perennial vegetables

Perennial Vegetables to Plant Once And Harvest for Years

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The idea of growing perennial vegetables means that you get to enjoy your harvest and crops every year from the same one plant.  Most vegetables, however, tend to be annuals – that means they’re sown, grown and harvested within the same year or growing season.   There are some vegetables that are perennial and in this article, we’ll cover the UK’s perennial vegetables and why you should grow perennial vegetables and how best to grow them.

The Best Perennial Vegetables to grow In the UK

Perennial Vegetables are those vegetables that can live for more than two years.   Some vegetables which have the potential to be grown as perennials, like potatoes are actually grown as annuals in order to reduce pests and disease.

What is a Perennial Vegetable Plant?

A perennial vegetable is a vegetable plant that regrows for more than two years.  It is different from an annual, which requires planting every year and a biennial which only lives for two years.  The significant factor is that you don’t need to replant or reseed these vegetable plants each year in order to enjoy a crop from them.  Some perennials, such as Asparagus will continue to produce and enable you to harvest for up to 20 years!

Types of Perennial Vegetable – True Perennial Vegetable Plants

True perennial vegetable plants that regrows every Spring with no need for replanting or reseeding.  Examples of true perennials include Asparagus, Rhubarb and Watercress.

rhubarb perennial vegetable

Types of Perennial Vegetable – Perennials Grown as Annuals

There are also perennial vegetables which are grown as annals in order to minimize the damage caused by pests and disease.  An annual is planted as a seed, begins to grow in Spring, crops and then dies back in winter.  A biennial uses the first year to become established and then crops in the second year, Swiss Chard is often considered as a biennial.

The potato is technical a perennial vegetable, but it is grown as an annual in order to reduce disease and problems from pets.

Why grow Perennial Vegetables

There are a number of benefits to growing perennial vegetables over and above annual and biennial vegetables.

Growing perennial vegetables helps you to extend your harvest

Many perennial vegetables have different cropping and harvesting seasons from the annual vegetables that you grow, which means that they’ll provide you with additional vegetables throughout the year.  Even as you start transplanting seedlings your perennials can be ready to harvest.  Many of the annual vegetables will be ready for harvest in summer and autumn, but your perennial vegetables can be ready in spring, others, specifically root vegetables can be ready in the winter months too.

Grow perennial vegetables to save money

Aside from the fact that there’s no need to buy more seeds to plant more vegetables and thus save money that way, there is also the idea when it comes to perennials that as the roots become deeper they require less watering, as they’re taking water and nutrients from deeper in the soil, so there’s also less of a requirement for plant food with perennials.  Add to this the fact that you’re not spending the time preparing the ground, sowing and transplanting, then it means you’ll have more time to spend on other vegetables too!

Perennial vegetables are low maintenance

It’s often thought that perennial vegetables are lower maintenance than annual vegetables.  No frenzy of sowing seeds, thinning, transplanting.  Perennial vegetables tend to have deeper roots than annual vegetables and so in drier times, they are a lot hardier.  Perennial vegetables also tend to produce crops over a longer period of time – from spring through to early winter.

Perennial vegetables are more resistant to pests and disease

Perennial vegetables tend to be more robust than annuals, they’ll fight off pests and disease more easily.

Growing perennial vegetables helps build soil

Once you’ve planted perennial vegetables they stay there.  There’s no need to move them or transplant them.  So apart from weed removal, you won’t be digging up the earth, compost or soil that you planted them in.  This means your soil stays intact and it helps to promote habitat for worms, animals and your plants, and in turn, creates a healthy soil structure.  The plants themselves as they lose leaves add more organic matter to the soil, which helps to build additional good soil. Our guide to making your own compost is here.

Which Perennial Vegetables to Grow

Grow Perennial Asparagus

Asparagus is probably the most famous of perennial vegetables to grow in the UK.  It tends to be expensive in the shops when it arrives, usually in May or early June.  Asparagus is not hard to grow and is fabulous when it is picked and eaten fresh (yes, it is so much better than what you’ll buy from the supermarket!).  However, the downside is that when you first start to grow asparagus it will be two years from planting a one year crown before you’re able to get an annual crop.  Asparagus plants, will, however, crop for up to 20 years! Buy asparagus crowns here.

grow asparagus

You can grow asparagus from seed, but it is much easier to plant what’s called bare-root crowns direct into the ground.    Read more on growing Asparagus here.

Grow Perennial Broccoli

Most varieties of broccoli are annuals, but there are two varieties that will grow as perennials.  Nine Star and Purple Cape perennial broccoli will produce a crop of 4-5 heads a year.  You’ll want to harvest all the heads and likely replace the entire plants after 3-4 years.

Growing Perennial Rhubarb

Looking rather reminiscent of red coloured celery, Rhubarb is a tart flavoured perennial vegetable.  Rhubarb can’t be harvested in its first year, only the second and subsequent years, but a single plant can last as long as 20 years.  Rhubarb stalks are the part of the plant that you eat, don’t try eating the leaves as they’re poisonous.  To get a head start on growing rhubarbs start with a one-year-old crown  – and for more on how to grow rhubarb, read our guide on growing rhubarb here.

