By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia
"One of the only truly perennial garden vegetables you can grow in Georgia is asparagus," said Bob Westerfield, a consumer horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
"Some people consider strawberries a backyard crop," he added. "And they're certainly perennial in Georgia."
Herbs are good perennial food crops, too. And many of them, including garlic, rosemary, thyme, mint and many of the chive varieties, are perennial.
Think aheadIf 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.
ComboYou 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.
How to plantDig 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 Georgia.
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.
Be patientDon'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.
For the best yield, take excellent care of the 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.
(Faith Peppers is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)