Top 10 Perennials for a Low-Maintenance Vegetable Garden

If the thought of starting fresh with a bare garden bed every spring is overwhelming, consider growing a low-maintenance perennial garden instead! There are many different vegetables and herbs that will come back on their own, year after year, making them a simple option for the busy gardener.

However, not all perennial vegetables and herbs will come back if they are grown in conditions that aren’t suitable for their needs (too hot or too cold). So, be sure to read through each one in my article below to ensure that they are a good fit for you and your environment before you commit to them!

Let’s dive in!

Perennial herbs growing in a garden

*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links to products (including Amazon). I’ll earn a small commission if you purchase through my link, at no additional cost to you! Regardless, I only link to products that I personally use on our homestead or believe in.

What is a Perennial?

A perennial is a plant that comes back year after year. That means you don’t have to worry about starting seeds, watering seedlings, hardening off, and all that fuss – wahoo! If well cared for and placed in a location that they LOVE, these perennial vegetables and herbs should thrive for many years to come.

Perennial vs biannual vs annual?

Annuals are different than perennials in that they do not come back the following year. They only produce for 1 season, and then fade away once the temperatures dip too low for it to continue thriving. Most vegetables fall into the annual category such as lettuce, squash and pumpkins, tomatoes, eggplant, and even some herbs like basil.

Biannuals are somewhere in between – they have a two year growing cycle (as long as the winter conditions are favorable). Typically, the first year is focused on production whereas the second year is focused on reproduction (going to seed). Common biannual plants include carrots, parsley, onions, beets, and broccoli.

Growing zones

Knowing your growing zone (or hardiness zone) is important when it comes to growing perennial vegetables and herbs. Growing zones are based on the average yearly low temperatures in increments of 10 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The USDA Plant Hardiness map showing all of the different zones throughout the US
USDA Plant Hardiness Map

Check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Map to find out what growing zone you’re in!

  • My homestead is in zone 4a (Minnesota), so my average lowest temperature is between -25F and -30F. 
  • I used to garden in Kansas City, which is zone 6a with an average lowest temperature of -5F to -10F
  • Someone in southern Florida would be in zone 10a, which only gets down to 30 to 35F

Some plants are hardy down to zone 3 (-40F), while others are only hardy down to zone 7 (0F). Then, there are some plants that need a cold winter and only thrive in colder growing zones. So, paying attention to this is important to ensure that your prized perennials do indeed come back in the spring.

Top 10 Perennial Vegetables and Herbs

Now that we have a good grasp on the basic principles of perennial plants, let’s dive into my top 10 favorites for a low-maintenance vegetable garden!

#1: Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a well-loved favorite for those in northern climates. It’s incredibly hardy – my rhubarb plant has been passed down through my family for 150 years and even survived the boat trip from Sweden! Those ruby red stalks also add some vibrant color to the garden and rhubarb crumble is such a delicious treat! 

Rhubarb freshly picked and laying on the grass after harvest

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 3-7 (it needs a true winter to thrive!)
  • Soil pH: 5.5-6.5
  • Water needs: Moderate and even
  • Light: partial shade to full sun
  • Fertilization needs: low

Planting & maintenance

Rhubarb is best grown from divisions, rather than from seed. You can find divisions at your local nursery, or from a friend! Add some compost to your planting site and bury the crown just below the soil surface. If planting more than one division, space them 2-3 feet apart. Don’t forget rhubarb companion plants, too!

Avoid harvesting the first year and only take a few stalks the second year. On the third year, harvest away! Once flower stalks appear, be sure to snip them off promptly. Rhubarb also benefits from being divided every 5-10 years, so that’s a great time to expand your rhubarb patch or give some away to new gardeners.

#2: Asparagus

Asparagus is another favorite because it can produce for up to 15 years and it’s one of the first edibles to be plucked from the garden in early spring. Once established, asparagus requires very little work outside of adding compost and mulch, making it an excellent choice for those wanting a low-maintenance garden.

