Every garden needs perennial vegetable and fruit plants for one simple reason – they're less work! You get them set up the first year, and then with a little bit of tending each year, they provide you with ample food. Perennial vegetables are essential for the backyard garden, and there are so many to choose from. Yes, some do take a little bit of coaxing to get started, but believe me, once you have them, you'll be thrilled with the results. And, there are quite a few that are extremely simple to get established. It's time to turn your backyard into an edible landscape, not just a seasonal garden venture.
The Benefits of Perennial Plants
- Low-Maintenance – There's no annual tilling, digging, and planting. In fact, some perennials thrive so easily that maintenance has to be done to keep them from spreading. Native perennial vegetables need minimal watering and caretaking; they are made to survive the natural climate without human help and will do so easily.
- Seasonality – Harvest seasons are often different for perennial vegetables as compared to annuals. This means your harvest season will be extended. Maybe it will start earlier with the asparagus crop or go well into fall with the last of the horseradish and onions.
- Intrigue & Aesthetics – Adding perennials to the garden landscape increases the overall look and appeal. Perennials can act as natural fencing or borders or provide shade to other vegetables. These vegetables also draw in more bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. When the pollinators know they can rely on certain flowers every year, they are more likely to stick around in your garden.
- Improve Soil – By providing a natural habitat for fungi, animals, microbes, and other essential critters, perennial plants are an important contributor to the soil health web. They improve water retention, add nutrients back into the soil, build topsoil, and improve overall soil structure.
Top 16 Perennial Vegetables and Fruits
Egyptian Onions (aka Bunching onions)
These giant onion plants are a real conversation piece. They grow up to 6-feet tall and produce small bulbs on the tips of their stalks in late summer. All parts of the Egyptian onion are edible, including the bulbous roots, the leaves, and the tiny bulbs on the top of the stalk. You'll need to keep an eye on these plants, as they grow so readily they might grow right across your yard. Another name for them is Egyptian walking onions, and that's no joke! They are perfect planted alongside fences and walls or used as a border plant. Hardy in zones 4-8.
Like Egyptian onions, scallions grow readily year after year. Scallions are planted as bulbs in early spring to be harvested in late summer. Growing scallions is infinitely more economical than purchasing at the grocer. Scallions will grow for a long time, as long as the ground doesn't freeze. During the first year, don't harvest any so the scallion patch can get established. In the following years, the bulbs and stalks are ready to be harvested as needed. Scallions are perennials in zones 6-9.
Rhubarb is the perfect pie companion for strawberries (another perennial!). Once established, rhubarb grows first thing in the spring, often long before all other edibles. Rhubarb plants don't need much, and they grow for 15+ years. Many people aren't familiar with this sour stalked plant, but once you see how easily it grows, there's really no reason not to have it. Most rhubarb grows best in cooler climates, but there are some types bred for warmer areas. If your average winter temperatures are above 40F, look for one of those warm-climate varieties. Rhubarb takes about three years to establish and be ready for harvesting. The plants are best started from crowns or divisions.
There is nothing like freshly harvested asparagus; store-bought doesn't even begin to measure up. If you have space, an asparagus bed is a must. It does take time and lots of patience to grow, but it's entirely worth it. Asparagus plants produce for 15-20 years, sending up their spears in early spring and continuing for up to six weeks. Due to the longevity of the plants and the space required, plan out the asparagus bed well in advance. Also, be sure to choose the best variety for your region, so you get good harvests. Asparagus plants are sold as crowns and planted in long trenches. For the first two years, the plants aren't harvested; this ensures they get well-established.Asparagus is hardy in zones 3-8.
Quickly grown from seed or as divisions, chives are among the first vegetables to come up. Chives grow in all soil types, making them a perfect hardy perennial in many places where other plants won't grow. Their oniony leaves are ready to harvest as soon as they reach 6". Chives grow best in cooler weather and will slow down during summer. But, in fall, they'll start up again, and you can enjoy chives for months. Chives are perennial in zones 4 and higher.
Jerusalem Artichoke (Sunchokes)
Not actually artichokes and not from Jerusalem, these tuber-bearing perennials are easy to grow and will return every year. Jerusalem artichokes are actually from North America and are perfect for a native edible landscape. Jerusalem artichokes spread via their underground tubers and, if not carefully cultivated, will spread vigorously. We recommend planting them away from other more fragile plants. A member of the sunflower family, Jerusalem artichokes plants grow up to 10-feet tall and produce beautiful full yellow flowers every year. Dig up the roots in late summer or fall. They are slightly sweet and starchy; most people prepare them like potatoes. Hardy to zones 4-9.