Perpetual Spinach is a perennial vegetable

The perennial vegetable perpetual spinach is actually part of the beet family but shares a similar taste to that of spinach.   It is much easier to grow than regular spinach and it is hardier.  It produces a new crop when you pick it  Perpetual spinach is actually a biennial – the stalks of which are either white or red.  The leaves, which can be used as a salad are dark green and large.  Perpetual spinach tends to prefer colder weather and you’ll probably want to trim the leaves on a regular basis in order to improve the flavour. Buy perpetual spinach seeds here.

Growing Perennial Watercress

Watercress became a staple source of vitamins during Roman times and it is still popular today.  It’s an easy perennial vegetable to grow and is a good source of iron, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A and C.   It can have a somewhat spicy flavour and makes a great garnish for meals, or a side, especially with fish.  Watercress requires heavy watering and can be susceptible to snails. > here’s a great option to get started growing watercress.

grow watercress as a perennial

Unusual Perennial Vegetables to Grow

So far the perennial vegetables that we’ve covered are pretty regular vegetables, the following vegetables that are grown as perennials are a little less common, or are used less commonly in recipes and cooking.

Grow Sorrel as a perennial vegetable

Originally from Europe Sorrel is a leafy green perennial vegetable that is very early to crop.  Sorrel is high in vitamin C but can be harmful to some livestock and if you suffer from arthritis or kidney problems it may not be for you either.  Sorrel has a tart flavour that grows increasingly bitter as the plant matures, so use in a salad when young and in soups and hotpots on maturity.  Once you’ve harvested sorrel you’ll need to use it quickly as it wilts extremely quickly.  Sorrel won’t produce beyond June, at which point it starts to flower.

Jerusalem Artichokes as perennial vegetables

Jerusalem Artichokes are a root vegetable with a sweet nutty flavour.  They go well with game meats and in soups and strews and are usually harvested from November onwards.  Jerusalem artichokes produce yellow flowers, so they’ll be a pretty addition to your garden, but they can reach up to 3 meters in height!  You can eat the tubers either raw or cooked and they’re great when roasted.  You can grow artichokes are a perennial or as an annual vegetable.

grow jerrusalem artichokes

Grow perennial Egyptian Onions

Often referred to as the walking onion or the winter onion for their ability to survive seriously low temperatures, the Egyptian onion can produce up to 50 onion bulbs per harvest.  Unlike a regular onion, which grows its produce under the ground, this perennial vegetable has the edible parts on top of the green shoots. Harvest Egyptian onions once a year and give them around 60 centimetres of space around each plant.  As the leaves and stems at the top of the plant dry out, they drop into the soil and when the soil conditions are right they take root and grow into new plants – and so the name of the walking onion, as they literally “walk” around your garden.

FAQs on How to Grow Perennial Vegetables

Got questions about growing perennial vegetables?  Check out our frequently asked questions about how to grow perennial vegetables below, or ask us in the comments.

Whats the difference between annual vs perennial vegetables?

Most vegetable plants are annuals – meaning that you must plant them from seed, or cuttings each year.  Perennial vegetables are those which live for more than two years.   You plant these perennial vegetables once and they produce crops year after year.

Is there a list of perennial vegetables?

Yes, the most common perennial vegetables are asparagus, artichoke and rhubarb in the northern hemipshere.  In tropical areas cassava and taro are grown as perennial vegetables.  Here is a great (but not exhaustive) list of perennial vegetables.

Is perpetual spinach perennial?

Yes and no.  Perpetual spinach is a perennial vegetable plant, but its grown as a biennial.  Perpetual spinach is a member of the beet family, but tastes similar to spinach.  We’ve included more information about growing spinach here – and perpetual spinach is one of our favourites.

What are the only two perennial vegetables?

We’re not absolutely sre where this myth comes from,  that there are only two perennial vegetables – we  (and most experts) believe there are LOTS of perennial vegetables.  It could stem from most people only growing a small number of vegetables are perennials.  What do you think?

Where’s the best place to buy perennial vegetables?

The best place for buying perennial vegetables depends on where you are and what your situation is.  We pick up a mixture of seeds from here, we buy one year old crowns of Rhubarb here and year old Asparagus too.  However, this last week we just spotted some sad looking tomato plants in Asda and snapped them up – and while we know they’re not perennials, its great to see what you can pick up in garden centres, supermarkets and from honesty boxes and revive.

Challenges of growing perennial vegetables

The primary challenge of growing perennial vegetables it the fact that you usually have to wait a little time before you’re able to harvest, sometimes two years or more!  Young perennial vegetables take time to mature and be ready for cropping – like rhubarb and asparagus.

If you’re planning to grow perennial vegetables UK then you’ll need to think out where they go in your garden as this will be their forever home.  If you do plan on moving or transplanting them, expect a setback in cropping.  Rhubarb for instance really does not respond well to being moved.

Final Words on Growing Perennial Vegetables

When you are a beginner vegetable gardener the idea of waiting two years or more to harvest your vegetables feels like a lifetime, however, perennial vegetables offer, in our opinion, more benefits than downsides.  Perennial vegetables offer a series of benefits to you and your garden and are a great element of any kitchen garden.  As well as extending your harvest season they’ll help to nurture the soil in your garden and save you money and time, which you can, of course, spend in the pursuit of growing other vegetables!

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