Bunches of asparagus neatly laid in a wooden box

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 3-8 (it needs a true winter to thrive!)
  • Soil pH: 6.5-7.5 (add some lime or wood ash if needed to get the pH high enough!)
  • Water needs: heavy
  • Light: full sun, but will tolerate part shade
  • Fertilization needs: high
  • Favorite Varieties: Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight, Jersey Supreme

Planting & maintenance

Asparagus is a pretty heavy feeder and likes neutral soil (pH 6.5-7.5), so be sure to prepare the planting site well with plenty of compost so that it’ll thrive. It can be started from seeds or 1-year-old crowns, but most use crowns because that’ll allow you to harvest a whole year earlier!

To plant, dig a hole (12″ deep for heirloom varieties and 5-6″ deep for modern all-male varieties) and place the crown at the bottom. Add 1-2″ of soil and continue to backfill as the spears poke through until all of the soil has been added back.

Add compost twice per year and mulch with organic straw to moderate the temperature and keep weed competition low. In the fall, cut back the dead foliage (compost it) and add additional mulch (6″ deep) to protect the crowns during the winter.

*Interested in using companion planting for asparagus? It’s pretty picky! Don’t miss my article 5 BEST Asparagus Companion PLants (and 3 to AVOID!).

#3: Strawberries

There’s nothing like homegrown strawberries. Once you taste the bright sweetness from a sun-warmed strawberry straight from the garden, you’ll never be able to go back to store-bought again! Plus, they are vigorous growers and do quite well with minimal intervention.

2 strawberries growing on a plant in the garden

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 3-8 (it needs a true winter to thrive!)
  • Soil pH: 6-6.8
  • Water needs: moderate
  • Light: full sun
  • Fertilization needs: moderate
  • Favorite Varieties: Honeoye, Temptation

Planting & maintenance

While strawberry plants can be started from seed, it’s best to start with plants. Strawberry plants rapidly multiply by sending out runners, so it’s easy to locate these at a local nursery or from a neighbor. Space them 12-18″ apart and mulch with organic straw.

Each year, the strawberry plants will send out “runners,” so be sure to prune them back or direct them into a location you want them to go. While strawberries are perennials, they only produce strongly for 3-5 years so be sure to remove older plants and let the runners take their place.

#4: Thyme

Thyme is one of the easiest plants to grow. The best way to kill it is to care for it. Thyme thrives in dry soil that is of poor quality. Water too much and add a bunch of compost and it won’t be happy. It’s generally pest-free, disease-free, and it tolerates some pretty cold winters!

Thyme growing in the garden near other plants as companions

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 4-9
  • Soil pH: 5.5-7
  • Water needs: low
  • Light: full sun, but will tolerate part shade
  • Fertilization needs: low
  • Favorite Varieties: English and French. I use Thyme from High Mowing Seeds.

Planting & maintenance

Thyme can be grown from seed or by division. I usually start from seed – they are slow to get started, but it’s pretty easy! After the last frost, plant them 6-8 inches apart. They like to be fairly close to each other, which makes them another great choice if you have a small garden. As mentioned above, they don’t like to be fussed with so no maintenance required!

*Interested in using thyme as a companion plant? Don’t miss my article Best (and Worst) Companion Plants for Thyme!

#5: Rosemary

There are few scents that I enjoy as much as rosemary. It adds a nice punch of flavor to dishes and the smell is invigorating. The big bummer about rosemary is that it doesn’t like cold very much, so it’s only a perennial for those in warm zones (zones 6-11). Rosemary thrived when we lived in Kansas City, but it never survives the winter now that we live in Minnesota. 

A close up photo of rosemary growing in a garden

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 7-11
  • Soil pH: 6-7.5
  • Water needs: moderate and even
  • Light: full sun, but will tolerate part shade
  • Fertilization needs: moderate
  • Favorite variety: Salem

Planting & maintenance

Rosemary can be grown from seed, but the process needs to be started a full 22 weeks in advance – yikes! So, most gardeners propagate them from stem cuttings or pick them up from their local nursery (that’s what I do). Space the plants 8-24″ apart, depending on the variety. Water only moderately as rosemary is very sensitive to overwatering.

#6: Sage

Adding some sage to your perennial vegetable and herb garden is always a good move. Beautiful, fragrant, dependable, and it brings in pollinators when it blooms. It also requires very little tending to! A true winner in a low-maintenance garden.