Scarlet Runner Beans
Usually, this perennial bean is grown as an ornamental. Their brilliant reddish-orange flowers and vining nature make them perfect for growing along fences, arbors, and trellises as a privacy screen. Hummingbirds and bees also love the beautiful flowers. Scarlet runner beans produce lots of edible green beans, which can be eaten fresh when they're young and tender. These beans get tough as they age. Or, the beans can be left on the vine and harvested when they are dry as shell beans. The flowers are also edible and are perfect for brightening up a green salad. Sow the seeds in the spring, and make sure to provide a support system for the vines – they can reach up to 15-feet! Scarlet runner beans are perennial in zone 6-12. In zone 5, they may be hardy if they are provided with enough mulch to make it through the winter.
The lemon-flavored leaves of sorrel are excellent in raw salads or cooked like spinach. This green isn't widely known because it doesn't ship well, making it an impractical grocery store vegetable. Plant sorrel from seed in early spring and the leaves will be ready to harvest in 4-6 weeks. Sorrel is best harvested during cool weather. As soon as the weather heats up, the leaves turn bitter. Hardy to zones 5-10.
A member of the chicory family, radicchio may look like cabbage, but it tastes much sharper and more potent. Radicchio grows best in cool weather and should be harvested before the summer heat sets in, which turns the leaves bitter. Fresh radicchio is an excellent salad addition, or you can cook the leaves, which makes them sweeter. Cut the entire head off when harvesting and leave the roots in the ground so it will come back the following year. Radicchio is hardy to zones 6-8.
Even if you don't like spicy foods, horseradish is a valuable plant to have near a garden. Horseradish plants keep bad bugs away and produce flowers that pollinators and beneficial insects love. Horseradish is easy to grow and is hardy to zones 4-7. Plant roots from a local nursery. You can plant roots purchased from the supermarket, but we don't recommend that since you don't know what pesticides were used to grow it or even its variety. Horseradish roots are harvested in winter, after the first freeze, but before the ground freezes for good. Be careful where you plant this root; it spreads persistently from its underground tubers and seeds. Horseradish flowers are also edible and provide a nice pop of spicy flavor.
A wonderful spring treat, watercress has a peppery flavor that is perfect in early spring salad creations. Watercress grows best in water-flooded areas, like streams and creeks. But if this isn't an option for you, it's okay. Grow watercress in buckets or containers where you can keep the soil constantly wet. A hardy perennial in zones 6-9.
This celery-like tasting plant grows up to 6-feet tall, and all parts of it are edible, including the leaves, roots, and seeds. Lovage grows well in full sun or partial shade, making it a super flexible backyard perennial. It grows in early spring, about the same time as dandelions (another wonderful perennial). This green is hardy to zones 4-8.
Mint, Spearmint, Catmint, Lemon Balm
All these are members of the mint family and will grow just about anywhere. In fact, you've got to be careful with this one. Don't put it in your garden, or you may soon have a garden of just mint! Plant mint in pots or far away from anything it will bother if it spreads. I've seen entire fields of out-of-control mint, so use caution! That being said, mint, catmint, and lemon balm are all wonderful additions to the container garden. Fresh mint in drinks in the middle of summer is phenomenal! All mints can be sown from seed in the spring. Their maintenance and care needs are minimal.
Not all varieties are entirely winter-hardy, but German thyme will grow for years as long as plants are well mulched during the winter. Thyme grows from seed and is flexible, not minding if it is in full sun or partial shade. This herb needs regular pruning to keep the woody growth in check and concentrate its energies on foliage. Thyme is perennial to zones 5-9.
These tiny strawberries are quite different from the giants at the grocery store, but they are sweet and delicious in a way the other types can't even touch. Alpine strawberry plants don't produce a lot of fruit, and you'll have to get to them before the birds do, which can be challenging. These strawberries grow in full sun or partial shade, and pollinators love the little fragrant white flowers. Alpine strawberries spread quickly through underground runners, so you'll need to keep a watchful eye on the patch if you want to contain it. Or let them spread out as a natural ground cover. These little plants will produce their sweet fruits for years. Hardy to zones 3-10.
Raspberries & Blackberries
One of the highlights of summer, fresh raspberries and blackberries are a delight. There are so many types to choose from; it's hard to decide! Pick one cultivated for your area, and you'll be pleased with how many berries you get. Both raspberries and blackberries need adequate space, and given the right conditions, they will grow for decades. These berries are hardy in zones 3-9. Learn how to grow tons of blackberries and raspberries here.
Are you excited to start adding some perennial vegetables and fruits to your garden and backyard? We hope so. Creating an edible landscape saves you money, provides you with the freshest and most delicious food, and goes a long way towards improving your self-sufficiency.