Gardening With Edible Annual Plants

Most vegetables and grains are annual plants -- they mature, set seed, and die back all in the same year.

If you've ever seen lettuce "bolt" in the summer (send up a tall stem with flowers that look and act like dandelions), then you've seen the seed-making process in action.

If you can prevent a plant from setting seed (by continually harvesting immature snow peas, for example) you can keep an annual alive longer, as well as get a bigger harvest.

In mild climates, new "volunteer" plants will grow from the seed the plant drops after it matures. But in most cases, you'll have to either buy new seed, buy new plants, or save seed from your old plants until the proper planting time in your area.

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Pansies are often treated as annuals

In cold climates, many biennials (plants which produce seed and die back in their second year of life) and perennials (those plants which live more than two years) are treated as if they are annuals.

For example, the tomato is a perennial plant native to the tropics, but it dies if exposed to freezing temperatures, so it might as well be an annual plant in cold areas.

Some annual and biennial plants become tough, bitter or "woody" once they begin to set seed. This is the reason that some biennials (like carrots) are harvested before they flower.

Gardening with annuals

Annual plants are useful in many ways.

  • Beginners can experiment with edible landscaping by adding annuals to an existing landscape.
  • Edible annual plants are a great way to add lushness to a bare landscape without spending a lot of money.
  • Gaps in your established edible landscaping due to the death of a perennial plant or seeds that fail to sprout can be fixed easily by placing a few annual plants to fill in the holes.
  • Shade annuals can brighten up a dark spot in your yard just as well as their perennial cousins do.
  • Planting annual edibles is an easy way to get young children interested in gardening, as most annual plants come up easily from seed and grow quickly.

An edible annual container garden is a lot of fun for apartment dwellers or those with small gardens, and can be useful in cases of poor soil and/or very short growing seasons.

Don't forget the color! There are many edible annual flowering plants.

Edible annuals

Here's a list of annual plants you can eat. Enjoy!

  • Amaranthus caudatus (Love-lies-bleeding, tassel flower, Inca wheat)
  • Amaranthus tricolor (Red amaranth, tampala, Chinese spinach)
  • Arugula (Eruca sativa)
  • Atriplex hortensis (Orach, mountain spinach, French spinach, arrach)
  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)
  • Brassica napus (Rutabaga, canola, Swedish turnip)
  • Brassica oleracea var. botrytis (Broccoli, cauliflower, calabrese, romanesco)
  • Brassica oleracea var. capitata (Cabbage, Savoy cabbage)
  • Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes (Kohlrabi, stem turnip, turnip cabbage)
  • Cichorium endivia (Endive, escarole, batavia)
  • Coriandrum sativum (Coriander, cilantro, Arab parsley, Chinese parsley)
  • Corn
  • Dill (Dill weed, Anethum graveolens)
  • Glycine max (soybean, soya bean, edamame)
  • Henbit (Lamium amplexicaule)
  • Hibiscus sabdariffa (Roselle, Florida cranberry, Indian sorrel, Jamaican sorrel)
  • Lettuce (Lactuca sativa)
  • Mustard greens (Brassica juncea)
  • Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) -- some varieties are perennial
  • Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
  • Onion (Allium cepa Cepa Group)
  • Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa)
  • Peas (Pisum sativum)
  • Physalis ixocarpa (Tomatillo, Mexican husk tomato, green tomato, jam berry, Mexican ground cherry, tomate verde)
  • Poppy (Papaver somniferum) -- only poppy seed is edible; the rest of the plant is toxic
  • Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
  • Radish (Raphanus sativus) -- some varieties are biennial
  • Rice
  • Spinach (Spinacea oleracea)
  • Squash
  • Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
  • Tagetes lucida (Mexican marigold, Texas tarragon)
  • Tepary bean (Phaseolus acutifolius)
  • Tragopogon porrifolius (salsify, vegetable oyster, oster plant, purple salsify)
  • Valerianella locusta (Corn salad, fetticus, mache, lamb's lettuce, feldsalat, nut lettuce)
  • Watermelon
  • Wheat

If you're really interested in edible plants, you might look at the Edible Plants page on the Plants For A Future website, which has many thousands of plants in its database.

Biennials which are grown as annual plants

  • Beta vulgaris varieties (Beet, sugar beets, chard)
  • Carrot (Daucus carota var. sativus)
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) -- some cultivars are perennial
  • Onion (Allium cepa)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  • Radish (Raphanus sativus) -- some varieties are annual
  • Turnip (Brassica rapa)

Perennials which are grown as annuals

  • Eggplant (Solanum melongena)
  • Kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephala) -- some cultivars are biennial
  • Pansies (Viola)
  • Peppers
  • Potato (Solanum tuberosum)
  • Tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum)
  • Stevia
  • Violets

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