Plant a Perennial Food Garden

Grow these perennial food plants, and you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labors for many seasons to come.

| March/April 2015

While the word “perennial” might bring to mind flowering plants such as peonies and penstemon, a number of vegetables, fruits and greens will also return to the garden each year. From beans to berries, this collection of hardy edible plants will grow well across many climate zones. Some varieties may die back in the fall but will freely reseed or propagate, providing new plants the following season with minimal work.

Soil preparation is especially important for cultivating perennials and creating optimum conditions that will sustain the plant for many seasons. Most hardy edible varieties thrive in well-drained soil rich with organic matter, and in full-sun locations that get at least six hours of summer sunlight each day. In northern climates, thick layers of mulch and season-extenders such as cold frames and crop covers can help hardy food plants survive the winter.

Some edible perennials can also be incorporated into flower gardens and landscapes. Sorrel and thyme are both lush ground covers that can be easily established under taller flowering plants. Scarlet runner bean vines can be trained on a trellis for a stunning summer display of red-orange flowers. Bronze fennel’s feathery leaves provide a striking contrast to green plants, and can even be used as a dramatic centerpiece for a container garden.

Throughout this article, we refer to the USDA hardiness zones. If you’re not familiar with your gardening zone, visit The National Gardening Association to learn which zone you’re in. Your local county extension office can recommend the best varieties of perennial food plants for your area. Establish these hardy growers in your yard and you’ll benefit from increased harvests and greater self sufficiency—along with more time to stop and smell the peonies.


Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus)
Jerusalem artichokes—sometimes called sunchokes—aren’t true artichokes at all, but rather tubers from a species of the sunflower plant. A dedicated garden bed is ideal, as the prolific plants can sometimes become invasive. Plant the tubers in the spring and give the plants a wide berth in the full-sun garden, as they may grow as tall as 10 feet. (Plant climbing beans nearby and the vines will use the sunchoke stalks as a natural trellis.) Harvest the chokes by digging them up in the fall, keeping the larger ones and dropping any small tubers back in the bed to regrow the crop. Raw Jerusalem artichokes have a crispy texture similar to water chestnuts. When cooked, the mild-flavored tubers can be used like potatoes in many recipes. Read All About Growing Jerusalem Artichokes for additional information.

Scarlet Runner Beans (Phaseolus coccineus)
Best known for their fast-growing vines and ornamental red-orange flowers, scarlet runner beans produce delicious edible green beans that are tender when picked young; larger beans tend to develop fibrous pods. The colorful legumes can also be allowed to mature on the vine before shelling and cooking or drying. Scarlet runner beans are easily direct-sown in springtime, and they grow best on trellises or heavy poles. The vigorous vines grow as a perennial in zones 6 and up, and can be hardy to zone 4 with heavy winter mulching.

4/17/2015 4:24:51 AM

Growing mint in the backyard was easy Once established Mint spreads Runner beans grow fast and provide shady places when trellissed

4/17/2015 4:23:20 AM

Growing mint in the backyard was easy Once established Mint spreads Runner beans grow fast and provide shady places when trellissed

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