-11||It’s possible that the tubers of all dahlias are edible but chances are, the one you have growing in your garden right now is. The long tubers from your plants can be harvested in autumn and eaten raw or cooked. The texture and flavor are said to be like yacon – crunchy and mildly sweet to bland. If you have had Jerusalem artichokes and had bad wind or cramps be wary though. Dahlia tubers contain the indigestible carbohydrate inulin and can have the same effect. Grow dahlias from seed or tubers in spring and lift the tubers in autumn if you have cold winters. Prefers free-draining fertile soil and full sun. Plants do best if given supports.|
|6-8||The nut-sized tubers of this perennial legume taste pea-like when raw and like sweet chestnuts when cooked (typically boiled or roasted). They’re a wild plant that was commonly cultivated in Europe in the past, and known in France as macusson. The plant grows 12-32” tall with alternate, oval leaves, deeply scented pink pea-like flowers, and a sweet-pea-like climbing stem. Often found growing wild on cultivated land, it can grow roots 16” deep and send its climbing stems up crops such as wheat. May be best to grow this crop in containers. Grow from seed in spring.|
Armoracia rusticana, syn. Cochlearia armoracia
|3-9||A little goes a long way when it comes to spicy hot horseradish roots. The plants can grow enormous tap roots though and become invasive if you plant them in an open situation. Even the smallest piece of root left in the ground can grow a new plant. Best to start your plants off from a crown, or pieces of root from a parent plant, and grow on in a large container – even an old rubbish bin will do. It has tall floppy dock-like leaves that love the sun but isn’t fussy about soil type.|
|Jerusalem artichoke (Sunchokes)
|3-8||Jerusalem artichokes are an American root vegetable that grows from coarse-leafed stems over eight feet tall. Producing sunflower-like blooms, they’re also known as sunchokes and are unrelated to globe artichokes. Harvest the rich and nutty flavored tubers in early autumn, when the plant has died down, and save some to replant the next year. Over two dozen cultivars are available, including Fuseau, Bear Valley Purple, and Mammoth French White. Can spread easily so consider growing in large containers. Can also cause stomach bloating and gas in up to fifty percent of the population but the flavor is so delicious that many people deal with ‘Fartichokes’. Grow in USDA zones 2-8, though the tubers may not survive in the ground below zone three.|
|Oca (New Zealand Yam)
|8-9||Oca tubers range in color from pink to white to magenta and only begin forming below the wood sorrel-esque foliage in the autumn. You harvest the tubers in late autumn to early winter, and the yield can be up to three pounds per plant. They have a unique flavor that’s citrusy and potato-like and the cooked texture is like a cooked turnip. You can also eat the tubers raw and they have a pleasant crunch. Grow from tubers in late spring, and if you have a mild winter climate you can leave some in the ground to grow the next year. I always miss some and they grow on their own as volunteers. More oca growing tips here.|
|8-12||Anyone who has mild winters and grows potatoes knows how they can regrow the next year if you miss harvesting them. Though it’s not recommended to save potatoes to replant the next year (due to potential pathogens) there is a plant breeder in the US who has developed ‘Perennial potatoes’ for cold winters/climates. Though ordinary potatoes will perish if the ground freezes, these can survive to produce a small crop the next year. Potatoes can grow in pretty much all hardiness zones, 3-12, if you grow them as an annual.|
|5-9||An old-fashioned European vegetable, skirrets are a true perennial and come back year after year with their masses of carrot-flavored roots. It can grow up to four feet tall in summer, and the clump-forming crowns are harvested in autumn after they’ve had a summer to fill out. Grow from seed or crowns in spring, and begin harvesting after the second year when the foliage has died down. Dig the crowns up, take the best roots as your harvest, and replant the crown to grow another year. If you want to increase your plants, you can separate individual crowns and plant them up separately. Prefers moist and fertile free-draining soil in full sun.|
Perennial Fruit and Berries
Perennial fruit is always a winner in the garden. Though the trees, vines, and bushes can take up a lot of space, the juicy rewards are worth the investment. With fruit trees and shrubs, you tend only to eat the fruit and berries, though there are exceptions. Grape leaves are edible and are used in Greek cuisine to make food parcels. Some perennial fruit flowers are edible too.
- Physalis (Cape Gooseberry)
- Thornless blackberry
Many garden herbs are not only hardy but will thrive year after year. Even when not much is growing in the garden, you can still nip out and harvest a sprig of rosemary, or a handful of winter savory to add flavor to winter dishes. Many perennial herbs also thrive in poor soils, making them ideal for areas of the garden where other plants won’t grow.
Most perennial herbs prefer free-draining soil, and harvesting up to a third of their annual growth encourages bushier growth. Many can also be grown in pots and containers and taken undercover over the winter. Keep in mind that quite a few perennial herbs hail from the Mediterranean so may not survive winters below USDA hardiness zone 8.
- Basil (zone 10 and above)
- Bay laurel
- Garlic chives
- Lemon verbena
- Salad burnet
- Sweet cicely
- Winter savory