5 Vegetables That Grow Back Year After Year

Spend a little less time gardening, and a lot more time enjoying these underrated perennial vegetables.

February 28, 2017
perennial vegetables asparagus
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Everybody loves a good tomato, it’s true, but doesn’t that early spring seeding ritual get a little tiresome sometimes? Seedlings are finicky things. They’re fickle about light, water, soil, temperature—and sometimes they just rot, for no reason!

So, if you feel like throwing in the towel and letting the plants do the hard work of growing this year (and the next, and the next), then try these 5 time-tested, tough perennial vegetables.

(Whether you're starting your first garden or switching to organic, Rodale’s Basic Organic Gardening has all the answers and advice you need—get your copy today!)

perennial vegetables rhubarb
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Rhubarb

In America, enjoying rhubarb mostly means tucking into strawberry rhubarb pie (or galette!), that herald of sunny spring days and the segue into summer eating. In other parts of the world—namely northern Europe—this perennial vegetable is a much more versatile treat. Dice it in a salad with a salty white cheese, or ferment it into pickles for a tart and bubbly aperitif. It even goes well as a chutney on lots of savory dishes.

To grow rhubarb start with a well established crown. Rhubarb roots should be placed just an inch or two beneath the ground, with their little buds pointing straight up. Don’t harvest those first scarlet stems when they emerge. Wait at least a year or two until your crowns produce long, thick stalks. While you wait, keep mulching. Rhubarb loves rich, dark crumbly soil and will repay you with long years of pie-eating if treated right.

perennial vegetables asparagus
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Asparagus

Growing asparagus is not for the faint of heart. This perennial vegetable requires deep digging and some serious loving on your soil. And after a lot of hard work, it’s a teasingly long time until payback—but it's worth it.

Asparagus crowns are the best way to start your own crop of these long-legged veggies. (If you start with a seed, the sun may burn out before you get to dip these babies in butter). The plants require light, rich soil, and need to planted about a foot deep, so before you get started, turn a 3-4 inch layer of compost into your bed (here's how to get garden-ready compost in just 30 days). Despite all this work, asparagus are fairly easy keepers in terms of environmental requirements: They enjoy cold winters (zones 3-8) and manage in soils ranging from slightly acidic to neutral to slightly basic. 

Related: 3 Shade-Loving Perennials That Shine In Spring

perennial vegetables jerusalem artichokes
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Jerusalem Artichokes

Legend has it that Victorian diners eschewed the earthy Jerusalem artichoke because of the embarrassing flatulence it caused. (Helloooo, fiber!) Fact or fable, this tuber is worth every bit of embarrassment: It’s easy to cultivate and superior to the potato in sheer nutty, rich flavor. Add to that attractive late summer flowers and you’ve got a perennial vegetable every gardener should grow.  

To really make Jerusalem artichoke happy, plant it in a moist part of the garden where you won’t have to worry about watering. It prefers rich, damp soils and is often found growing in well-lit soggy roadside ditches in the wild. Try looking for the plant at a native plant nursery (the species is from the Midwest), and if you come up empty handed, you can find it online. The tubers can be dug up gently by hand after a couple of years of establishment and will thrive in just about every zone across the country, except for the very driest regions.

perennial vegetables ramps/wild leeks
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Ramps

Ramps are all the rage. These east coast natives emerge before the forest canopy leafs out and are the wild forager’s first taste of spring. After a long winter of potatoes and storage onions, the peppery flavor of this perennial vegetable is a salve for the pallet. Unfortunately, over zealous harvesting has sent this woodland denizen spiraling towards extinction and that simply needn’t be.

Ramps—also known as wild leeks—grow well in brightly-lit, rich, moist garden beds. If starting from seed, have patience (about seven years worth of patience)! If starting from bulblets, wait three years before harvesting the entire plant. In the meantime, enjoy the leek’s spicy soft green leaves which go excellently with a fresh egg. What better celebration of spring than that? 

perennial vegetable French sorrel
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French Sorrel

There’s nothing like a handful of fresh greens straight from the garden to liven up breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Sorrel, a tart and puckery relative of that heinous garden weed dock, is just as tenacious and far more delicious than its trouble making cousin.

Available at most good nurseries, sorrel is hardy to zone 3 and can be planted in sun or part shade, in rich to depauperate soils. The best part about this perennial green vegetable is that there’s no stress, as with other salad greens, over planting it too early and having it succumb to early spring frost. French sorrel always gets the time of emergence just right, and seems to know when spring is really on the way.

Related: Why You Should Always Plant Flowers In Your Vegetable Patch

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