Archive Contents

Try perennials in backyard vegetable garden
by Faith Peppers and Wayne McLaurin

The great taste of garden produce doesn’t have to come at the cost of backbreaking preparation and planting every year. Try a few perennial offerings.

“One of the only truly perennial garden vegetables you can grow in the South is asparagus,” said Bob Westerfield, a consumer horticulturist.

“Some people consider strawberries a backyard crop,” he added. “And they’re certainly perennial in the South.”

Herbs are good perennial food crops, too. And many of them, including garlic, rosemary, thyme, mint and many of the chive varieties, are perennial.

If you want a good, long-lasting crop, you have to plan well.

“Remember that some crops, like asparagus, can continue to come back for 10 years or more, so make sure you pick a good spot to plant it,” Westerfield said.

“Check your landscape for things that might interfere with your crop down the line,” he said, “like trees whose canopy may grow to shade your garden spot.”

Most perennial plants need well-drained soil.

It’s a good idea to begin with a soil test to determine your fertilizer and lime needs. Most crops prefer a soil pH of between 6 and 7.5. Add dolomitic limestone to raise the pH if the test indicates it’s needed.

You can add fertilizer by using a combination of organic manures and standard granular mixes.

When you plant asparagus, select 1-year-old, healthy crowns. A crown is the root system of an asparagus plant that’s grown from seed. Each can produce a half pound of spears per year when fully established.

You can grow it from seed if you have the time. They require a lot of care that can be very time-consuming, though.

Asparagus crowns are usually available for planting in early spring. Try to get them established before the weather gets too warm.

Dig a furrow 5 to 6 inches deep. Deep planting can reduce the yield. After you plant the crowns, backfill the furrows with a high-quality organic amendment such as compost, dark topsoil, manure or a combination of these. Don’t compact soil over the newly filled furrows or you will reduce the growth.

Asparagus is drought-tolerant, making it low-maintenance and well suited for the South.

Herbs require only a moderate amount of fertilizer. A soil test will help you know how much to supply. Adding a well-rotted manure into the planting bed will supply some needed nutrition, too.

Give strawberries about 4 pounds of a 10-10-10 fertilizer per 100 feet of row at planting time, if you don’t soil test. Topdress with ammonium nitrate (34-0-0) at 1.5 pounds per 100 feet row of row in mid-August to early September.

Don’t harvest asparagus the first year. The spears will grow from expanded buds on the crown. When the spears are 8 to 9 inches tall, the tips will open.

The spears will become woody to support the small branchlets that become ferns. The ferns produce food for the plant and then move it down to the crown for next year’s spear production.

You can check for this translocation by crushing an asparagus stem. If the stem has any green material (carbohydrate) left, it won’t crush. But when the carbohydrates have been transferred back down to the root system, the stems will be like paper and crush easily. 

Without this translocation of food, the plant won’t produce spears in the spring. Wait until the ferns have turned brown and then remove and destroy them. 

Unlike the case with most vegetables, we harvest asparagus during the spring and then grow the plants. Taking care of the ferns is of utmost importance in this process. Always leave some of the larger shoots to grow out and produce ferns.

Harvest strawberries as they become ripe. Check them daily. They can ripen quickly. Use netting to keep birds from stealing the crop. Remove weak and diseased-looking plants in 

early fall. You may need to renovate the bed to help prevent disease next spring.

You can harvest herbs through the growing season. Picking leaves encourages new growth. Overgrown herbs can be harvested more heavily to keep them in bounds.

Mint patches can be mowed off during the summer with the lawn mower set on high. Do not prune perennial herbs in the fall, but allow them to recover for next year’s crop.



Archive Contents

Date Last Updated January, 2006