When planning your garden, you’ll be faced with almost innumerable options.
- Where will you put it?
- What will you plant in it?
- How much will you plant?
- Will you color coordinate vegetables?
- Should you inter-plant flowers with your crops?
- How many of your plants will you let go to seed?
- How much money will you spend on seeds?
- What kind of fencing and protection do you need?
- Will you plant perennials or annuals?
If you’ve never planted a garden before you may just plant whatever seeds you find wherever you’ve already got free space. It may work, and it may not.
But if you’re in a phase where you want to start planning strategically to either become more self-sufficient, or just want healthier foods readily available for your family, then you’ll need to be more deliberate with your decisions.
The choice between perennial and annual crops in your vegetable garden may be answered as easily as asking yourself what you want to grow. Or, you can take a deeper look at your needs and unique personality to try to find the perfect balance of each.
What Are Perennials?
Perennials are plants that survive winter (outside in the elements) and are able to produce new growth (including flowers) each summer.
For a flower, this means it blooms ever year.
For your garden, it means you will get produce every year.
Matching Perennials With Your Personality
Perennials are excellent if you have the personality that may be excited to garden one year, but not the next year.
Do you find that as you set up your garden and homestead you really want to accomplish a certain task one year and it takes most of your time and attention? Then each consecutive year you’ve got a newly inspired project and the last one gets a bit neglected? If so, perennials could be a good pick for you, as they often take much less attention than annuals once they are established.
If you find it hard to get motivated in the spring, but then once you see your neighbor’s garden growing you wish you’d planted something, I highly suggest planting some perennials. By the time you see flowers or asparagus up the next year and start to get inspired, you’ll find that it’s your garden that’s inspiring you.
Matching Perennials With Your Needs
If you are planning a big family and will be pregnant, or will just have had a new baby in the spring, then perennials are truly an asset. Why? Because once perennials are established, then most of them just take care of themselves.
If you anticipate that you will have years where you will need a bit of a break from your garden, but you know you’ll still need the food to feed your family, then get some perennials in the ground on the first available good year you’ve got time to do so.
Another benefit with perennials is that if something happens and you miss your harvest, your crop will likely still come back next year. All your effort wont have been a waste.
Get Started With Some Of These Perennials In Your Garden
Examples of perennials to include in your vegetable garden include: onions, garlic, rhubarb, asparagus, berries, dandelion (because I know you will all be carefully planting this), artichoke, Jerusalem artichoke, cardoon, chicory, horseradish, watercress, chives, fennel, horehound, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, spearmint, tarragon, thyme, and wormwood.
Bell peppers, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes are also perennials, but are grown as annuals most places.
What Are Annuals?
Annuals are plants that go through their entire life cycle in one growing season. This means they germinate, grow, flower, produce seed and die in one growing season.
Annuals crops are planted and harvested the same year. You would need to plant new seeds the next year to grow the same crops again.
Annuals may not appear to have benefits at first glance, but there are actually quite a few. One of the most important is for the purpose of crop rotation. Some are really hard on the soil.
Did you know commercial potato growers will only plant potatoes for one year and then a different plant (wheat or barley around here) for the next two years before they will plant potatoes again?
Matching Annuals With Your Personality
Do you like to try new things? Experiment?
Annuals are perfect for the gardener who wants to grow certain crops one year, and then mix it up the next.
Another personality that goes well with annual crops is the one with ever changing tastes. Does your family absolutely love peas and ask you to grow a large plot of peas? Then the next year, they’d prefer to try beans and don’t desire any peas?
Families with changing tastes and food preferences benefit greatly from growing annuals.
Matching Annuals With Your Needs
Don’t know where you want your permanent garden, so you just don’t plant one? Stop worrying about it and just get some annuals planted. If you decide the next year you want to construct a new barn where the garden was, you aren’t out any crops. Simply put your garden somewhere else with new annuals.
Are finances tight? Annuals are, for the most part, much cheaper than perennials.
Ten crowns of asparagus (perennials) that will produce edible asparagus in three years can cost you $5-10. Or, you can get 500 lettuce seeds for only $2.50 that will last you for years, and be ready to eat in a bit over a month.
When finances are tight, it’s more economical to start with annuals.
Need food now? Annuals give edible produce the same year. While some may take longer than others to be ready, the edible versions will be ready much sooner than most perennials.
If you are a newer gardener, or just one that hasn’t figured out fertilizers and soil amendments (read: preparing the soil), then annuals also come into play to keep your soil healthier.
Rotating where you plant your annuals helps to reduce plant disease, soil nutrient deprivation, and also helps with pest control.
Since perennials don’t have this benefit, many must have fertilizers/compost added to them frequently, and require creative pest control management. These things can add frustration to the gardener who wishes to grow organic foods or cannot afford soil amenities.
Get Started With Some Of These Annuals In Your Garden
Many of the vegetables you would generally think of to plant in your garden are annuals.
Some examples of annuals are: beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, melon, mustard, okra, peas, peanuts, pumpkins, spinach, squash, tomatillo, watermelon, basil, cilantro/coriander, and dill.
How To Balance Perennials And Annuals In Your Vegetable Garden
In short, perennials are good for motivation, require minimal care once established, and come back the next year even if you miss your harvest. They are great for more permanent garden plots, long term food dependency, and those who have the finances to invest in them.
Annuals, on the other hand, are cheaper, allow you to rotate your crops, and move your garden without crop loss if desired. You can easily vary the amount you plant of each variety year to year, and receive your produce all in the same year that you have planted.
When determining how to choose, consider your personality (will you still be excited in a couple months?), your budget (annuals tend to be noticeably cheaper), and your food/survival situation.
If you are a brand new gardener but you think you’ll be at it for a long time, or you’re starting a homestead, then considering planting some perennials this year is a good idea. Plan to put in a bit more work the first year (when you’re still motivated).
If you don’t need a ton of food this year, or you think you’ll need some motivation again next spring, get some perennials going.
Alternately, if you have a lot on your plate (no pun intended) or your family needs everything you grow this year for a food supply, you probably aren’t going to spend a bunch of money and a ton of time and patience on a rhubarb patch that you can’t eat for a couple years.
If you are a somewhat experienced gardener and you’re looking to expand, then try adding some perennials to your usual grind.
Overall, I would suggest planning to stick mainly with annuals when you’re first starting out. Just make sure to get some perennials in there for the future when you have the chance and money.