Part of the gardener’s spring ritual is ordering seeds or buying starts of favorite vegetables like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. But did you know that there are perennial vegetables that you can plant once and enjoy for years to come?
You can probably guess a few of the vegetables on our list, but others will surprise you.
Asparagus lovers can’t wait to see those stalks begin to emerge from the soil in spring. This is a relatively easy vegetable to grow. The only hard part is that you have to wait one to two years before harvesting the first spears. Asparagus grows as a perennial in Zones 3-10 and can live for 15 years or longer.
Gardeners have more success planting live crowns over starting from seed, and all-male hybrids will produce the most stalks. Plant the crowns in a full-sun spot and keep the soil weed-free and well-watered.
Editor’s note: Not sure what the growing zone for your area is? Also known as Plant Hardiness Zones, this map from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will show you.
Another sure sign of spring is when everyone starts talking about their rhubarb. This is a terrific choice for your garden or landscape, with crimson stalks and tall, broad leaves. In growing Zones 3-8, it’s a tough and hardy plant that comes back for decades. Only the stalks are edible (discard the poisonous leaves). The tart flavor of rhubarb is a perfect foil to sweet ingredients in recipes for rhubarb pie, crumbles, sorbets and the old-fashioned drinks called shrubs.
To plant rhubarb, order roots, or ask a neighbor for a division of one of their rhubarbs. Plant them in a full-sun, well-drained spot.
Not all onions can be grown as perennials, but there are a few easy-to-grow types that you should add to your garden. Bunching onions, better known as scallions are hardy in Zones 5-9, and they’re fast-growing, too. Different cultivars produce smaller or larger onions. Enjoy them throughout the growing season in stir fries, salads or diced to make savory pancakes. Leave some in the garden to regrow next year. Other perennial onions to try are shallots (Zones 4-10) and Egyptian walking onions (Zones 3-9.)
The taste of freshly grated horseradish root is so intense and flavorful—once you taste it you’ll never want to go back to the bottled stuff again. Fortunately, horseradish is easy to grow at home, suitable for growing Zones 3-9. Plant the roots early in the spring in a sunny location with room for the roots to spread. The plant grows to about 18 inches in height with tall, curly-edged leaves. The roots can be harvested in the fall and early winter.
Also known as sunchokes, Jerusalem artichokes have become more popular in recent years. The plant reaches an impressive height of six to ten feet, and are topped with pretty yellow flowers. What they’re grown for are the roots, which look similar to knobs of ginger root. The roots can be poached, roasted, fried or eaten raw. Eating too many Jerusalem artichokes can cause stomach discomfort, so go slow if you’re new to this vegetable.
Plant Jerusalem artichokes in Zones 3-8 in a well-drained, sunny spot with plenty of room for the tall plants.
Many think of garlic as an annual because gardeners tend to harvest the entire crop of bulbs, requiring that more be planted for the next year. However, gardeners who get in the habit of leaving a portion of their bulbs in the ground are rewarded with garlic that comes back every year. This involves harvesting garlic from larger plants while letting smaller plants die back and stay in the ground.
Garlic generally falls into two categories: softneck that do better in warmer areas and hardneck that grow well in colder climates. Hardneck garlic plants also produce garlic scapes—the long, curling stems that can be snipped off and enjoyed for their mild onion-garlic flavor.
Radicchio is a type of chicory with beautiful red and white leaves that grow in a head, much like cabbage. Radicchio leaves have a strong and slightly bitter flavor. This vegetable is hardy in Zones 3-8. Plant radicchio in a spot that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. Use radicchio in salads, or add it chopped to pasta dishes and stews.
Lovage is an herb/vegetable that has been used since Greek and Roman times for culinary and medicinal purposes. This plant is hardy when grown in Zones 4-8, and can grow up to six feet tall. It prefers partial shade and well-drained, well-watered soil.
All parts of lovage are edible: seeds, flowers, leaves, stalk and roots. Lovage has a strong celery-like flavor, with some parts tasting like a cross between celery and parsley. The leaves can be added to salads and other recipes where you would normally use parsley. The stalks can be chopped and added to soups and stews.
Sorrel leaves have a tart and lemony flavor, and they’re a great addition to salads and sandwiches. This attractive and edible plant has long leaves that grow upright to a height of about 12 inches. Sorrel grows well in Zones 5-9 in a full-sun location—although on very hot days it will also benefit from a little shade. You can grow sorrel from seed, or by dividing older plants.
Though some kitchen herbs are annuals, there are many that will easily regrow year after year. Some of these perennial herbs include chives, mint, lemon balm, oregano, sage and thyme. Planting your herbs in well-drained soil and full-sun locations will help ensure they make a comeback. Also, these herbs should be planted in the ground—plants in containers generally do not survive the cold temperatures of winter.