Most of the foods we grow are annuals: Each winter, they disappear and must be replanted in the spring. A bountiful garden of delicious organic food is worth the work of planning and planting, but smart gardeners also curate a few perennials, which come back year after year with little maintenance required. Here are some classic perennials to plant now for harvest next summer.
Artichokes are the edible flower buds of a bushy plant in the thistle family. Best suited for moist, light soils and full sun, artichoke plants grow larger each year, eventually producing several plump buds a year. They don't do well in dry soils, so mulch and compost well, and give the roots plenty of water. If you have cold winters (zones 6-7), cut the plant back in fall and cover it with a layer of straw.
Asparagus shoots are one of spring's first delights, poking out of cool soils alongside other perennials like tulips and crocus. But they're a long-term investment: The first year, you won't harvest asparagus at all, and each year you must leave plenty of shoots behind, letting them flower and grow into the next year's harvest.
3. Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)
The latest culinary darling, sunchokes are tubers grown from a flowering, towering relative of the sunflower. They've got a nutty flavor and are delicious roasted or in soups. Plant a single sunchoke in the fall or early spring, and it'll grow into a hearty plant with multiple tubers to dig up. Remember to always leave a few in the ground for next year -- and give it plenty of space, because this plant is a hardy native that can invade your yard with its sunny, food-producing blooms.
Garlic, onions and chives are all able to survive cold winters from their roots buried under the soil. Plant garlic and onion cloves, sets or seed in the fall, and they'll push up green shoots in the spring; leave a few behind each year, and they'll flower, seed themselves and divide their own bulbs to create the next year's crop.
5. Radicchio and Chicory
Ever chopped off a lettuce plant in summer, only to find it growing back the following spring? Some leafy greens are able to regrow from a root -- an advantage for gardeners who'll have robust greens growing quite early in spring. Raddichio and other chicory relatives are good bets, but as most of us grow several types of lettuce and mesclun greens mixes, you never know what might come back. Instead of pulling up your roots, cut the plant back at the soil surface, cover the bed with straw through the winter, and see what pops up in spring.
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Photo: Rob Ireton.