A close up view of sage growing in the garden

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 4-10
  • Soil pH: 5.5-7
  • Water needs: low
  • Light: full sun to part shade (provide shade in zones 8-10)
  • Fertilization needs: low
  • Favorite Varieties: Fanni Common Sage from High Mowing Seeds

Planting & maintenance

Sage can be started from seed, but I really struggle to get it going so sage is one of the few plants that I prefer to buy from my local nursery. Once you have your seedling on hand, plant it in a well-drained area, and don’t fertilize it heavily. If you have several plants, space them 12-18″ apart.

#7: Mint

Mint is a perennial that gardeners love and dislike, all at the same time. It’s wonderful because it’s pest-free, prolific, and grows well in nearly all conditions (even zone 3!) but to a fault. Mint can quickly take over an entire garden bed if you aren’t careful! Be sure to read my tips below to learn how to prevent this from happening.

A close up view of mint growing in the garden

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 3-8
  • Soil pH: 6-7
  • Water needs: moderate
  • Light: full sun to part shade (provide shade in zones 8-10)
  • Fertilization needs: low
  • Favorite Varieties: Peppermint and Spearmint

Planting & maintenance

Mint can be started from seed, but it can be tricky to get going so I prefer to buy it from my local nursery. As mentioned above, mint can quickly become invasive and it spreads underground through runners, which makes it nearly impossible to control once it gets started. 

To combat this, I recommend keeping it contained in a planter pot on your patio or deck. If you really want it to be in your garden or landscaping, plant it inside a container so that doesn’t spread like crazy. If you have multiple plants, space them 6″ apart.

#8: Oregano

Oregano is another low-maintenance perennial herb that does best when it’s just left alone in the garden to do its thing. Fragrant, delicious, attracts pollinators when in bloom, pest-free, what’s not to love?!

A close up view of oregano growing in the garden

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 4-10 (provide winter protection in zone 4)
  • Soil pH: 6-7.5
  • Water needs: low
  • Light: full sun to part shade (provide shade in zones 8-10)
  • Fertilization needs: low
  • Favorite Varieties: Greek Oregano from High Mowing Seeds

Planting & maintenance

I like to start my oregano from seed 8 weeks before my last frost date. It grows quite rapidly and does well with spacing 12″ apart. From there, don’t do much and it’ll be happy. It doesn’t like to be overwatered, so only water if there’s been a long dry spell between rainfalls.

#9: Chives 

If you thought rhubarb was bomb-proof, chives are right up there, too! I’ve had my same clump of chives for 11 years and it was there when we moved into our homestead, so who knows how old it really is. No matter how brutal the winter is, it dependably pops back up in the early spring and is typically the first herb that I harvest for the season.

Growing considerations

  • Growing zone: 3-10
  • Soil pH: 6.1-7.8
  • Water needs: moderate
  • Light: full sun to part shade (provide shade in zones 8-10)
  • Fertilization needs: moderate
  • Favorite Varieties: Chives from High Mowing Seeds

Planting & maintenance

Chives are pretty easy to start from seed, but they can take up to a year to get fully established. So, if you’re eager to harvest right away, consider picking up some plants from your local nursery. Chives also benefit from being divided every 3 years, so you might be able to find a neighbor or gardening buddy who is ready to give you a chunk.

Space chives 6-8″ apart and place them in any spot that has general conditions. They like moderate everything – moderate moisture, moderate nutrients, and moderate light. They are happy in the middle!

#10: Sorrel

Sorrel is a new addition to my garden and I’m so excited to give it a go! Not only does it have tangy, lemony-flavored leaves, but the brightly contrasted leaves are simply gorgeous. 

A close up look at sorrel in a wooden bowl
Sorrel from High Mowing Seeds

Growing considerations

Planting & maintenance

Sorrel is gaining in popularity, but it’s still not super common so don’t expect to find it at your local nursery. Thankfully, it’s easy to start from seed! Transplant out to the garden in mid-spring and space plants 8″ apart.

Similar to rhubarb, remove any seed stalks that emerge in order to encourage the sorrel to keep producing. In the fall, divide the sorrel and replace the best ones for a spring harvest the following year.

Watch Me Plant Perennial Vegetables & Herbs in my Landscaping!

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