When you are new to gardening, it can be quite overwhelming. Having a plan to start is one of the biggest steps. I’m hoping to assist in equipping you with your starting plan.
You could simply decide to grow what you want and go-for-it. But that’s risky for a first timer, or semi-newbie occasionally. I think it’s important to choose the right balance of perennials and annuals for your produce/herb garden–one that matches your personality and needs. Let’s look at some benefits and pitfalls of both.
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.
Perennials are excellent if you have the personality that may be excited to garden one year, but not the next year. If you are planning a big family and will be pregnant, or will just have had a new baby in the spring, then these help a lot. Why? Because once perennials are established, then most of them just take care of themselves.
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. My garlic has been up for weeks–I am already so motivated!
Another benefit is that, if (God forbid) something happened and you missed your harvest, your plant would still come back next year. All your effort wouldn’t have been a waste.
Examples of perennials 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.
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. These are generally seeds that you plant and harvest that year. You would need new seeds the next year.
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? Don’t even get me started on the importance of crop rotation…
Say you plant a ton of peas because you all love them. But that year you have so many your family tells you they won’t eat any more the next year. You’re in luck, because peas are annuals and another benefit is that you can vary the amount of what you plant each year.
Want to put a new barn where your garden is and move it? Easily done with annuals–just plant them in the new area the next year.
Annuals tend to be cheaper as well.
Additionally, many perennials need a year or two (or three for asparagus!) to get established. With annuals, you will receive your loot the same year you plant.
Examples of annuals are: beans, corn, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, melon, mustard, okra, peas, peanuts, pumpkins, spinach, squash, tomatillo, watermelon, basil, cilantro/coriander, and dill.
In short, perennials are good for motivation, require minimal care once established, and come back the next year even if you miss your harvest. Annuals are cheaper, allow you to rotate your crops, move you garden when you want, vary the amount you plant year to year, and give you produce all in the same year.
So the big question is, which do you pick?
I would have to say it depends on 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 I would say you need to plant some perennials this year. Most take 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.
If you have a lot on your plate (no pun intended) or your family needs everything you grow this year, you probably aren’t going to spend a bunch of money and a ton of time and patience on an asparagus patch that you can’t eat for a couple years.
I would not, however, plant all perennials the first year. First of all, you may not reap much that year. It could cause a serious lack of motivation and when next year comes around you are left thinking, “What’s the point?” Also, perennials often have a very short harvest time. Here in the north, we have about two weeks of asparagus. Waiting three years and then harvesting for two weeks…Bummer.
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. But get some perennials in there for the future when you have the chance and money.